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Wings look forward to next season

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – The Red Wings gathered at Joe Louis Arena as a team for the last time this season to take the official team photo, clean out their lockers, and speak with the media.

The last meeting happened much earlier than it has the past few years, which was seen as both a disappointment and a blessing for the Wings.

“The big thing is when you come in here and you’re having meetings today, you’re disappointed,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “And yet, you have to have a little perspective too. Twenty-two other teams have been at home for a long time, and so league standard-wise, it’s a good year. For what we went through injury-wise – to be able to get 100 points and what we were able to do – you have to give the guys a lot of credit. They dug in when it wasn’t looking very good, and found a way. In saying all that though, you want to be playing. And that part’s disappointing.”

Veteran forward Kris Draper, who has won four Stanley Cup with the Wings, reflected on the amount of travel that the team endured during the final stretch of the season and playoffs.

“Ken Holland gave us a crazy number of 35 days, 26 were spent on the road, or something like that,” the 38-year-old Draper said. “It was a pretty high number of what we did. The one thing, we just kept going, nobody complained about anything, we just believed that we could do some good things in the playoffs in the spring. Unfortunately it came up short.”

Now, Draper and his teammates will have time to rest, and just as important, spend time with their families.

“My son’s real happy now because I get to go to his First Communion next weekend,” Draper said. “With the family, we realize how much they sacrifice at this time of year. Last night I was at my daughter’s skating … kind of just jump right into their everyday lives right now, and just doing it a lot earlier than we have in past years.”

Babcock said that the extra time away from the rink this summer will be beneficial for the Wings when they reconvene for training camp in Traverse City.

“The gift of it this year is they can take from now until the end of May off, and have 15 weeks to train,” Babcock said. “That hasn’t happened in a long time. You can get your body back. Each year when you come to training camp, you don’t get in quite as good of shape as you did before. When you do that four years in a row or three years in a row, it starts to catch up to you. So having that extra jump in your legs is a big thing, and coming back to camp fired up about playing, not saying to yourself that, ‘Geez, the summer just started’, I think is going to be a positive thing for our team.”

However, while the Wings are resting, general manager Ken Holland will be hard at work planning for next season. Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Kirk Maltby and Andreas Lilja are just a few of the Wings who will be unrestricted free agents on July 1. Meanwhile, Holland will also have to find ways to sign restricted free agents like Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves.

Maltby said that scheduling a meeting with Holland is quite a chore for him and the other players right now.
“I’ll have a meeting with Kenny this week sometime,” Maltby said. “I have to put in a request for time with him. He’s got his hands full.”

Detroit management will do their best to keep the roster intact, despite salary-cap restrictions. Babcock said that while the Wings will look to add players during the offseason, the real team improvements could come from within.

“A message has been sent to myself as the coach and the management that we have to improve our team,” Babcock said. “So how do we improve our team? Well you improve your team by Val Filppula taking a big step. He’s at that point in his career; he has to take a step. You improve your team by (Johan Franzen) being healthy, by (Jonathan) Ericsson taking a big step, by (Jimmy Howard) being in his second year.

“There’s a number of things just internally that we can do, and then we’ll make some changes for us to get better. We have real growth from the bottom of our team, and we have to continue to have that to get as deep as we need to be. At the end, we weren’t deep enough, we didn’t get it done, and we have to improve.”

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