The Detroit Red Wings have made their mark on the NHL over the last two decades by establishing a tradition of winning, nay excellence, that has been unmatchable by any of the other 29 teams.
An area that often is overlooked, but is crucial to their success, is their ability to extract every last droplet of talent from the tombstones of hockey careers.
With a trio of signings on this, the first day of free agency, the Wings seem poised to do just that.
The Wings agreed to terms with Swedish goaltender Jonas Gustavsson shortly after the outset of free agency on a two year deal that will pay $3M.
Gustavsson was brought over from Swedish hockey powerhouse Farjestad BK in 2009 to man the crease for the Maple Leafs. A heart issue (one that Gustavsson said today he thinks is behind him) kept him out of the net frequently over the next three seasons, but when he was healthy enough to play he put up numbers that were respectable-to-solid on a poor Toronto team.
Gustavsson is being brought in to push Jimmy Howard to be a better starting goaltender for the Wings. Howard has not felt pressure from the backup position during his career in Detroit, because Chris Osgood and Ty Conklin have failed to provide him with any challenge for playing time. A healthy Gustavsson can do just that and gives Detroit a formidable 1-2 punch in the crease. Joey MacDonald will return to Grand Rapids to help bring along a trio of young goaltenders in Petr Mrazek, Tom McCollum and Jordan Pearce.
The day was progressing quietly on the Red Wings front until about six hours later when the Wings signed two players that had Red Wings nation up in arms.
First, Detroit signed ex-Wing Mikael Samuelsson to a two year contract for $3M per season, one that included a full no trade clause.
Samuelsson played for the Wings from 2005 until 2009, totaling 67 goals over that span including helping to win the Stanley Cup in 2008. Following the Cup Finals loss to Pittsburgh in 2009, Samuelsson and the Wings parted ways as the Wings were forced to decide between he and Jiri Hudler.
Samuelsson scored 30 goals the next year with the Vancouver Canucks, but has seen his production dip the last two seasons with Vancouver and Florida. At 35 years old and joining the Red Wings, I wouldn’t expect Samuelsson to be asked to contribute much more than third line minutes at even strength and play on the first or second power play unit. He gives Detroit an offensive-minded right handed forward, which is something they don’t have unless you count Damien Brunner (more on him in a second).
As I said earlier, Detroit has proven very adept at getting the most out of players. I fully believe Samuelsson can contribute 45+ points in the role Detroit will use him in.
Minutes later, the Wings signed pesky Nashville forward Jordin Tootoo to a three year deal worth $5.7M.
Again, it was greeted with more jeers than cheers by an emotional Wings fan base waiting for the news that Suter and Parise were both signing in Detroit and bringing Lidstrom and Yzerman out of retirement with them.
I understand the urgency amongst Wings fans, as this is the first time in my lifetime that we’ve had an off-season with so much uncertainty, with the face of our blue line for the last two decades gone. But you can’t go about replacing Lidstrom in one day, especially when the best defenseman available hasn’t even signed yet, and has been rumored to be leaning Detroit’s way anyhow.
These moves today were not about replacing Lidstrom, they were about filling much smaller holes.
Samuelsson will provide secondary offense and a boost to a stagnant power play. He is also an agitating player to play against.
Tootoo is possibly the most effective pest in the league and one of the most irritating nuisances to go up against, and Red Wings fans should be happy they don’t have to face him six times a year anymore. He brings an element they do not have, and have not had since Kirk Maltby’s heyday. Justin Abdelkader has tried to fill that role, but Tootoo is far better at it.
Tootoo also had his best offensive season last year, totaling 30 points for the Predators, and at just 29 years of age he is basically in his prime. The three year contract means the Wings should be getting the very best Tootoo has to offer.
The Wings also made official today the signing of Swiss forward Damien Brunner to a one year, two-way contract worth $925,000 at the NHL level. We reported the Brunner signing about a week ago. Check him out here.
With the three forwards signed today, and Abdelkader an RFA, the Wings look to have 16 NHL forwards next season. Obviously, that is at least two, possibly three too many.
One scenario is the Wings could be stocking up forwards for a possible trade, either to acquire some help on the back end if they lose out on Suter, or to trade for someone like Rick Nash if they miss out on Parise.
Or they could just stand pat with what they have, and waive the two or three bottom forwards and assign them to Grand Rapids should they clear. That would give Detroit an incredible depth at the forward position. With injuries to Datsyuk, Cleary, Holmstrom, etc last year, Detroit struggled to fill the holes with call-ups from the minors.
As I see it now (and keep in mind I believe they stand a good chance of landing Parise or Suter – or both – tomorrow), this is how the Wings lineup shakes out for 2012-13:
Gustav Nyquist – Pavel Datsyuk – Johan Franzen
Valtteri Filppula – Henrik Zetterberg – Danny Cleary
Todd Bertuzzi – Darren Helm – Mikael Samuelsson
Drew Miller – Justin Abdelkader (RFA) – Jordin Tootoo
Jan Mursak – Cory Emmerton – Patrick Eaves
Nick Kronwall – Ian White
Kyle Quincey (RFA) – Jonathan Ericsson
Brendan Smith – Jakub Kindl
Obviously, not a finished project but a good starting point and definitely not a reason to freak out like just about everyone on Twitter seemed to be doing today. Add a Suter or a Parise to that mix and you have a very legitimate looking lineup.
Today, Detroit became a tougher team to play against, and in my books that’s considered a win, especially when the two biggest names haven’t signed a contract anywhere and Detroit is in the mix for both.
In Holland we trust.