Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pool Outlook for Detroit

It was quite the season for the Red Wings, who have played an absolute ton of hockey over the last few years and just when you thought it was catching up to them in the middle part of the regular season, they decide to let their savvy dictate the play and they motored up the standings from outside of the playoffs almost into a home-ice spot in the first round, finishing 5th in the conference.  Then, just when you thought all that hockey was going to catch up to them against the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs, they decide to turn it up again and manage to squeak through in seven games.  But then the amount of hockey did seem to catch up to the Red Wings, as they fell to the somewhat unreliable playoff team, the San Jose Sharks, in five games, no less.  That isn't to say the Sharks are not a good team, it just didn't seem fitting to be beaten handily by them, despite winning the Western Conference title in the regular season.  So, that's it, but they can't be too disappointed, as they were one of the best teams in the last 10 years and the league is fairly cyclical like this.

It does come as somewhat of a shock not to see one of the Red Wings forwards as the top point-getter in the regular season, for pool purposes, but I think that is in some way very indicative of the season the Red Wings had as a whole.  Instead, we have Jimmy Howard as the top dog in Detroit, who was leaned upon for 63 appearances for the Red Wings, amassing a record of 37-15-10 with 3 shutouts and 2 assists, for a pool point total of 82, ranking him 24th among all players in the NHL and 8th among all goalies.  That is a great accomplishment for a goalie that has toiled in the Red Wings system for the previous three seasons.  After having a pretty good playoff performance, it should be fair to say that Howard should be assuming the number one job through the Summer and into training camp, as of right now.

In 2009, the Red Wings had five forwards in the top 100 of pool scoring, but in 2010, they only had two.  Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg tied for the best season among Detroit forwards with 70 points a piece, a ways down from where they were a year ago.  Datsyuk did not have the scoring season that everyone was used to, but at least his defense remained up with another Selke Trophy nod, while Zetterberg did average almost a point-per-game, but had a separated shoulder during the year, which made him miss eight games and probably wasn't 100% for a few.  Past the top two, the scoring really dropped off for the forwards, as Tomas Holmstrom was next with 45 points, Todd Bertuzzi had 44 points, Valtteri Filppula had 35 points and Dan Cleary had 34 points.  The lack of scoring, especially early on in the season, made their struggles a lot more believable.

It was also a very down year for the team's defensive scoring in 2010 as well, as the usual suspects all took a tumble down the pool rankings, making the Red Wings a pretty deep sinkhole of points for most poolies.  Nicklas Lidstrom did lead the way again for the Red Wings, but failed to reach the top 100 in pool scoring this season, dropping down to 131st with a 49-point effort in 2010.  That isn't to say the year was terrible, he still finished with a +22 rating and posted some serious minutes playing in all 82 games.  Brian Rafalski also tumbled out of the top 100 of scoring, dropping down to 181st with a 42-point season, but still ranked 20th among all defense.  Niklas Kronwall had an okay year in terms of scoring rate, almost half a point-per-game, but a knee injury saw to it that he didn't score a great deal of points in 2010, picking up only 22 in 48 games.  After those three, the points really dropped off again, but the Draft may be bigger this Fall, so you may want to study up on some potential for the Wings.

If you were to place a bet on who would actually have been in this spot at the beginning of the year, I suppose you would have said Howard, but at age 37, Chris Osgood is slowly dropping out of the talk as a number one goalie, but proving to be a solid mentor for his younger counterpart in the Red Wings crease. Osgood did have to feature in 23 games for the Red Wings, so it wasn't a terribly boring season for him, but his record was only 7-9-4 with 1 shutout and 1 assist, giving him 17 points on the year, ranking him 53rd among goalies in the league in pool points.  Unless injury hits Howard in 2011, I would have to expect somewhat of the same sort of numbers in Osgood's final year of his current deal through 2011.

2011 Season Outlook
Honestly, there is a small part of me that expects very little out of the Red Wings in 2011.  The Red Wings finally get a bit of a rest going out in the early part of May, but their legs have to be tired as a collective and a longer rest shouldn't really appeal to legs like that, as they become rusty.  The Red Wings also have a lot more questions than they do signed players going into the coming season, especially with a number of their aging veterans that are going into free agency, so uncertainty has to play on their minds a little.  That being said, I'm more partial to say that they could be in a pre-rebuilding phase, which shouldn't appeal to many Detroit fans.

