This season, the Wings were forced into an uncomfortable situation with two of their young prospects. Mattias Ritola and Jakub Kindl were both out of minor league options, meaning that in order to be returned to the AHL, they had to clear waivers.
Neither was necessarily kicking the door down to be brought up to the big leagues, but they were given a shot to win a job in training camp in September since it was their last chance to make it.
Jakub Kindl made the team as the 7th defenseman, as expected.
Mattias Ritola had a far more daunting task in front of him, with 14 forwards already on the Wings roster. Those 14 skaters, plus the Wings 7 defenders and two goalies brings you to the 23 man roster limit. So in order to earn a spot on the Wings, someone else would have had to have been waived or traded.
In the end, the Wings took the risk of waiving Ritola rather than losing anyone else off of their roster. He was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had the 6th highest waiver priority due to finishing 25th last year. Steve Yzerman, the new GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, would have been familiar with Ritola from his years in the Red Wings management team.
He hasn’t really panned out yet for the Lightning and was in fact waived again, and spent some time with their AHL affiliate in Norfolk. He is now back up playing with the Lightning again.
Ken Holland will be facing even more decisions at the start of the next season, with no less than 5 Griffins who will need to clear waivers next year.
First up, let’s take a quick look at who is already signed for next year from the Wings’ current roster.
Zetterberg – Datsyuk – Holmstrom
Cleary – Filppula – Franzen
Hudler – Helm – Bertuzzi
X – Abdelkader - X
X – Rafalski
Kronwall – Stuart
X - Kindl
Assuming they go with the same breakdown as this year’s team, the Wings will need four more forwards and three more defensemen.
I expect that Nicklas Lidstrom will be one of the three, and I am torn on whether or not Salei will be back for another year, or if he’ll hang up the skates so he can spend more time with his family.
That 7th defense spot, if Lidstrom and Salei both do come back, could belong to one of the two Griffins whose waiver eligibility starts next season. Those two players are Logan Pyett and Sergei Kolosov.
Both will be restricted free agents this summer, but assuming both are resigned then they will probably be given every opportunity to win the job.
Kolosov was drafted 151st overall in 2004 by the Wings, and at 6’4″ and 210 pounds has drawn many comparisons to former Wing Andreas Lilja. He won’t wow you with his offensive game (he has only 20 points in his three seasons with the Griffins) but is a big body that can eat up valuable penalty killing minutes. He has a lot of experience despite his age, playing internationally for Belarus in the WJC U-18, WC U20, World Championships and Olympics, all before his 25th birthday.
Logan Pyett, on the complete opposite end of the scale (physically speaking), is a right handed shot who is listed at a generous 5’11″. The immediate comparison one would make is to Brian Rafalski because of his stature and puck-moving ability. Drafted third last, 212th overall, in the 2006 draft, Pyett went on to represent Canada in the 2008 World Juniors, winning Gold. He is one goal this season away from a career high of 10.
If it comes down to one of these two as the 7th defenseman next season, my money is on Pyett. While Kolosov may serve more of an immediate need for a big body on the back end, and Pyett’s skill set is something the Wings have a surplus of, I think Pyett is more valuable right now.
Having him spending his first season in the NHL learning from offensive geniuses like Lidstrom and Rafalski would be extremely beneficial, I think. When he does get into game action, he would provide the Wings a right handed shot on the second power play unit, which is something they sorely need.
Teams are always on the lookout for guys who can run their power play, and that means that Pyett would very likely be claimed off of waivers.
Kolosov on the other hand would likely pass through unclaimed because big, crease-clearing defenders are easier to find than puck-movers.
The real sticking point in the whole defensive outlook is whether or not the Wings re-sign Jonathan Ericsson. I always assumed that he would be, but recently Ken Holland said that he will not be addressing Ericsson’s contract situation until the summer. You would think that if he was certain he was going to re-sign him, he would do it now, and allow Ericsson to play more confidently, free of the worry of playing for a contract. If he is re-signed, then the Wings almost have to say goodbye to Salei, because there would be no room for either Pyett or Kolosov to win a spot, and both would have to be waived.
Here is my projected 2011-2012 Red Wings defense:
Lidstrom – Stuart
Ericsson – Rafalski
Kronwall – Kindl
Salei retires, and Sergei Kolosov is waived, clears, and is assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins for a fourth season of AHL duty.
Check back tomorrow when I go further into the Wings roster decisions and take a look at what new faces we might see in our forward group next year!