Wings fans seem to have regrettably forgotten both the lay of the land and the reality of doing business in a league whose general managers do each other no favors. As the calendar turned from January to February, the list of teams supposedly interested in top-six forwards and depth defensemen with grit is longer than the list of teams which continue to ride the uncomfortable fence line between buying and selling because they still have realistic aspirations of cracking the playoff pack before the month is out, especially in the Western Conference.
Moreover, while Wings fans tend to ignore the fact that asking prices for top flight talent involve roster players, top prospects and draft picks–the bizarre Hemsky and Andy Sutton to Detroit for Tomas Jurco and a 1st round pick rumor wasn’t far off in terms of what the Oilers might be asking for, and when Wings fans drool over Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and World Junior Championship performers like Petr Mrazek and Teemu Pulkkinen, opposing teams’ GM’s do the same darn thing.
Put simply and bluntly, yes, the Wings would like to add a top-six forward, and preferably a top-six forward with some size and grit, if Wings coach Mike Babcock is to be believed, and while the Wings have more faith in the depth of their goaltending position behind Jimmy Howard in the forms of Ty Conklin and Joey MacDonald, Ken Holland told the Globe and Mail’s Alan Maki that he would like to add some defensive depth and snarl as well (though not in the form of the suspension waiting to happen that is Sutton).
The Wings will not, however, surrender top prospects, useful roster players or 1st-round picks in order to bolster their lineup. Ken Holland hasn’t parted with a 1st-rounder since he traded for Robert Lang back in 2004, and the Wings still seem to have somewhat mixed feelings about sending Shawn Matthias of all people to Florida for Todd Bertuzzi back in 2007.
If Holland kicks the 258th tire via a conversation with a GM or agent (seriously, Holland, Nill and Martin are really that thorough), and does in fact find a way to add an impact player, he’ll do so, surrendering significant assets included, but the Wings are looking to make the kind of deal which allowed them to add Brad Stuart for a handful of mid-round draft picks back in 2008. They’re not going to try to out-bid the supposed dozen teams interested in adding Tuomo Ruutu, nor are they going to try to convince Predators GM David Poile to trade his second-best defenseman to the Predators’ biggest rival for half of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ players when the Wings could bid on the signing rights of players like Suter or Parise either at the Entry Draft or on July 1st.
In other words, in terms of assets to deal, I don’t expect the Wings to want to do more than toss consecutive 2nd-round picks and a somewhat iffy prospect like Landon Ferraro (no offense, Landon) to an opponent…
And no, the Wings aren’t going to remove prospective free agents like Stuart, who may or may not return because his stepdaughter’s in high school in San Jose, or Hudler, who’s a free-agent-to-be, just because the team might lose both players this summer. When the Wings had a lineup very similar to its present one in terms of its forwards, save the fact that Mikael Samuelsson was playing where Bertuzzi does, Hudler was on pace for a 57-point season and the team also happened to have Marian Hossa back in 2009, the Wings’ beat writers had leaked the fact that Samuelsson, who’d chosen to buy a house a stone’s throw from Andreas Lilja’s in Novi back in 2005, had chosen to sell his home and was intent upon testing the market no matter what the Wings offered between January and July, Holland stated emphatically that he would not choose to subtract from his team’s playoff chances for the sake of maximizing an asset that would surely be lost down the line.
Bluntly speaking, I tend to aim a little low as a partisan Wings fan as much as a pseudo-professional Wings blogger because, in 20 years of following the team, I’ve only seen the team go nuts at the deadline once–and adding Chris Chelios, Ulf Samuelsson, Wendel Clark and Bill Ranford in 1999 didn’t save the Wings from a second round defeat at the hands of the Colorado Avalanche. Instead, that slate of trades and the pair of first-round picks the Wings sent to Chicago for Chelios (who obviously contributed to the Wings in ways that Anders Eriksson, Adam Munro and Steve McCarthy never could have imagined) Holland and Nill sat down in a sports bar after the Wings’ defeat and suggested that the Wings couldn’t afford to continue bleeding first-round picks and prospects when Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov wouldn’t be around forever, and it’d be Nicklas Lidstrom’s team soon, but even Lidstrom would need a strong supporting cast to carry the Wings through the first decade of the 21st century.
Thirteen years later, Nicklas Lidstrom won’t be around forever, and Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall are playing in a salary-capped world where the Wings have staved off a full rebuilding process by constantly folding drafted prospects and free agents usually signed in July into the lineup, and that blueprint isn’t going to change.
If the Wings are able to add someone like Montreal Canadiens winger Travis Moen or a depth defenseman like Carolina Hurricanes rearguard Bryan Allen, I’d be thrilled. Anything more than that’s a bonus, because, realistically speaking, the Wings just don’t and won’t spend like there’s no tomorrow, especially given that Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Stuart, Hudler, and Conklin are all facing unrestricted free agency this summer, and if Lidstrom decides to retire, the Wings will choose to spend even more aggressively than those who follow the team on a regular basis suggest they might if Suter or Parise become available in July.