NHL Team Updates!


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July comes fast for free agents! Here is what my Red Wings are facing this coming season!

After having an extended break to let the dust settle following another disappointing playoff performance by the Detroit Red Wings, it is time to evaluate the roster and determine what the future holds moving forward for Ken Holland, Jim Nill and the Red Wing braintrust.

Today, we will focus on the forward group.


Justin Abdelkader: RFA


The expectation is that Abdelkader will re-sign with Detroit and receive a slight raise from the $787,500 he made the past two seasons. Perhaps in the $1.25 million range per season. He can be a productive member of Detroit’s bottom 6 with the potential to elevate his offensive game by getting extra PP minutes if he can play the Tomas Holmstrom role.

Daniel Cleary: 1 year remaining at $2.8 million


Following a difficult season where Cleary attempted to play through a knee injury, a successful knee surgery and recovery in the offseason should see Cleary. When healthy, he would be an ideal 3rd line winger, who can slide up to the 1st or 2nd line when necessary. Although his no-trade clause is no longer in effect, Cleary is not a probable trade option for Detroit.

Pavel Datsyuk: 2 year remaining at $6.7 million per season


The expectation is that the Red Wings will pursue acquiring a top-line goal-scoring winger to place beside Datsyuk so he doesn’t have to play alongside Todd Bertuzzi anymore. Datsyuk turns 34 this summer and although still one of the game’s very best players, it will be interesting to see what he decides to do once his contract expires in the summer of 2014. My gut tells me he likely returns to Russia to finish off his career in the KHL, although the recent air disaster may delay Datsyuk's return to his homeland.

Gustav Nyquist: 1 year remaining on ELC at $875k


Nyquist was a pleasant surprise this season for the Red Wings, scoring 7 points in 18 regular season games, in addition to posting 57 points in 55 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL during his rookie pro campaign. Despite being held pointless in the playoffs, Nyquist contains the offensive skills to likely feature on one of the team’s top two lines next season, in particular if Jiri Hudler does not return to Motown.

Riley Sheahan: 2 years remaining on ELC at $900k


In making his NHL debut this season in the regular season finale, Riley Sheahan is fully expected to begin next season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. However, Mike Babcock is enamored with Sheahan’s size and skill set, making it a distinct possibility that Sheahan could end up seeing some time with Detroit.

Patrick Eaves: 2 years remaining at $1.2 million per season


Following an unfortunate situation when he took a Roman Josi slapshot to the chin in late November, Eaves is fully expected to recover and return to the Red Wings lineup next season. A useful player when healthy in providing Detroit depth on the wing, he also could benefit by seeing additional power-play time if Tomas Holmstrom does not return. His presence in the lineup should also help the team’s penalty kill.

Drew Miller: 1 year remaining at $837.5 k


Miller is coming off a career-high 14 goal campaign and is an ideal fit for this hockey club in the bottom six.

Jiri Hudler: UFA


Likely the biggest question mark up front on whether he returns to Detroit or not. Coming off a career-high 25 goal campaign, Hudler will likely be looking to cash on his biggest statistical year as he enters his prime (age 28). He finally cemented a spot in Detroit’s top six but I can’t envision a scenario where the Red Wings pay him the amount of money per season he is looking for.

Jan Mursak: 1 year remaining at $550k


Although he never seemed to get on track this season following his fractured ankle during the pre-season, Mursak will once again be given every opportunity to contribute on the team’s 4th line given his speed and forechecking ability.

Henrik Zetterberg: 9 years remaining at $6.083 million per season


Zetterberg had a strong second half to the season and was likely Detroit’s best forward during the playoffs. However, his play in the opening couple months of the season provided Red Wing fans with a glimpse at how bad this contract might end up looking for the Wings in the future if Z’s play tails off.

Darren Helm: RFA


Similar to Abdelkader, the expectation is that Helm will re-sign with Detroit this summer and receive a raise likely in the $1.5 million per season range. Mike Babcock did not help Holland & Nill any favors when he raved about Helm’s importance to his team’s lineup during his absence late in the season and again during the playoffs. Helm remains a solid option for this team as their 3rd line centre for many years to come.

