DETROIT – For nearly an hour general manager Ken Holland answered roughly a dozen questions from reporters about the disappointment of the Red Wings’ season and where the team goes from here.
First and foremost, before any upgrades can be made to the current roster, the Wings need a definitive answer from Pavel Datsyuk regarding his future. Should the superstar center – who has one year remaining on his three-year contract – decide to retire early and return to Russia, the Red Wings will be faced with a $7.5 million hit to the salary cap.
As Wings players gathered at Joe Louis Arena for the annual end-of-season team photo Monday afternoon, Datsyuk told reporters he will give Holland an answer after next month’s World Championships, which the 37-year-old is committed to playing in.
Last week, the Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Red Wings in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series that lasted just five games. It’s the fourth time in five years that the club hasn’t made it out of the first round, while marking the first time in franchise history that they’ve been eliminated in the first round in three successive seasons.
Aside from Datsyuk, the Wings could lose others to free agency this summer. The futures of Drew Miller, Brad Richards, Darren Helm and Kyle Quincey are all in question. Joakim Andersson is reportedly headed home to play in Sweden next season.
Holland still believes the route the Wings need to take to be competitive in a 30-team league saddled by a salary cap is through the draft and the development of young talent.
“The salary cap in 2005 changed the game,” Holland said. “I look 10 years ago there were some dynasties. I thought Detroit had a dynasty, Dallas had a dynasty, New Jersey had a dynasty, Colorado had a dynasty. Those are the teams that competed for the Cups. There’s 30 teams competing for the Stanley Cup now, so the times have changed dramatically. We made the playoffs 25 straight years in a row. With that comes drafting right. You need stars.”
The Wings have young stars in Dylan Larkin, Petr Mrazek, Danny DeKeyser, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha. But are they to the point of their careers that Henrik Zetterberg and Datsyuk were when they took the leadership reigns from past stars like Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan?
“Do we have any young players who can take the team over? I’m not sure,” Holland said. “I don’t want to sit here and say we’re turning the team over to this young player or that young player. It’s not fair to those players. For me to sit here and put that kind of pressure on them … I don’t know if they’re ready. They’ve got to grow into it. We’ve got some good young players. Do we have stars? I don’t know. I’ve got to watch. We’ve got to draft, we’ve got to develop. We’ve got to explore free agency. We’ve got to change the mix a little bit.”
Depending the answer they receive from Datsyuk, the mixing will likely begin at the NHL’s draft weekend, June 24-25 in Buffalo.
Count on Holland to explore the free-agency market but the players who are likely to be available in July will be secondary support players, who won’t carry a franchise on their backs.
That leaves trades as the club’s only real viable option to improve the roster. “I’m gonna be more aggressive going to the draft this year and exploring trades,” Holland said.
Last summer there were 15 trades made at the draft in Sunrise, Fla. Teams paid high prices – first- and second-round draft picks as compensation in most cases – to acquire players like Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton, Ryan O’Reilly, Robin Lehner, Griffin Reinhart and Kyle Palmieri.
The Wings, however, typically haven’t been interested in losing their top-round picks.
In recent years, the Wings have swung draft-day deals to move up or down the board but not to acquire NHL-ready talent. While they might pursue more options this time around, Holland is cautious about not sounding the alarms.
“Rebuilds take eight to 10 years in my opinion, and that’s if you wanna tank it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody wants to go through a massive rebuild. So I think we’ve got to try to marginally get better, maybe change the look of our team a little bit and we’ve got to try to find a way to make the playoffs and give ourselves another opportunity. I don’t know if there’s any other way.”