2011-12 Red Wings Roster Will Look Very Similar…and Should Be Very Successful


In Holland we trust.  If it’s not the motto for Wings fans, I don’t know what should be.  Even if there is not one other deal made this off-season, the Red Wings put a top 5 team in the league on the ice again.  There is only one hole that I see that needs fixing, and I’ll get to that shortly.  Let’s back up first.  I started my team-by-team free agency recap by stating that most teams GMsplug holes with whatever talent is around.  Ken Holland is much more patient.  He gives short contracts to players and makes them earn the next one in a Red Wings uniform (see Todd Bertuzzior Jason Williams’ second stay for instance).  This off-season was no different.  You lose Brian Rafalski, but gain 6 million in room under the cap.  You sign a player 10 years younger and over 3 million cheaper, yet with untapped potential.  Oh by the way, this player also received less money that what he made last year.  Plus, by signing him for only two years, you tell him to prove that he deserves something more long term.  Just brilliant.

Hollandalso doesn’t get antsy.  He didn’t blow up the team after back to back secondround playoff loses.  In 2010, the team just wasn’t ready for a long run after struggling just to make the playoffs.  They were outside looking in at the end of February and raced back to 5th.  In 2011 they had the remarkable run to even get back in the series against the Sharks.  They did that with no real help from Johan Franzen.  In the all important game 7, they lost Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi to injuries and still only lost by a goal.  I have no problem with Holland feeling comfortable with his roster.  Let’s take a look at it.


Hello: Ian White (San Jose), Mike Commodore (Columbus), Garnet Exelby (New York Rangers)
Goodbye: Brian Rafalski (retired), Ruslan Salei (KHL)
Welcome Back: Jonathan Ericsson (3 years), Nick Lidstrom (1 year)
Still Here: Brad Stuart, Nicklas Kronwall, Jakub Kindl

As I said above, a lot of the other teams around the League panic and patch holes with players that they hope can cover the space left by the one that’s leaving.  For Detroit, it’s not just replacing, it’s reloading.  It’s a result of making the playoffs every year.  You never really need to overhaul.  You just have to be able to stay current.  So the Wings say goodbye to Brian Rafalski and Ruslan Saleiand do a spectacular job replacing them.  Ian White has the potential to become the next Brian Rafalski.  His world-wide leader scouting report says that he is a smallish defenseman who plays bigger and will help the power play.  Isn’t that exactly what we are losing in Brian Rafalski?  Granted Rafalski was a consistent 45 point player while here.  White hasn’t yet hit 30 points in his career.  Don’t be surprised if that changes after this season.  Ruslan Salei played very well during this playoff run as a big hulking defenseman that stayed home and allowed Kronwall to play his offensive game.  The Wings bring in Mike Commodore as that replacement.  He comes in at 6’4” and with plenty of experience.  While Saleicame in with around 200 career points in 850 games played, Cammodorehas over 100 in 450 games, meaning neither was overwhelming offensively.  Plus, both players have plus/minus rankings around 0 for their career while playing for less than spectacular teams.

Meanwhile, the rest of the defense should look very familiar.  I know the Captain is another year older.  He also has another Norris Trophy.  Believe it or not, Brad Stuart and Kronner both had more minutes in the playoffs than Lidstrom.  The five mentioned will be the top five.  The sixth spot will be a question mark. Ken Holland gave Ericcson quite a solid contract, though he might be the Red Wings version of Brandon Inge.  Despite that contract, remember there was a debate as to whether Salei would get the playoff start over Kindl.  If Erricson falters, Kindl will be ready to go.  Garnet Exelby will simply be insurance.  If injuries knock out more than two defensemen, Exelby will be a nice addition.  He’s also the insurance to make sure Brendan Smith isn’t rushed up to fast.