Todd Bertuzzi: 2 years remaining at $2.075 million


After signing a contract extension during the regular season, Bertuzzi provides a solid option for Detroit as a 2nd/3rd line winger. Ideally, he is past the point of being a realistic option in the team’s top six. He still can provide value given his size, soft hands and shootout ability on the team’s 2nd or 3rd line at a reasonable cap number.

Cory Emmerton: 2 years remaining at $533.3k


The jury is still out on whether the Red Wings feel Emmerton is worth holding on to. Given his minimal salary, I expect him to continue as the Red Wing 4th line centre next season barring a substantial influx of new forwards or a trade.

Valteri Filppula: 1 year remaining at $3.00 million


Filppula is coming off a career year and puts the Wings in a vulnerable position moving forward as he is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Although Filppula played the majority of the season on the wing, he’s a natural centreman with playmaker tendencies. The Wings value his speed, versatility and well-rounded game. He’s Detroit’s best asset to attempt to entice a team if Holland looks at making a trade during the summer, especially considering his contract situation. That being said, my gut tells me the Wings do whatever they can to keep Filppula in the fold. I can’t envision his raise exceeding Johan Franzen’s cap hit of just under $4 million per season.

Johan Franzen: 8 years remaining at $3.954 million per season


Despite the disappointing performance in the post-season, let’s not forget Franzen was Detroit’s top goal scorer with 29 goals in 77 games played. Many might think his long-term contract would turn off potential suitors in a deal, however the reality remains Franzen is a power forward who has scored 25 or more goals in each of the past four seasons where he has been healthy. That being said, I don’t envision a scenario where Detroit parts with their best goal-scoring winger currently on the roster, especially given the likely difficulty in moving a player with 8 years remaining on his contract.

Tomas Holmstrom UFA


Holmstrom again remains a factor for this team with the man advantage by taking his position in front of the opposing goaltender. However, all indications seems to point to Holmstrom retiring. His quote shortly following the team’s loss to Nashville seemed to cement his thoughts on the issue. He does not want to be a 4th line player who is exclusively seen on the power-play. Unfortunately, this is what Holmstrom has become under Mike Babcock over the past season and a half.

Thus, based on my assumptions, here is Detroit's current depth chart looks like up front:

Filppula - Datsyuk - ???
Franzen - Zetterberg - Nyquist
Cleary - Helm - Bertuzzi
Abdelkader - Emmerton - Miller


I think we all know who most Wing fans would like to fill in the question marks on Datsyuk's wing (a certain pending UFA still participating in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs).

If that doesn't come to fruition, Detroit can continue to do what they have done the past two seasons in trying the likes of Cleary, Bertuzzi and Eaves as potential top-six forwards, especially if Jiri Hudler does not return.

However, another option involves Valteri Filppula. In my opinion, Filppula and Nyquist are true "centers" that have been moved to the wing given their offensive abilities. Realistically, it will be tough to beat out Datsyuk or Zetterberg for a spot down the middle.

The fact Babcock was so free in praising Nyquist's ability away from the puck and his defensive responsibilty leads me to believe that Filppula will be seen as the finest trade asset Detroit holds to try and bolster their scoring by finding a true 30-35 goal man to play the wing.

The other aspect I find interesting is that you are seeing an increasing shift in several teams using their young talent sooner than ever before. Perhaps it is due to the salary cap being in place more than anything else. Philadelphia was a shining example of this with 8 of their top 12 forwards being under the age of 25. This is something that is in stark contrast to the Wings past and current motto of slowly bringing along their prospects.

However, in seeing how quickly Nyquist has been brought up the system and perhaps even Riley Sheahan following in those footsteps, it might be a possibility Detroit is looking to go that route in the near future with some of their forward prospects. Only time will tell.

