2012 NHL Free Agency Preview: Red Wings’ Reputation will be put to the Test


Another guest post for Detroit Red Wings guru Mario Dicicco….For all of the great things the Detroit Red Wings have done over the last 20+ years, the last two months have been very difficult for fans to stomach. First, a bitter first round defeat to the division rival Nashville Predators in five games, making it only the second time in nearly a decade that Detroit didn’t advance past the first round of the playoffs. Second, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom decided to finally hang up the skates after 20 seasons in the NHL. His retirement leaves an irreplaceable hole, and the defense corps in a vulnerable state. For the first time in over two decades, there is legitimate concern in Hockeytown that the long predicted “demise” of the Red Wings may finally be on the horizon. It’s up to the team’s “Big 3” of owner Mike Ilitch, GM Ken Holland, and head coach Mike Babcock to prevent that from happening. It’s been a long time since the Wings have gone into the free agency period with as many holes as they currently have, but there are plenty of options available to make the team better. This leads to the burning question that fans have on their minds heading into free agency:

Does the Red Wing aura and mystique still exist?

This will be considered breaking news to some Red Wing fans, but this isn’t 2002 anymore. Mike Ilitch can no longer just dangle the checkbook and tell the player he’s attempting to recruit to Detroit to simply name his price and he’ll get it on the spot. The roster isn’t loaded with nearly two handfuls of future hall of famers that will easily convince players to sacrifice their personal gains and come to a team stacked with a chance to win championships. Detroit has a lot of money to work with. More than they’ve had since the pre-lockout days. But it’s not the biggest/only factor to free agents anymore. A lot of other teams in the NHL have big loads of money to spend this offseason as well. Some of those teams possibly have younger, on the rise core groups that free agents may see as better options than veteran teams like Detroit. But when you have three people in Ilitch, Holland, and Babcock, considered among the best in their respective positions, and an organization that has as much history and tradition as the Detroit Red Wings have, they’ll always have the attention of any free agent they come in contact with.

There’s no shortage of star power available in the free agent market with the biggest stars, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise likely hitting the open market come 12 P.M. July 1. Detroit will make a hard push for both players, and so will other teams in the league. While those two will be the marquee attractions to GMs and teams everywhere, other interesting names have suddenly entered the picture.

Justin Schultz has never played an NHL game, yet will likely be the most sought after free agent after Suter and Parise. That’s very rare for a soon to be rookie. Schultz decided not to sign with the team that drafted him, the Anaheim Ducks after declaring his departure from the University of Wisconsin at the end of his junior season. He can only be offered the maximum entry level contract of $925,000 per season for three years so it’ll come down to where Schultz feels he fits in the best and where he can get playing time. Scouts rave about his offensive skills for a player of his position and feel that he’ll make an instant impact wherever he lands. The Wings have made their interest in Schultz known and will take time to pursue him. With as many holes as Detroit currently has on the blue line, it’s in their best interest to at least take a peek.

Alexander Semin is another free agent forward that likely will be the highest pursued forward outside of Parise. He won’t come fully clean however, as he does have some work ethic baggage built up during his time in the NHL, specifically in Washington. Should the Wings strike out on Parise, look for them to go hard after Semin, despite his baggage. They’ve taken chances on sketchy players in the past and more often than not, they’ve fallen in line with the Red Wings’ system and turn out to flourish in a redefined role.

An old flame appears to be going back on the market for the second straight summer, Jaromir Jagr. Last summer after announcing his departure from the KHL in Russia, many people within the NHL believed his services were down to the Pittsburgh Penguins, his former team, and the Red Wings. However, at the last minute he bailed on both and went to the Philadelphia Flyers on a one year deal. Jagr tallied 19 goals and 54 points last season for the Flyers, proving to skeptics that despite being 40 years old, he can still play at a very effective level. He made the Flyers’ power play all the more dangerous, helping them become the top ranked power play during the regular season this past year. Detroit’s power play inexplicably struggled throughout last year and most certainly could use a weapon like Jagr to help revitalize a dangerous unit. In this case, only if the price is right.

A familiar name to Red Wing fans may very well listen to free agent offers. Shane Doan of the Phoenix Coyotes has played for that organization for his entire career, however the continued drawn out saga of the team’s ownership issues may force him to put on a new uniform for the first time. On Monday night, Sports Illustrated’s Adrian Dater learned that Phoenix GM Don Maloney revealed Doan will “Test the free agent market.” At 35 years of age, Doan still brings his lunch pail with him to the ice every single night. He’ll be wanted for his hard work, grit, and leadership, something that every team can always use. Detroit hasn’t had someone in the mold of Doan since the original “Grind Line” days and when Dallas Drake came to town in the ’07-’08 season. Doan would give the Red Wings an infusion of leadership and grittiness that fans in Detroit would adore. In some ways, he’s a throwback player in the finest sense of the word. If he’s on your team, players would go to battle with him every night. If he’s playing against you, players would be looking to check him into the third row. The suits should at least give Doan a call if he does hit the open market this weekend just to see where his mind stands.

The Red Wings have had a long time to go over their plans of action, longer than they prefer. They’re hoping that a successful couple weeks in free agency will jumpstart another stretch of excellence and ensure that this team will remain perennial Stanley Cup contenders for the next several years. In order to do that, you have to get great players. Detroit’s always wanted great players, and most of the time, have gotten the great players that they’ve desired. But with Lidstrom gone, and the main core of this team slowly disappearing and aging little by little, we’re all about to learn whether or not free agents still want to come to Detroit as badly as Detroit wants free agents to come to them.