Red Wings Off-season Preview: Forwards

Quickly, name what’s wrong with the Red Wings forwards!

They are too old right?

Not physical enough?

Too slow?

Whether or not you believe that or not, that is the general belief about the Red Wings forwards and style of play in general.

My goal is to change those stereotypes by identifying some free agents the Wings should target this summer.

First though, a quick update on the defense situation.

Brian Rafalski made his retirement official in a press conference this morning. I wish him well in anything he does in the future, and I have no doubt he will enjoy tremendous success wherever life takes him.

With his retirement, the Wings have three players from last year’s defense signed – Kronwall, Stuart, and Kindl. Obviously, an increased role is in order for Kindl. I’m expecting him to be in the top 6 from the get go, instead of having to wait for an injury situation to get into the lineup like he did this year. He’ll probably see some time on the power play as well, and depending on how the summer plays out, he might even get some PK time. I expect Lidstrom to make that a group of four, meaning at least two, and possibly three, more players will be added.

The Wings have made it known that they are hoping that Brendan Smith makes the team out of training camp. The definition of making the team is up for debate, though. Are they hoping he makes it as the 7th defenseman, like Kindl did last year? Or are they hoping he earns a top 6 spot, meaning they would only need to add one more defenseman? One would have to think that, with time remaining before Smith becomes waiver ineligible, if he didn’t crack the top 6, they would just keep him in Grand Rapids until a situation came up where he was needed. Either way, the opportunity is there for Smith to make his mark on the team.

It has also been rumored that the Wings are exploring the trade route, rather than free agency, to fill the void Rafalski has left. In any and all trade speculation I’ve seen, Jiri Hudler has been the name that keeps coming up on the block. Obviously, it would be tough to deal him straight up for a high calibre offensive defenseman, especially given how poor his 2010-2011 season was. Would they package Hudler with a blue-chip prospect like Landon Ferraro (who the Wings took 32nd overall in 2009 and projects to be a top 6 forward some day), with maybe a future pick or considerations thrown in, to acquire a bonafide top 4 type of defenseman?

If I was Ken Holland, the names I would be looking at are:

Tobias Enstrom (cap hit of $3.75M, signed through 2013 and good for at least 50 points, probably more playing on the more talented Wings, and is one of 6 defensemen already under contract with Atlanta, not including RFA Zack Bogosian)

Brent Burns (I doubt Minnesota would part with him, but he can hammer the puck from the blue line, has great offensive instincts from his time as a forward in juniors, is enormous, and is a righthanded shot, could probably reach 50 points in Detroit) – cap hit of $3.55M

John-Michael Liles (almost a carbon copy of Rafalski in terms of body-type, other than being left-handed, could easily hit 50 points in Detroit, $4.2M cap hit)

Ryan Suter (along with Shea Weber formed the most fearsome defense tandems in the NHL, is a UFA next season so the Wings would get a year to sell him on Detroit and get him to come back with a longer term contract – current cap hit of $3.5M)

The best part about this group of four is that only Liles has any kind of no-trade clause, and his clause is only that he can designate 18 teams he will not accept a trade to. I’m virtually certain Detroit would be one of the 11 teams in the “accept” section, due to the fact that he’d have a chance to play with the likes of Zetterberg, Datsyuk and (hopefully) Lidstrom.

Anyways, what do you think? Will the Wings indeed go the trade route, and if so, who would you be willing to part with, and who would you target? Or will they go after one of the handful of free agents I identified earlier this week?

On to the forwards!

I said my goal was to make the Wings forward group three things:



Harder to play against.

These players accomplish all of those goals, and can chip in some offense to boot!

Brooks Laich – Current team: Washington Capitals, 2010 salary: $2.4M

Laich is possibly the most versatile forward on the Capitals. Sure, Ovechkin gets all the headlines for his highlight reel plays, and Backstrom and Semin are nice supporting players, but Laich is the guy that drives the bus down there, in my opinion at least. He was their fourth highest scorer, despite being the 15th highest paid player. He can play the wing, but he can also play center and win more than half of his face-offs. He was fifth on the team in hits, and was the second best forward at blocking shots, and despite that played in all 82 games this year. He’s also not afraid to shoot the puck, as only Ovechkin took more shots than he did for the Capitals. He had the third highest average time on ice per game of any Capitals forward. Despite averaging nearly 3 minutes in PP time per game, he led the Capitals forwards in short-handed time per game. Put simply, the guy does everything.