Pavel DatsyukBrian RafalskiJimmy Howard
Henrik ZetterbergNiklas KronwallChris Osgood
Valtteri FilppulaBrad Stuart
Dan ClearyJonathan Ericsson
Kris Draper
Johan Franzen

As you can see from the table above, the team isn't quite as filled up as it was in the middle of June after losing in the Stanley Cup Finals. The Red Wings only have 12 NHL-ready players (in theory) signed on for the 2011 season and they have an approximate annual cap hit of $39.8 million.  As you can probably assume though, the missing names from the list won't come terribly cheap and will provide some fiery hoops for GM Ken Holland to jump through, especially if they want to avoid the pre-rebuilding phase at its worst.

I don't think it's possible to start talking about free agency in Detroit and not talk about the unrestricted free agents off the top.  The UFA class of regular players from Detroit had a combined cap hit of $14.8 million, which doesn't bode well for the team, since that will slide up close to the likely-stable cap ceiling for 2011.  Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Jason Williams, Brett Lebda, Kirk Maltby and Andreas Lilja will all need new deals and that looks like a very daunting task.  Of course, there has been some word that the Red Wings do want to re-up Holmstrom and they have to wait on Lidstrom's decision about playing another year and those two will be the biggest dominoes in the Red Wings off-season.  They will need to fall into their eventual places before the team can really move forward with their design.

As for restricted free agency, there likely isn't as much urgency surrounding many of these players, but there should be a little bit.  Darren Helm, Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Justin Abdelkader and Derek Meech headline the young Red Wings that need new deals this summer, but we all know how good Holland is at dealing with his young players, I can't forsee much of an issue of likely getting some of these guys below market value, just to be a part of the rich Red Wings tradition.

By no means is the Red Wings talent pool overflowing with great young bluechips, especially since they perennially draft in the bottom-third of the Entry Draft, if they even draft in the 1st round at all. In a year where they may have to rely on some entry-level deals to get them through the math of the salary cap, the Red Wings will likely have look at some talent coming up the ranks a little faster than normal.  According ot, the Red Wings have some highly rated talent, but they do seem to lack in talent that is ready to make that leap into the NHL, let alone make an impact.  The top ranked player is Jakub Kindl on defense, who might figure into the line-up with some veteran defensemen falling out, so I suppose that would be your best bet.  I can't recommend anyone right now, so I'll wait until closer to training camps or the preseason.

The Red Wings finished the season in 22nd in points, but that won't give them the 22nd pick, as it's likely that they may move up, thanks to the lower teams in the rankings making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The most important thing here is that they still have their 1st round pick this Summer, so they will hopefully make the most of it.  I would imagine that they will be going after the best available player at that position, since they could use just about everything in their youth system.  Anything seems like a viable option for the Red Wings this year.

What I had said at this time last year: "There is an understanding that the Red Wings are going to make a move to re-sign Marian Hossa, but there doesn't look to be a lot of room to put him back into the line-up, cap-wise. The team still looks very solid throughout, even without him. You can add the young kids and the team still looks like it could be back in the Finals for a three-peat between them and the Penguins. You can look at that team table inserted above and find a number of players that you could be happy with taking next season, but I think a lot of people may have learned their lesson about taking guys like Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom a little too early, as they are good playoff performers who have only good numbers in the regular season, instead of great. Don't be in a huge rush to pick Detroit players, get them when they are at a reasonable points level pick."

Well, I do believe there was a pretty good push by the Red Wings to try and find some room for Marian Hossa, but those efforts were for naught, as they couldn't offer the Slovak enough to stay and be a part of their winning formula. Still, the team on paper did still look like a Finalist for the Cup, but as we outlined in this post, scoring was a huge issue for the team down the line and guys like Holmstrom and Franzen were unreliable in the regular season and you really should have held out on the Red Wings, if at all possible. Decisions to limit the production potential of the Red Wings would have been much wiser than it sounded in the Fall.

For 2011, I am going to continue on the limb that I went out on in my Pool Outlook paragraph before the team table of signed players.  I don't forsee a good year, as I think the Red Wings will take a little bit longer to shake off the rust and they will probably have some troubles filling some of their depth positions, which have normally been filled in by wily veterans.  I do see Nicklas Lidstrom making a return to the game for another season, but his eventual cap hit will be a huge factor in determining the overall fortunes of the team going forward.  I'm sure if Ken Holland can weave his way through the mine field of free agency, the Red Wings may make it out of the Summer a little less scathed as I'm saying right now.  Again, don't be in a huge rush to pick Red Wings in your draft next year, your best bet is to turn them into bargains instead of gambles.

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