The offseason drags on for the Detroit Red Wings as the NHL playoffs have reached the Conference Finals. While it’s still a very long ways away from July 1st, the start of the free agency period, it’s never too early to speculate how Ken Holland plans to shape the team for next season.
Previously I have covered the salary cap situation, players that should stay, players that need to go, and the up-and-coming prospects that might make an impact next year. All that’s left now is players that could be brought in.
Here are five free agents the Red Wings could pursue if they end up on the market.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Defenseman – Age 33
2013-14 Stats: 72 Games, 2 Goals, 11 Assists
As much as I despise Pittsburgh Penguins’ players, Orpik has the one quality the Red Wings need more of: toughness. The Red Wings’ biggest need this offseason is to fix the backline and there is no question that the gritty 2009-10 defensive player of the year is a step up from Kyle Quincey. That said, I still have two more defensemen further down on my list that the Wings will probably look at first before even considering signing Orpik (including one of his teammates).
Winnipeg Jets – Goalie – Age 29
2013-14 Stats: 28 Games, 2.3 Goals Against, 0.920 Save Percentage
Yes, a goaltender. The Wings need a backup goaltender to challenge Jimmy Howard for two reasons.
First, I don’t think Jonas Gustavsson is going to be re-signed because he knows he has no future in Detroit and is in the perfect situation to jump ship. His exceptional 2013-14 season should entice at least one team to offer him a starting gig and a nice pay raise.
The Wings can’t afford to match that because of my second reason: Petr Mrazek. A case can be made that Mrazek deserves to be the back-up next season, and to an extent I agree.
Yes, he deserves it. No, it’s not a good idea because he still has a year left of eligibility in the AHL. Howard is the goalie for now, Mrazek is the goalie of the future. It’s in the organization’s best interest to allow Mrazek to play another full season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and continue to develop rather than sit behind Howard.
Al Montoya would be cheap, reliable, and could steal a few victories. Basically, Montoya would be a clone of Jonas Gustavsson from this past season minus the injury prone label.
Montreal Canadiens – Defenseman – Age 35
2013-14 Stats: 81 Games, 7 Goals, 36 Assists
Markov slots in as the #2 defensemen on the list. He passes the Wings’ defensive checklist with flying colors. He can produce offensively and is a first-rate experienced blue liner. Something that is rather scarce in this year’s free agent pool.
The Russian does have one major flaw that needs to be considered. Markov has had his fair share of serious injuries throughout his career and at 35 years old, time is no longer on his side. He isn’t the same player he used to be a few years ago. Although, after a very solid 2013-14 campaign it looks like he might have found his second wind.
It would be a risky and probably a rather expensive move to bring Markov in, but he fits the requirements needed (although he does have a left-handed shot) and would instantly make the Wings better.
Tampa Bay Lightning – Right Wing – Age 29
2013-14 Stats: 65 Games, 17 Goals, 19 Assists
Speaking of instant impact, the former New York Ranger captain who was dealt at the trade deadline this season will have a lot of teams knocking on his door if he decides to test the free agent waters.
Why should the Red Wings be involved in this sweepstake if they are already overcrowded with forwards? Another capable playmaker couldn’t hurt, especially at the right wing position. If Ken Holland approaches free agency with a win-now mentality, then Callahan is the top man to get. He is a proven goal scorer and would bring a new positive vibe into the locker room.
This move wouldn’t come cheap, but it’s the big splash acquisition the Wings’ have available to them. It’s not like they don’t have room for him either as Daniel Alfredsson could retire and Tomas Jurco has the option of returning to the AHL if need be.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Defenseman – Age 27
2013-14 Stats: 81 Games, 10 Games, 36 Assists
Niskanen provides everything the Red Wings are looking for. He has a big body, is strong with the puck in his own zone, and is in the prime of his career. It’s a very low risk signing as he would be an instant and productive contributor; virtually a plug-and-play type of player that the Wings wouldn’t have to worry about. Considering all the struggles the team has gone through in past few seasons on the blue line, that’s a huge asset to bring in.
However, just like every player mentioned before, these qualities come with a price. Niskanen is going to be looking for a long-term, expensive contract.
Yet, in a very shallow defensive free agent pool, Niskanen is about the best you can get with a right-handed shot.
Is he worth it? While that decision is still weeks away, right now I’d have to say yes.
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