DETROIT – Next week the Red Wings will conduct three days of pro scout meetings as general manager Ken Holland and the front office staff prepares for the NHL’s free-agency period, which opens July 1.
It’s at these meetings that newly-minted head coach Jeff Blashill will get his first say in how the Red Wings’ roster begins to take shape this summer prior to the team heading north for training camp in September.
“My management philosophy is we’re all in it together,” Holland said, “and at the end of the day the head coach has to have a voice as we head into the off-season as we make decisions.”
Former coach Mike Babcock was heavily involved in player decisions during his 10 seasons in the organization, and Holland expects the same engagement from Blashill, who probably knows the team’s young prospects better than anyone in the organization.
The 41-year-old Blashill spent the past three seasons developing players in Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. He knows where Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, Teemu Pulkkinen, Alexey Marchenko and Anthony Mantha are in their development and what’s needed to help them become full-time contributors at the next level.
He also spent one season as an assistant with the Red Wings in 2011-12, so he knows and has a profound respect for the Wings’ core leadership group, which combined, gives him a very unique overview of the team he will coach in 2015-16.
“Blash is going to have a perspective about the young players down there,” Holland said. “He’s going to have a perspective of being with those guys on an everyday basis as we plan. We’re trying to go younger. We’re trying to get better and sometimes when you’re dealing with younger people you got to have patience and you believe the patience is going to reward you somewhere down the line.”
Holland and Blashill have had preliminary discussions on how the new coach foresees systematic changes to the team.
“I’ve already had some conversations about where people fit and some of the conversations I had with Mike Babcock (were) a little different,” Holland said. “He sees people fitting in a little different. That doesn’t mean they’re not going to be as important, just different. Certainly as we go into training camp there might be some different line combinations, different opportunity. I’m hoping our players are excited about the opportunity.”
As for acquiring pieces in free agency or via trade, Holland doesn’t want to make any moves that could jeopardize his ability to re-sign is own UFA or RFA players this summer or in 2016.
The Wings have approximately $57 million committed to 17 NHL players. Last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman predicted that the league’s salary cap will likely be around $71 million, depending on the fluctuation of the Canadian dollar.
“We’re going to go over our team,” Holland said. “I want to get Blash’s thoughts. Then we’ll formulate that plan. We’re probably in a better position today to explore trades than we were at any point in time because of the depth of our organization. But I don’t want anyone to think ‘they’re making trades’, because the trades have got to make sense.
“If you forward to this summer and the summer of ’16, we got to re-sign (Gustav) Nyquist, we got to re-sign (Justin) Abdelkader, (Danny) DeKeyser, (Darren) Helm, (Riley) Sheahan, (Petr) Mrazek, (Tomas) Jurco. We got lots of people between the summer of ’15 and summer of ’16, when they get re-signed they go up in salary, they’re going to eat more cap space.”
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 7 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 22
Games: 33 | +/-: -12
Two months ago, forward Johan Franzen
, who suffered a season-ending concussion in January, seemed uncertain about the future of his playing career.
When asked on Tuesday about the prospect of Franzen’s return in the fall, Holland said he expects Mule to be preparing for the upcoming season at the team’s training camp in Traverse City.
“As you and I are speaking here, my expectation is that Franzen is coming to training camp to play hockey,” Holland said. “My expectation is that he’s going to be healthy and ready to go.”
If not for a setback during the Wings’ first-round playoff series with Tampa Bay, the Wings thought they could have him in the lineup should they reach the second round.
“Our expectations were during round one against Tampa that if we advanced to round two that he was getting to the point where he might (return). I met with him. I talked to Mike Babcock and we were talking about the possibility that he might be ready for (the conference semifinals).”
Goalie - DET
GAA: 2.44 | Sv%: .910
As the league’s free-agency period approaches, the Wings are in the same predicament as last July: looking to upgrade with a top-six scoring forward and a right-handed shooting defenseman.
Unfortunately, this year’s free-agency pool isn’t stocked with top-caliber talent that would out-shine what the Red Wings already have in-house. Because of that, some in the media believe the Wings need to make a trade to fill their needs, and that shopping goalie Jimmy Howard would be a viable lure.
But Holland doesn’t see it that way.
“I think you’re leading me towards is it time for change?” the Wings’ GM said. “To me, it’s a two-goalie league. I’ve got to have two goalies. When I look at the combined salary cap of the two, Jimmy’s $5.3 (million) and Mrazek is $737,500, they add up to $6 million. When you look at what we put into goal in relation to our 29 competitors, we’re probably middle of the pack. There are some teams that have $8-9 million (invested) in goal. So I think we’ve got a nice 1-2 punch. I think we’re going to have a motivated guy in Jimmy Howard and I think we’re going to have a motivated guy in Petr Mrazek. So I think we’re going to have a good 1-2 punch.”
THE UNRESTICTEDS: Marek Zidlicky
Right Wing - DET
Goals: 1 | Assists: 1 | Pts: 2
Games: 17 | +/-: -4
, Daniel Cleary
, Erik Cole
and Jonas Gustavsson
are eligible to be unrestricted free agents on July 1. Holland said Cole and Gustavsson are free to test the open market as the Wings don’t have an interest in retaining either of tht two veterans.
However, Zidlicky and Cleary could return.
Zidlicky would like to return for a 12th NHL season. Recently, his agent reached out to Holland, who said he’ll wait until the team’s pro scout meetings next week before a final decision is made on the 38-year-old defenseman.
Zidlicky was acquired from New Jersey in a trade deadline deal. He instantly became a key contributor on the Wings’ power play, producing eight of his 11 points with the man advantage in 21 regular-season games.
As for Cleary’s future, Holland said, “Certainly two years ago when he made a decision to stay in Detroit – and he’s been offered three-year contracts in Winnipeg and Florida and Philadelphia – I know what he walked away from. So my management philosophy, part of it is being loyal and at holding up my end of the bargain, so I need to sit down with Dan Cleary, so I don’t have an answer on Dan Cleary. Could he possibly resign? He possibly could re-sign.”
Cole experienced a season-ending neck injury in his 11th game with the Wings after a March trade with Dallas. The injury has left his career in peril.