|Henrik Zetterberg gives Pavel Datsyuk a fist bump at the end Game 5 at Tampa Bay. Was it perhaps the last time on the ice together for the Euro Twins? (Photo by Getty Images) |
DETROIT – Difficult decisions come with hard times.
It’s a situation the Red Wings find themselves in as they look to retool their roster this summer.
“There’s going to be changes,” Wings Henrik Zetterberg said with a convincing tone. “You have to be aggressive if you want to be in the race. It gets harder and harder to make it to the postseason. More and more teams are equipped to do that. You have to be in the race.”
After being eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fourth time in five years Zetterberg knows the Red Wings are on the cusp of roster shakeups. The Red Wings’ captain isn’t naïve to the fact that the uniformity effects of the salary-cap era have finally caught up to the team, and that parity is now the norm in the NHL.
He also knows that Pavel Datsyuk, his Euro Twin partner for the past 13 seasons, will likely announce his retirement from the NHL once next month’s World Championships conclude, in Russia.
“I probably know, but I think he’s the one who should (say),” Zetterberg said, referring to Datsyuk’s pending decision.
Should Datsyuk retire this summer he’ll forfeit $5.5 million (the final year of a three-year contract) while leaving the Wings with a $7.5 million hit to their salary cap.
The Wings will likely lose other players in free agency this summer. Brad Richards, Darren Helm, Kyle Quincey and Joakim Andersson can all become unrestricted free agents on July 1. And earlier this week, general manager Ken Holland promised to be more aggressive in seeking trades this offseason, especially at the draft in late June.
Whether it’s through trades or free agency, Zetterberg knows the changing landscape makes it more difficult to fill needs up front and along the blue line.
Steven Stamkos is the big fish in the league’s small UFA pond this offseason. But the Tampa Bay center – he produced 36-plus goals for the fifth time in eight NHL seasons – comes with a high price tag. Of course, there are other more affordable forwards, like David Backes, Andrew Ladd, Kyle Okposo, Troy Brouwer, Frans Nielsen and Jamie McGinn. The six are between the ages of 27 and 32, and all were more offensively productive than 35-year-old Richards, who finished his one season in Detroit with 10 goals and 28 points.
However, challenges await the Red Wings, and Datsyuk’s looming cap hit is certainly the biggest. If the club can’t trade his rights then the likelihood of landing the aforementioned UFAs dwindles expeditiously.
“You have to be ready if there is something out there,” Zetterberg suggested. “I haven’t really checked the free agency list. I think a whole lot of teams are looking for the same players. If you want to get someone you have to get aggressive. Then it’s to the point is it worth it or not worth it.”
Free agency and trades are sexy catch phrases that are sweet to the ears of media and fans. But the reality of today’s NHL makes acquiring these players more difficult, and potentially more costly.
“You would love to get a little bit of everything,” Zetterberg said. “It’s hard now. Free agency is tough. You’ve got to get most of your people from your own organization. I think we have the youth. We have the players down in Grand Rapids that are playing well. We’re seeing that this year, they came up and played well. I’m expecting the same next year.”
Questions about increasing ice time for younger players, particularly Andreas Athanasiou, who averaged nine minutes in 37 games, resonated late in the season. This week Zetterberg was asked if veterans like himself need to transition to less ice time in sake of the team’s younger stars.
“I think so. That’s a natural step to go,” he said. “We went through the same thing. We’re not going to give it away. They have to earn it. When they do it’ll happen naturally.”
Once again, Zetterberg and Datsyuk were 1-2 in scoring for the Red Wings. It was the eighth times in the past 11 seasons that the pair led the team in scoring. Though the captain played every game for just the second time in his career, he’s disappointed in the fall off in his offensive contributions.
“I’m happy I was able to play all 82,” said Zetterberg, who led the team with 37 assists and 50 points. “That’s my goal every year to be able to play all games. If it took a toll on me I’m not sure. I should have performed better than I did. I don’t think it had anything to do with playing 82 games or not.
“You’re used to playing at a certain level. When you’re not doing that when you want to do that it’s harder. For me I have to find a way to get back at that. Find different areas to get better at whether it’s different ways to work out over the summer, but just be better and be able to produce more.”
However the offseason shakes out, Zetterberg expects he’ll be meeting new teammates in Traverse City for the start of training camp in September.
“There will be changes. There are always changes,” he said. “There’s free agency and guys will leave. You’re going to get some new faces here next year. That’s normal.”