Washington will likely have the space to give him however much he wants – and a player of his talents could push for well over $4M in my opinion – so it will probably come down to whether or not he wants to stay in Washington. If he doesn’t, Detroit should be ready to swoop in and pick him up.

Joel Ward – Current team: Nashville Predators, 2010 salary: $1.5M

Ward’s stock has been rising the last two seasons as the Predators have gotten more national recognition, but in the playoffs this year his game really took off. He put up 13 points in Nashville’s 12 games, including 7 goals. In fact, at one point he was leading the playoffs in scoring. He’ll do the dirty work for you, but he can also finish when he gets the opportunity. He was Nashville forward leader in ice time this season, and plays almost four minutes of specialty teams per game (1:52 SH, 1:30 PP). Similar to Laich, Ward’s physical style of play didn’t lead to missing a lot of games. He suited up for all but 2 of Nashville’s regular season games, and every one of their playoff matches.

Ward would come far more cheaply than Laich, as he doesn’t have quite the same kind of offensive upside. I would expect him to sign for somewhere in the neighbourhood of $3M per season, and if that were with the Red Wings I would be a very happy camper.

Chad Larose – Current team: Carolina Hurricanes, 2010 salary: $1.9M

I really wanted the Wings to go out and get Larose following the 2009 season, where they lost in the Stanley Cup Finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Instead, the Fraser, MI native re-upped with the only NHL team he’s ever played for. Now that his contract is up again, I would strongly urge the Wings to take another look at the 29 year old winger. Larose has something that neither Laich nor Ward has: a Stanley Cup ring, which he won in his rookie year of 2006. Larose should be very familiar to the Wings organization: he played his junior hockey in nearby Plymouth, after graduating from Michigan’s Compuware minor hockey system. He put up 117, including 61 goals, in his final year of junior, after going undrafted and not earning a contract as a free agent invitee at the Red Wings training camp in 2001 and 2002. The talented scorer has had to change his game to stick in the NHL, a lot like Danny Cleary did when he caught on with the Wings, also as a free agent invitee. Just like Ward and Laich, Larose’s rough style of play (he was fourth on the team in hits), did not translate to missed games. He played all 82 contests for the Hurricanes. Larose played 16:00 per game for Carolina this year, nearly a minute and a half of which was on the penalty kill. He was second on the team in shorthanded goals and points, trailing only team captain and NHL All Star Erik Staal.

Larose could be had for much cheaper than Ward, I believe. Since we’re using Cleary as a basis for comparison, and his cap hit is $2.8M, I believe that Larose’s services could be attained for just north of $2M a season.

Ryan Jones – Current team: Edmonton Oilers, 2010 salary: $975,000

Jones had a breakout season for the Oilers this year, scoring 18 goals. It was the first season of his professional career that did not include any time spent in the AHL. I watched far more Oilers hockey this year than I normally do, due to the influx of talented youngsters in their system like Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi, Omark and others, but any time you watch the Edmonton Oilers play, you can’t help but notice Jones. Whether it’s because he has shoulder-length hair flowing out the back of his helmet, or because he throws his body around like a wrecking ball and goes to the net with a reckless abandon, his play simply demands to be noticed. He was first among Oilers forwards in blocked shots, played nearly 3:00 of specialty teams per game, and was third in goals on a team where he was far from the most highly touted scorer. Jones was only -5 on a team that finished last in the NHL by a mile, a group that had no full-time players finish as a plus. He also played 81 games.

At 26, Jones has finally established himself as a full-time NHer. His package of grit and skill, as well as youthful exuberance, could be the kind of infusion of energy the Wings need. I believe that if Detroit were so inclined, they could acquire the scrappy winger for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5-1.9M. Adding him to a core of young checkers that already includes Darren Helm, Justin Adbelkader and Jan Mursak should make fans really excited about the future of Red Wings hockey.


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