The Detroit Red Wings 2013-14 season ended exactly one week ago. The locker room has been cleared out and the players are now preparing for the long summer ahead, expect for Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan who were able to rejoin the Grand Rapids Griffins to take part in the quest to defend the Calder Cup. But, for everyone else the offseason starts now.
During these next 5 months the front office has an abundance of decisions to make; starting off with who earned the right to stay followed by who has to go. The Red Wings have 10 free agents (7 unrestricted, 3 restricted) wanting new contracts and there are a few young guns on 2-way contracts that want to stay up and start in the NHL next season. So, who makes the cut?
Here is my first look at the top 5 players who should stay put with the Red Wings for next season.
5. Tomas Tatar
Get this ball of energy a contract extension pronto. Mark my words; Tomas Tatar is the future of the Red Wings. He is animated, skillful, and most important, an extremely hard worker. While he is a little bit undersized, he is able to make up for it with his determination. I firmly believe the sky is the limit for Tatar.
With 19 goals and 20 assists in his first full NHL season it makes a nice stepping stone for him to build on. If improvements are made in puck control, general hockey awareness, and back checking, then Tatar is well on his way to being able to fill Pavel Datsyuk’s skates whenever the Magic Man decides to retire.
4. Tomas Jurco
Tatar’s partner in crime, Tomas Jurco, is the only player on the list that currently has a contract for next season. That said it’s a 2-way contract which means he could start in the AHL or NHL to begin the season. Therefore, the argument here is that he should start and play the full season in the NHL.
I was hoping the organization learned from last season after keeping Gustav Nyquist in the AHL through the first 22 games of the season because Jurco is going to be in the same situation. Just like Nyquist, Jurco will have nothing left to prove in the AHL and the only way he is going to continue to develop is to face the faster and hard-hitting style of play in the NHL.
As a skill player with fancy moves, Jurco has to learn how to adapt his game to the NHL. He may be able to deke, dangle, and dance around defenders in the AHL but in the NHL that stuff hardly ever works (unless your name is Pavel Datsyuk). It’s a learning process that the 21-year-old from Slovakia can only pick up by playing in Detroit, not Grand Rapids.
3. Danny DeKeyser
Looking past all the injuries, the biggest problem last season was the lackluster defense. While everyone is quick to jump to the conclusion that Detroit needs wholesale changes on the blue-line, take a look at the possible free agents that could be brought in. Sad to say it, but there are no “quick fix” players that will make the defense substantially better right away.
So, if the Wings want their defense to get better, then they have to stick to the long-term plan: development.
I know it’s scary, but Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith are both prime examples of what can happen when a player gets the time to grow and develop within a system. Now both of them are arguably top 4 defensemen with plenty of room still to grow.
That’s why DeKeyser deserves to stay because he isn’t the guy causing the problems. He led the defense in plus/minus with +10 (4th best on the team), took the 2nd fewest number of penalty minutes for a defensemen (behind Jakub Kindl, who was scratched from many games) with a mere 30 minutes, and even contributed a fair amount on the offensive end with 23 points (4 goals and 19 assists).
2. Riley Sheahan
Long gone are the days of Tomas Holmstrom standing in front of the crease causing havoc for goaltenders across the NHL. That ability to screen goaltenders almost became a lost art after Holmstrom retired, but then entered Riley Sheahan. In my opinion, he was the biggest surprise of the season.
His big body was a key component into what made the “kid line” tick. His presence at the front of the net helped create a majority of their scoring chances. While everyone else looked afraid to be in the line of fire, Sheahan was awarded for his efforts. As the clean-up guy at the front of the net he obtained the 2nd best shooting percentage on the team behind Nyquist at a very respectable 15.3%.
His net presence combined with his rocket of a wrist shot makes Sheahan a valuable prospect that should have a long and successful career if he stays true to his grinder role.
1. Daniel Alfredsson
Alfie may be old, 41 years old to be exact, but he is still a productive playmaker. Surprisingly enough, he co-led the Wings in points during the regular season with Niklas Kronwall with 49 (18 goals and 31 assists). He was able to put up those numbers in 68 games (11 fewer than Kronwall) and averaged under 17 minutes of ice time a night. My point being is that age is only number.
There are two practical reasons to bring Alfredsson back.
First, Alfredsson brings his leadership and experience. The youth movement is great and all, but somebody has to show these kids the ropes. The Red Wings want to avoid becoming the youthful and talented, yet inexperienced Edmonton Oilers. Hockeytown is known for its history and veteran leadership, by those standards it only makes sense to give Alfredsson one last crack at winning the elusive Stanley Cup.
Second, keeping Alfredsson on a 1-year deal helps the salary cap for next offseason. Gustav Nyquist will be looking for a big payday at the end of next season. The Wings can do themselves a favor by tying that money up for Nyquist into another Alfredsson 1-year deal. Otherwise the Wings will probably have to bring in a free agent to fill that spot and he is going to want multiple years as insurance. The end result would be another Stephen Weiss-type contract (5-year, $4.9 million per year) that sucks up the money needed to offer Nyquist the contract he is looking for and deserves next offseason.
That does it. The top 5 players the Red Wings should keep on their NHL squad for next season.
Next week I will tackle the top 5 players the Red Wings should move on without.
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