DETROIT, MI -- It’s been a fairly quiet summer in Hockeytown. Early on, the Red Wings made some important free agent re-signings, but the main story of the off-season has been the Mike Modano debate.
While the team waited for him to make his decision as to whether or not he’ll join them next season, other signings were put on hold.
As soon as the Wings were eliminated from the playoffs, attention turned to the future of captain Nicklas Lidstrom. This past season saw his numbers slip a bit, but there was never any question that the team needed him back.
Even at the age of 40, his presence on the blueline makes the Wings a contender for the Stanley Cup. Lidstrom took a small pay cut to come back and lead the defense for another season. This was the most important signing for the Wings this summer. Pieces can be found to fit around him, but there’s no substitute for his presence on the blueline.
Soon after Lidstrom’s signing, the Wings announced the return of fellow Swede Tomas Holmstrom. Despite battling injuries during the last few seasons, Holmstrom remains a huge contributor for the team. His ability to screen the net, especially on the powerplay, remains unequalled.
Ken Holland’s next move was to lock up Todd Bertuzzi for two more years. Both he and Holmstrom provide a respectable presence on the top two lines if they can stay healthy.
In early July, the Wings announced one-year deals for three young role players. Drew Miller, acquired via waivers in November, received a $650,000 deal. Miller provides steady two-way play, and was a large part of the Wings’ penalty killing success this past season.
Shortly afterward, the team announced the signing of Patrick Eaves to a $750,000 deal. Like Miller, Eaves found a niche in Detroit this past season and helped to bolster the Wings’ penalty kill.
The Wings also signed defenseman Derek Meech to a one-year deal. Meech has played parts of four season is Detroit, though he has spent much of that time as a healthy scratch. He is expected to compete for the sixth or seventh spot on defense at training camp, but is likely to be traded to clear roster space.
Things were quiet in Detroit until the beginning of August. While waiting on Modano’s decision, other signings were put on hold. The rest of the summer’s free agency strategy hinged upon Modano’s decision, and the Wings were locked into a waiting game to see how much cap space they would have available with which to fill out the rest of the roster.
The announcement of Modano’s decision to return to Michigan to play for his hometown team was the centerpiece in a busy week for Holland and the Wings’ front office.
Modano’s signing allows the Wings to once again do what few other teams have been able to do in the recent past: roll four solid lines. He brings veteran savvy to the third line on a team that is already very deep up the middle and his presence will give coach Mike Babcock more options for deploying the team’s top centers.
The Wings have a history of bringing out the best in older players looking for one last run at the Cup, and if the recent past is any indication, this signing bodes well for the team.
That same week, it was announced that speedy forward Darren Helm had signed a two-year contract extension. Helm, like fellow fan-favorite Justin Abdelkader, was a lock to return to the team despite being placed on the back-burner while waiting for the team to have a better idea of their salary cap position. Abdelkader has not yet signed, but a deal is expected in the near future.
The Wings later bolstered their blueline by signing veteran defenseman Ruslan Salei to a one-year deal. Salei is expected to bolster the third defensive pairing and is seen as a cheaper replacement for Andreas Lilja. The team also announced the hiring of former defenseman Chris Chelios to an as-yet-unspecified position in the front office.
There were no significant departures from the Wings this summer. Former defenseman Brett Lebda signed a deal in Toronto. He spent most of the past season on the third pairing or as a healthy scratch, and was not expected to return. Fellow defenseman Lilja has chosen to explore free agency. The signings of Modano and Salei virtually guarantee that he will not be playing in Detroit next season. Forward Jason Williams was also not offered a contract. He signed a one-year deal last summer, but missed a large portion of the season after breaking his leg. He never really established himself as the third-line forward the Wings had hoped for, and struggled to find a clearly-defined role.
While next season’s lineup is almost set, one question mark remains. The future of veteran grinder Kirk Maltby has not yet been determined.
Maltby has said that he would like to remain with the Wings and Holland has stated that he feels that Maltby can still contribute. However, Maltby may have to accept a two-way contract that would most likely relegate him to playing in Grand Rapids for much of the season if he wishes to remain with the team. After all these years, it would be hard to imagine Maltby signing anywhere else, and there is a possibility that he will choose to retire instead.
The Wings organization has a history of loyalty to its veteran players, but the salary cap doesn’t leave much room for sentimentality.