Saturday, April 21, 2012

2011/12 Detroit Red Wings R.I.P

The first team eliminated from the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs is the Detroit Red Wings, bounced in five games by the Nashville Predators. They were not exactly outplayed more in the series, but Pekka Rinne was the best player on either team and Detroit made more defensive blunders leading to opposing goals. That was the difference. Zero points for Bertuzzi, Cleary, and Lidstrom; 1 for Franzen. On the other side, Weber and Suter have to be the best 1-2 punch on defense in the playoffs right now. Rinne is unquestionably among the league's top 3 goaltenders. Datsyuk never quite seemed to get his legs back after late season knee surgery, but was still effective.

As a Red Wings fan, I have been saying since February that the team I least wanted Detroit to play in the first round was Nashville (and to a lesser extent, San Jose). I was even openly encouraging the Wings to lose the last game against Chicago to avoid Nashville in the first round. Wings fans have been spoiled with success over the last 15 years, such that it's hard to actually get upset anymore when they lose, but being the first team out is a low blow (next year they should book several events at the Joe in April, bring in Coldplay for a week). The series featured multiple acts of Red Wings pond hockey defense, most evidently when 3 Wings chased Erat into the corner, leaving two Preds all alone in the slot. When David Legwand walked through the whole team and scored 13 seconds into the 3rd period of the last game to break a 1-1 tie, I turned off my television and left the house. That was all that I needed to see.

The series hit a dark cloud at the end of game 1 with Shea Weber slamming Zetterberg's head into the glass with enough force to crack his helmet, and Brendan Shanahan not suspending Weber for the incident (followed by Shanahan going bananas with suspensions across the NHL afterwards). Shea is lucky that Zetterberg has enough Viking blood that he was not more seriously injured, because we have certainly seen many lesser infractions cause far more serious injuries. Had his first swing at the back of Zetterberg's head been half an inch to the right and connected, this could have been a far different story. What happens if 3 weeks from now Zetterberg starts showing post concussion symptoms? Not all head injuries are diagnosable in the early stages. I'd like to call the manufacturer of Henrik's helmet and ask them; based on safety tests how much force is generally required to crack their product? In all likelihood, Shanahan would probably like a mulligan on this one. He certainly made my shit list. Kudos to Bertuzzi for standing up for his teammate.

The offseason will see Hudler ($2.8M), Holmstrom ($1.8M), Lidstrom ($6M), and Stuart ($3.75M) become unrestricted free agents; with Helm ($0.9M), Abdelkader ($0.8M), and Quincy ($3.1M) becoming RFAs. If Lidstrom decides to return he is still a very useful player and the Wings will will him back with open arms, but he is not the player he used to be. He needs to be paired with the right partner, and can't be relied upon for the same number of minutes he's played in the past. Detroit will offer Ryan Suter a king's ransom, but there is a decent chance he stays in Nashville (especially if they go a few rounds in the playoffs, putting extra money in the owner's pockets to pay him market price). Brad Stuart is a good player that I would pay as much as $4.75M, but not more than Kronwall. Brendan Smith should be pencilled into the top 6. Detroit never adequately replaced Rafalski, and need another elite blueliner in order to maintain their status as an elite team.

On forward, Hudler is not worth a penny over $3M, and is more reasonably worth $2.5M. I won't miss him if he leaves. Holmstrom is a $1.5M player if he decides to return. Darren Helm proved his worth to this franchise by his absence, and should be paid in the $2M-$3M range. Abdelkader is a $1.5M player at most. Gustav Nyquist and Cory Emmerton have proven worthy of a 4th line role, and both come at a good price. The only major need is for more depth at the forward position, which was not addressed at the trade deadline. Adding a 2nd liner and a 3rd liner would be advised, especially if Patrick Eaves is unable to return. Valteri Filppula exceeded my expectations in the regular season, and fell short in the playoffs.

Jimmy Howard is a good goaltender at a good price $2.25M. The job is to resign a few players, add a top defenseman, and forward depth. They can easily contend for the Stanley Cup next season, provided they're able to acquire a top D man, which is not always easy to do. Ken Holland is among the league's top general managers, so hopefully he'll be able to reload in the offseason. Detroit has more financial flexibility than most teams.

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