On Friday, we will examine the team's defense.
Sale of the Blues Complete: Checketts' Legacy & Stillman's Era

Students of history know that change is the only true constant. An inevitable byproduct of decisions made and actions taken. The length of time that passes between bookend events matters not in terms of outcome realization.

Whatever will be, will be. Change will eventually happen. That said, the pace of progress towards whatever will be actually “is” doesn’t always move at the speed desired by all those intertwined.

Take the sale of the St. Louis Blues for example.

What began as an allegedly short and sweet search as positioned by then principal owner Dave Checketts to replace majority investor TowerBrook Capital Partners quickly deteriorated into a protracted affair. In the two years since the initial breakup of current ownership structure
announcement many soft deadlines promising a resolution have passed with a whimper and a moan. Crazy schemes, like the Calgary Man of Mystery’s cash offer and the buyback portion of the Matthew Hulsizer deal, were hatched and failed as miserably as they were out of touch with reality. Hockey ops went about their team building activities constrained to a thin checkbook light on funds. Only were they able to address needs adequately when such spending was mandated by the league to meet CBA obligations.

As turbulent as the process has been, with very little in the way of positive concrete details to report amid the typical negativity surrounding these types of situations, many questioned if it would ever end. Of course it will. Just delayed well past a point that most rational being’s patience allows.

Mercifully, the ownership saga is finally at an end. Current minority owner Tom Stillman has been working with the NHL, because they took over the beleaguered process from Checketts, since January when Hulsizer’s bid fell through. A title that he will no longer carry as the CEO of St. Louis based Summit Distributing has closed on a deal and received Board of Governors approval to purchase the Blues, the Peoria Rivermen of the AHL, the Scottrade Center lease and a significant portion of Peabody Opera House with a group of local investors for approximately $130 million.

The next chapter in St. Louis Blues hockey history began on Thursday, May 10th, 2012 with a press conference to ring in the good news.

To say that fans are anxious to move forward doesn’t begin to describe their disposition. After an outstanding 2011-12 season and first round of the 2012 playoffs the Blues were handily swept by the LA Kings out the Western Conference Semifinals and on to the golf course. A brutal
contrast to the 87 games that preceded those final four showing how far there is to go even though they’ve come so far already. The failure and pain are too familiar. Once again high hopes met stiff opposition and succumbed to the pressure.

The impending conclusion to the ownership situation is a tangible severance from another era perceived to be full of let downs. Change brings a reason for a renewed outlook. An opportunity to forget past transgresses because the belief that the issues making the Blues Stanley Cup aspiration a pipe dream will be no more with new local investors at the helm.

Before gazing ahead to what the Stillman era holds, the Checketts era needs to be put in the proper context.

When the Laurie Family sold the team to Checketts in 2006 the franchise was in disarray. To anyone followed the team then knows that's a diplomatic description. Depth at the NHL level and in the prospect pipeline had been depleted to new lows courtesy of years of questionable personnel mismanagement and poor drafting. The same can be said from a business perspective. The Laurie ownership era was about throwing money around and absorbing losses. There is always a breaking point. The higher the goals and stature, the further the fall. The Blues fell hard when their window of opportunity to compete for a Cup closed hard with the lockout.

Checketts honestly had too little to work with in the first few years following his takeover. Hockey ops had to be rebuilt as did virtually every facet of the organization. No quick fix was realistically possible. The plan put into action made the most sense at the time and it still does in
retrospect. Draft well and develop internally. Use the homegrown core as a base to optimize the addition key support figures as needed/possible. When there isn’t money to go shopping at Whole Foods, planting a Victory Garden is a fine option as long as the effort has been put into
acquire the knowledge to become a green thumb.

The Blues did just that by bringing in and maintaining bright people to work with what meager funding was available. On the personnel side of the house there has been measured success. The internally developed core is in place and is generally meeting projections. From a business
perspective the books are much closer to even over the last seven seasons compared to the previous seven. Fan support has returned to near pre-lockout levels.