Hello: Chris Conner (Pittsburgh)
Goodbye: None
Welcome Back: Patrick Eaves (3 years), Drew Miller (2 years)
Still Around: Henrik Zetterburg, Pavel Datsyuk, Tomas Holmstrom, Todd Bertuzzi, Danny Cleary, Johan Franzen, Valteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm
Questionable: Mike Modano and Kris Draper

My complaint from early heading into this off-season is one I had last off-season and that’s the need for a 3rd line center.  As I mentioned above, I like the forwards on this team.  I know they are all a year older, but they definitely didn’t look too old in the final 4 games in the Sharks series.  Datsyuk still marvels.  Todd Bertuzzi is quickly becoming a fan favorite Wing.  Henrik Zetterbergis the next captain of this team.  Johan Franzen is still a playoff performer, scoring 2 goals in the first 3 games of the playoffs while he was only kind of healthy.  Darren Helm is going to be the Kris Draper of the next decade.  Justin Abdelkader would check his mom if she had the puck.  Danny Clearly doesn’t know the word quit.  Eaves and Miller are role players that teams need on their third and forth lines.  Tomas Holmstrom won’t forget how to tip pucks.  There is enough talent to threaten as long as…

…the rest of the forwards come through.  There are two forwards I left out, and they could be the most important guys.  Jiri Hudler was a bust after coming back from the KHL.  His point total was the worst since his rookie year, and he scored the majority of those points when he was paired with Pavs.  During the two seasons before he left, he was a quality 2nd or 3rd line player who could be counted on in most situations.  This year, he was a healthy scratch during both the regular season and playoffs.  He needs to be closer to the 50/60 point mark to help balance the score sheet.  Valtteri Filppula drives me crazy.  At times, he is a step away from the next Pav Datsyuk.  At times, you don’t even know if he’s played the game.  Granted, he’s always solid defensively, but offensively, he hasn’t scored more than 40 points.  Even in the playoffs Val was two different players. Tell me what he did in the first 4 and a half games against the Sharks.  Then in that magical 4 period stretch of game 5 and game 6, Fil was one of the best players on the ice. Part of me does wonder of that comes from playing with Pavs and Homer.

No matter where you play #51, there is still a hole in the top 9.  Say Babcock goes with Pavs centering Fil and Homer. That puts Z with Johan and Bert. We have Hudler, Cleary, and a needed center on line three. Abs, Helmer, and Eaves will rock line four. Chris Conner and Drew Miller will be ready to go due to injuries.  The obvious question is why not Helm or Abs at line three center?  I don’t have a good answer for you. Maybe because I want to see more consistent scoring out of either before I move them clearly off of line four.  Maybe because I want to see Justin not commit a penalty in the last five minutes of a game.  Maybe I simply like the idea of having the best fourth line in the league.  If no one else is brought in, I do see Abs on line three because of Helm and Eaves rapport on line four.  That would bring Miller into everyday service.

Overall, even if that third line center doesn’t arrive, I still like this group. Unless it gets old over night, there is a solid amount of top end talent.  I like Hank and Pavel as much as the Sedins. I feel confident with the secondary scoring Homer, Franzen, and Cleary provide, like Burrows, Kesler, and Raymond do in Vancouver.  I like the fourth line role players from each team. It’s always important to feel like you can hang with the best.  Add an offensive minded third line center; you might even be better than the West Champs.


Hello: None
Goodbye: None
Welcome Back: Joey MacDonald (2 years)
Still Around: Jimmy Howard
Questionable: Chris Osgood

Has Jimmy Howard finally done enough to put everyone’s mind at ease?  I was always one of those fans who wanted the Wings to wait for Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller to become a free agent to get our franchise goalie. I don’t think that way anymore. I have complete faith that Howard will be goaltender here for the next decade. I’m not sure if his numbers against the Sharks really pop (.927 save percentage, 2.49 goals against average), but watch the games andtell me he wasn’t brilliant.  Not only that, he looked the part.  Whether he was chasing around snow blower Joe Pavalski, or saying “Why not us” to the media when his team was all but done, I’m more than confident in his abilities.

As for the back up roll, I’d really like to see Chris Osgood resign.  Not for sentimental value, but for actual value.  Heaven forbid something happens to Jimmy Howard and he’s down for a stretch.  Do you really want to see the Wings roll out Joey MacDonald and Tomas McCullum for two or three months.  Even if Ozzie was the back-up to MacDonald, I’d still feel more comfortablehaving the 400 game winner around.

So that’s the team.  As per usual, as long as there is gas in the tank and they stay healthy, there is no reason to believe that 21 straight playoff appearances and beyond isn’t a likelihood.  They are making the steps to get younger.  Salei and Rafalski are in their upper 30s.  Commadore and White are 31 and 27, respectively.  If they don’t resign Modano and Draper, there goes another pair of 40ishers off your roster.  Typical Red Wings…players will come and go, but Ken Holland works to make sure the expectations will be there for the next decade.