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Summer will be busy one for Holland

by Jeff Sanford / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – With nine players set to be unrestricted free agents and over $12 million of cap space, the Red Wings’ offseason is primed to be one of the busier ones in recent memory. 

On July 1 — when the NHL’s free agency period officially starts — the Wings will be on the precipice of significant personnel changes. The contracts of beloved Hockeytown stalwarts Kris Draper, Chris Osgood, and Nicklas Lidstrom are all set to expire, making them UFAs.

It’s still unclear, bordering on unlikely, that Drapes, Ozzie, and Nick will all be back together next season. And it’s hard to imagine any of those players skating for another team, so the most probable course for them is re-signing with Detroit or hanging up the skates.

In Lidstrom’s case, if he wants to play in 2011-12, he will. Having a Norris-worthy season at 40-years-old does wonders for your job security, and Wings coach Mike Babcock has said he wants his captain to come back. But the futures of the other two are a bit more uncertain. Osgood, despite setting a milestone in winning his 400th game during the regular-season, played in only 11 games before hernia surgery in January sidelined him for the rest of the season and playoffs. Even if he decides he wants to stick around, should general manager Ken Holland re-sign an aging, ailing goalie?

The same goes for 39-year-old Draper, who played in 47 games during the regular-season, alternating between gritty fourth-liner and healthy scratch, posting only 11 points. While his experience and positive influence on younger players can’t be underestimated, the Wings need players who can produce on the ice if they want to move forward.

Holland faces some tough decisions should these Hockeytown fixtures decide they want to return.

And besides the future of three icons, Holland has plenty more to mull over. Younger role-players Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller and Jonathan Ericsson will also be UFAs, along with more experienced guys Ruslan Salei and future Hall-of-Famer Mike Modano, who was signed to a one-year contract last summer. Back-up goalie Joey MacDonald will also enter the UFA limbo.

Needless to say, the Wings could be a very different team next season. With Lidstrom, Ericsson, and Salei possibly leaving town, a big question surrounds the defense, which was an area of concern all season long with the Wings finishing 23rd in the league in goals against. Will Holland go shopping for a big-time blue-liner?  

A name that has been thrown around by hopeful Detroit fans is Shea Weber, defenseman and captain of the Nashville Predators who is set to be a restricted free agent in July. While being restricted means that Nashville will have the first crack at signing the 25-year-old, the Wings have the cap space and the esteem to possibly woo Weber, who would add a dangerous scoring threat at the blue line (he was tied for fourth in goals among defenseman with 16 during the regular-season). However, the Predators will likely do everything they can to keep Weber in Nashville. But there are other big-name defensemen who will be on the free agency market, such as Carolina’s Joni Pitkanen, Boston’s Tomas Kaberle, and Vancouver’s Kevin Bieksa and Christian Ehroff.

Another option is to augment the Wings offensive stars Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg, who each still have a handful of years left on their contracts. Draper’s departure would free up space on the roster, and depending on what happens with Miller and Eaves, the Wings could suddenly find themselves needing some depth at the forward position.

But don’t expect the Wings to chase free agency’s biggest name, Dallas center Brad Richards, as other deep-pocketed teams with more urgent offensive needs — for instance, the New York Rangers — will surely throw a ton of money his way. But there are potential targets out there which could be netted for good value, like Washington center Brooks Laich (16 goals, 32 assists), Philadelphia forward Nikolay Zherdev (16 goals, six assists), and Calgary forward Curtis Glencross (24 goals, 19 assists).

It’s a pivotal time in the Wings’ history as they have been eliminated in the conference semifinals two years running, and face a significant re-shaping of their roster. Recent history has proven that the Wings are adept re-builders, finding success even after the team’s core players like Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, and Sergei Fedorov left in the early-to-mid 2000s.

But this year especially, what Holland and the Wings do in the offseason will be critical to the future. Undoubtedly, it will be a very interesting summer.

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