All due credit considered, criticisms cannot be abated.

Financial constraints, whether they originated from Checketts lack of pushing TCP for more or TCP not willing to invest further, arguably stunted the growth of the team. Instead of capitalizing on the 2009 playoff appearance by adding experienced depth to improve their chances of returning in following offseason as they did last summer the roster churned very little. Roughly 90% of the lineup remained or was re-signed. The key additions were Darryl Sydor and Ty Conklin.

While keeping a playoff capable roster intact seems to make sense to a degree, keep in mind that the Blues muddled their way through most of the 2008-09 season and a last gasp run of historic proportions is what earned their first postseason berth in six years. That lineup was not up to a standard warranting the retention of so many. A slight influx of skill and experience - beyond that of Paul Kariya in the twilight of his exceptional career - to replace, or shuffle down the depth chart, components more likely to regress after a career year than sustain their impact and level of effectiveness could have made the 2009-10 campaign more like 2011-12 than 2007-08. Support wasn’t given and the Blues slid back into the basement.

The decisions made at that critical point in Blues history deserve all the second guessing and angst received. Yet, the reasoning for such inaction is explainable, understandable, and even excusable.

Virtually all professional sports team owners come from business backgrounds. Considering the fact that pro sports teams are businesses it makes a lot of sense. They tend to fall into one of two categories. A businessman who owns a team or a team owner who is also a businessman. They appear to be the same, but are very different. The former views the team as an asset and puts only as much time, effort and money into it as needed to maintain it because other ventures hold a greater importance or return a better value for investment. The latter is deeply invested and not just in terms of personal finances. Their team is not just an asset or another venture, it’s their life long passion. There is no better return on their investment than a winning reputation. Breaking even or books sitting in the black just mean the dream gets to live on.

Checketts is the former. Stillman the latter.

Do not take that branding negatively. There is no reason to believe that Checketts meant to deceive when he said he wanted to win it all and do it in St. Louis. But that goal was likely bred from a need to meet the expectations of consumers. To prove intent so bodies would return to seats and suites. Not out of pure passion for hockey and the Blues like Stillman and his group.

Maybe the situation have been misunderstood. Maybe Checketts held the same fire and circumstances worked against him. Desire veiled behind curtains of a money man who definitely was involved purely from a return on investment angle. Whatever the cause, when opportunity was presented to take a calculated gamble, it was passed on.

Speaks volumes about the culture and lack of potential future growth.

Stillman represents the opposite. Where his predecessor could be portrayed as the big city exec coming in a fancy suit to make a quick buck, the homegrown replacement brings an unmistakable warm fuzzy feeling. An entirely different standard of commitment as the self professed steward of a community treasure. Stillman once was in the shoes of his consumers. He understands what they want and wants to give it to them.

Given the downfalls of the previous regime and the hopes of a city with a far reaching fan base, will money be spent to ensure history is not repeated?

Those clamoring for the Blues to suddenly become a salary cap ceiling team need to adjust expectations or prepare to be disappointed. Even though the group backing Stillman carries some significant investors, like the Taylor Family of Enterprise Holdings, Inc, the chances of making it rain like Terry Pegula this summer are slim to none.

Sustainable, long term financial security of the franchise is priority number one. Responsible spending is required to meet that need, but doesn’t necessarily mean General Manager Doug Armstrong’s hands will remain tied. When a strategic move presents itself the commitment to winning from ownership and assumed strengthening of the business end of the house should allow for calculated risks. Given what the Blues were able to accomplish over the last seven months and how they did it , maintaining the existing base of talent and adding to it makes more sense than throwing money frivolously around anyways.

Ultimately, what will come to pass during Stillman’s tenure cannot be forecasted with any great accuracy. Who knows if he will be the first owner to speak of bringing the Stanley Cup to St. Louis and actually accomplish that task. One thing's for sure. What will be, will be... but there is more hope than ever that the byproduct of change will deliver the desired outcome in a relatively short period of time.


As always, thanks for reading.