Perhaps it is just posturing, but perhaps the Detroit Red Wings
have had a change of heart approaching this season’s trade deadline.
Highly successful for the past decade, the Red Wings always have been in the fray at the League’s annual late-winter swap meet, looking to make that last-minute move that will put them over the top and deliver the franchise another Stanley Cup.
Last season, the Wings decided they needed a power forward to get out of the rugged Western Conference. Voila! There was Todd Bertuzzi, pried away from the Florida Panthers for a junior prospect and a second-round pick.
The Wings also traded for Kyle Calder in a smaller deal, surrendering Jason Williams.
At the time, the ransom for Bertuzzi was perceived as a fair price to be paid for one of the only proven big men on the market.
Today, there is some revisionist thinking going on, and Detroit appears to be rethinking its philosophy, even though it reached the Western Conference Final last season after making the trades.
“We thought that last year we had a younger team,” Wings GM Ken Holland explained, citing young cornerstones like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. “We've kind of evolved. (Steve) Yzerman has retired. (Brendan) Shanahan has moved on. (Sergei) Fedorov has moved on, if you think of our team before the work stoppage.
“We got a lot of younger players and we thought we wanted to try to bring in some experience and some physical presence. So, we were fairly aggressive last year.”
But don’t expect the same from the Red Wings this season. And it’s not just because at 41-13-5, the Red Wings sit in first place, a dozen points clear of its closest competitor for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Why this new-found conservatism?
Meet Shawn Matthias, the aforementioned junior prospect sent from Detroit to Florida to consummate the Bertuzzi deal. At the time of the deal, Matthias was a second-round pick in the 2006 Entry Draft just starting to catch fire. But he had not really fully delivered on his potential.
Since being dealt, Matthias has developed into top-flight scorer with the Ontario Hockey League’s Belleville Bulls, was an integral part of Team Canada’s march to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, and even scored two goals for the Panthers this season during a recent four-game emergency call-up.
Earlier this month, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock brought up Matthias’ name as a cautionary tale in discussing the trade deadline. At the NHL All-Star Game, Babcock said the price paid to obtain Bertuzzi – as well as the costs involved in big-name rentals by other teams – might dampen the overall trade market and also make Detroit less likely to deal at the end of the month.
“It’s really changed, and the reason, in my opinion, that it has really changed is a kid named Shawn Matthias,” Babcock said, discussing the overall mindset of teams regarding the deadline. “We traded him last year and he plays at the World Juniors this year for Canada and is one of the best players. He plays in Florida the other night and scores two goals. You’re the team that drafted him and did the work to get him and then you traded him to get Bert.
“Bert was a great addition to our team, but he’s gone two months later. That’s a pretty expensive deal. I think it makes it hard.”
Babcock also joked that he would remind Holland of the Matthias deal every day until the Feb. 26 trade deadline – and the ensuing temptation to make another big deal – passes.
“I’m going to grind him for the next month every single day, as much as I can,” Babcock said, laughing.
Holland, though, says he doesn’t need any reminders. The Matthias lesson is at the forefront of his mind as the trade market enters its final, frenetic phase.
If you look at last year's trade deadline, there was some real steep prices paid, and ultimately only eight teams can win a playoff round - Ken Holland
“If you look at last year's trade deadline, there was some real steep prices paid, and ultimately only eight teams can win a playoff round,” is how Holland interpreted last season’s lesson.
Still, Holland is a GM and his team harbors serious Stanley Cup hopes. So, he must do his due diligence and hear out rival GMs looking to move high-priced rentals. Who knows? Maybe there will be a fit out there that makes the Red Wings markedly better – especially in the face of the injury crisis currently enveloping the team.
“I think that's what we have to determine here the next two weeks – do we be a little more conservative or (what)? I think that's why you work the phones. We've had our internal meetings. We've evaluated. We've gone through our list. We're sitting and waiting.
“Eventually when the phone call comes and you're on the phone call and you're talking to somebody and things start to go along – they've got something they're looking for and you've got something you're looking for – and you work towards and eventually you work to a deal. You get to a point you say, ‘You know what? We've gone far enough.’
“I think it's the experience and the preparation that your staff does ultimately comes to gut instincts.”
And right now, judging by public comments, it appears Holland’s gut is telling him to stand pat with the team he has.