Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Detroit Red Wings - A Day Late And Now A Dollar Short

Detroit Prolegomena - Taking A Cue From the Islanders

One would think that the most successful franchise of the last 15 years would not emulate the least successful franchise over that span, but the salary cap is, as Chris Farley put it in Dirty Work, an odd duck. The facts, however, are plain: The Detroit Red Wings, as well as other clubs, have decided that extremely long-term contracts are beneficial both for players and teams. The Islanders were the first to hit upon this idea, signing promising young goalie Rick DiPietro to a 15 year deal, a deal that prompted howls of laughter from journalists around the hockey world. Rick's injury trouble and poor play have kept the laughter unbroken, but the idea has legs; since then, four players have signed incredibly long-term deals, two of them Red Wings. GM Ken Holland signed Henrik Zetterberg to a 12 year/72 million dollar pact and Johan Franzen to an 11 year/44 million dollar deal. Both happened during the season, which suggests that this stellar negotiator was responsible.

Buoying these deals are two one-million dollar seasons for Franzen and Zetterberg at the very ends of the contract - Franzen will be 38, Zetterberg 39 when these million dollar seasons kick in. Each will of course still have their full cap hit for these seasons. It is difficult to imagine either of these players actually playing these seasons - but the deals are truly brilliant in two senses. First, Zetterberg and Franzen receive almost all of their money in the first seasons of the deal, but thanks to these two seasons at the end of each, their cap hit is reduced throughout the contract. Furthermore, when their cap hit begins to exceed their salary by a great deal (and likely their performance too), they will only be making $1 million per season, and will probably retire instead of playing for that sum. If they do want to play out their entire contract, odds are that Ken Holland will be forced to demote them to the minor leagues - in 2019/20, Franzen and Zetterberg will be making 2 million dollars, but taking up 10 million dollars of the Wings' cap. Now here's where the magic comes in: someone will almost certainly acquire them if they get waived! The league will always have a few sickly franchises that would prefer to have a large cap hit for a small amount of performance, if that cap hit happens to involve a low salary being paid out. Even if not: Detroit's economy is unstable, and if the city never recovers, it's possible that the Red Wings would no longer be a top spending NHL squad. As a result, Zetterberg and Franzen's contracts might stay on the books, providing a money-saving solution for a frugal team. Any way you slice these contracts, Ken Holland came out way ahead; even if both Zetterberg and Franzen develop injury problems later in their careers, he's managed to keep together as much of an NHL dynasty as possible in this salary cap era, and has ensured that the Red Wings will remain near the head of the pack in the NHL for the near-future.

Detroit Salaries

Do People Really Think Hossa Can Come Back? Michael Farber of SI reported that Hossa had signed a long-term deal that would not be reported until the end of the season. However, the team already has 57 million in salary committed for next season, and they lack a backup goalie. It would be a major stretch to think that the Wings could afford Hossa - Hossa is likely gone to the highest bidder.

Are All The Red Wing Players Idiots? The Red Wings seem to underpay all of their players, and beyond that, they get them to agree to money up front deals, e.g. Kris Draper. Draper has a cap hit of 1.583 million but in 2010/11 his actual salary will only be 1.2 million. It's likely that he's no longer a Red Wing in 2010/11, either playing for some minor league team or a team not particularly interested in winning.

Will Lidstrom Retire In A Year? Only Nicklas Lidstrom knows that - but playing the playoffs with a ruptured testicle might influence his decision. Lidstrom has been rumored to return to Sweden since he stepped into the league almost 20 years ago. If he retires, regardless of what the Wings fill that hole with, it will not be as good as Nicklas Lidstrom, who certainly has a case for being the NHL's greatest defenseman of all time behind Bobby Orr.

2009-10 Projected Lines




None Of Those Players Are Right Wings: No, they aren't. The Wings are almost certain to lose Mikael Samuelsson and the aforementioned Hossa. The Wings always have an answer to everything so they will no doubt be able to train Darren Helm to shoot right-handed and it will be an improvement.

Okay, But Seriously: It's unclear how the Wings solve this problem. They can certainly move players to the off-wing, but which ones?


The Wings likely have to make a cost-cutting move somewhere. The most obvious would be Brad Stuart, a player that has been overrated since his selection as the 3rd overall pick in 1998. Stuart was compared to Scott Stevens, but this year he played more like Kevin Stevens after being caught with a prostitute. He clearly has skills but isn't worth the $3.75 million/season the Wings are paying him. Jiri Hudler could also be shipped out, as he is due for a large raise and is arbitration-eligible - with centers in high demand throughout the NHL, Hudler could net a team's best or second-best prospect in return.

Free Agent Discussion

With the Wings lacking money, they really can't afford to sign anyone. Tomas Kopecky could be brought back, but that is about all, barring some massive unforseen trade. The Wings require a backup goalie - they may promote prospect Jimmy Howard, or find someone who can capably play goal for around a million dollars a year.

Conclusion: The Red Wings are the league's best drafters, and as a result they usually have the best team. Even with their brutal Stanley Cup Finals loss, they will still be the favorites to win it all next year. The young players they have now don't look to have the upside of a Datsyuk or Zetterberg, but they will be solid 2nd and 3rd line contributors in a few years time. The only thing that could slow down the Wings' reign of terror is if Lidstrom retires - his retirement will expose Brian Rafalski and severely weaken what has traditionally been the best defensive corps in hockey. Regardless, the Wings will almost certainly be one of the NHL's best teams for the next five years at the very least - it's hard to imagine them not winning another Stanley Cup in that time.


  1. Hudler is most definitely not a center. He is, in fact, one of these Right Wingers that you say Detroit does not have.

  2. in that case, who is playing center on the second line? zetterberg? the wings have so many versitaile players that it doesn't matter much.

    (also hudler is a right wing but he plays the off-wing, the solution suggested above)