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Holland prepares for busy summer

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Ken Holland anticipates that this will be a busy summer.

“As we head into this summer, we have a lot of decisions to make,” the Red Wings general manager said. “But I want to be a Cup contender. And to be a Cup contender you need lots of ingredients.”

One player who won’t be in the mix – at least not next season – is goaltending prospect Daniel Larsson, who played in 53 games in Grand Rapids last season, and has elected to play in his native Sweden for the 2010-11 campaign.

However, the move to play for HV-71 of the Swedish Elite League doesn’t mean that it’s the end of the NHL road for Larsson. The Red Wings still own his NHL rights for three more years.

“Obviously, we don’t have access to him next year, he’s playing in Sweden,” Holland said. “We always want five goalies, so we’re going to go out and sign another veteran minor league goaltender. We always have two in Detroit, two in Grand Rapids and one in Toledo.”

Holland also announced Wednesday that the club has signed gritty forward Mattias Ritola to a three-year contract. Though he still has some improvements to make, namely the assimilation to the North American style of play, Ritola will be given every opportunity to make the Wings squad as a third- or fourth-line forward, Holland said.

“He’s got skill and he’s been in our organization for three years,” Holland said. “He’s gotten better every year. He needed to be more consistent. When he turned pro he would have a good shift, a bad shift, a good game, a bad game. His consistency has been better, but he still is in the European-mode and likes to play keep-away at times. We want him to shoot, to get the puck to the net, to go to the net.

“We’re hoping by signing him up that we’ve shown him a commitment and we’re hoping that he uses that to understand that we think he can be an NHL player. Now he has to go out and do it, because there’s opportunity here.”

Ritola, 23, played in the Red Wings' 7-1 win over San Jose in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

His signing brings the number of potential new forwards to the Wings’ roster to two. Jiri Hudler, who played in Russia last season, is back in the Wings’ fold, and currently in southern California working out with famed trainer T.R. Goodman.

“I just talked to (Hudler) from Los Angeles where he’s been working out,” Holland said. “It shows me that he wants to come back and he wants to be in shape. It’s not like he’s floating around somewhere. He wants his career to take a step forward.”

Hudler, 26, played three seasons with the Wings, collecting 52 goals with 75 assists in 255 career NHL games.

Another player that Holland sees as someone who could make the roster in September is forward Jan Mursak, who had 24 goals with 18 assists in Grand Rapids last season – a 33-point improvement from the previous AHL campaign.

“He’s been a good player, who has been physically weak, but he’s slowly getting stronger,” Holland said. “I think that Jan Mursak has a chance to play in the National Hockey League down the road. He plays with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of passion.”

As far as the rest of the Wings’ roster is concerned, the process will be dictated by what happens to their current unrestricted free agents and want occurs once the free agency period opens on July 1.

There are big decisions to be made regarding the futures of current UFAs like Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Kirk Maltby, Jason Williams and Andreas Lilja. 

“It all depends on our unrestricteds,” Holland said. “We can’t sign everybody and Hudler is coming back and his cap number is pushing $3 million. I don’t know where the cap is going, but I hope that it goes up a little bit.”

The teams will know the final salary cap no later than June 30, though they likely should know a ballpark figure by the GM meetings in early June.

“Ultimately, every summer you reassess and there’s a changing of the guard,” Holland said. “Some veterans have to go and it’s important for some kids to come up. We thought there was some changing of the guard in net with Jimmy Howard, but we’re hoping that Chris Osgood comes back this year and pushes Jimmy Howard at camp.

“We’re only going to be better if there’s a tremendous competition. We don’t want our veteran guys to just sit on the sidelines and let people take their job. We want competition. That’s how the team is going to get deeper and stronger. We also think that it’s good that the kids have to fight to make your team. You just don’t hand them a job. They have to beat people out of a job.”

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