Despite a successful first day of NHL free agency that saw GM Ken Holland add two significant pieces to their lineup, the Detroit Red Wings are still a top four defenseman away from becoming true Stanley Cup contenders.
Without a doubt the acquisitions of Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss instantly catapulted the Red Wings back near the top of the NHL’s elite. Mike Babcock has to be elated with the new amount of flexibility and depth he will have with his forward unit.
On paper Detroit’s top two lines might be as good as any in the league. As the anticipated re-signing of veteran forward Dan Cleary appears imminent, I firmly believe Detroit has a Stanley Cup caliber forward group.
It’s the same story in the goaltending department. With his most recent playoff performance Jimmy Howard has officially established himself as one of the NHL’s most consistent and reliable netminders.
On defense, Jonathan Ericsson took a big step forward in his attempt to become a formidable high-end d-man last season. As did Jakub Kindl, who appears to have solidified himself as an everyday NHL defenseman for coach Mike Babcock.
However, as a group the Wings’ D are simply not there yet.
Regardless of the amount of growth the Wings’ defense displayed last season, their backend remains the team’s weak link.
A top four grouping that features the likes of: Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Danny DeKeyser, and Jakub Kindl is good but not great. The fact is: defense is the difference between winning and losing the Stanley Cup.
Don’t believe me?
Chicago’s top four (Keith, Seabrook, Oduya, Hjlmarsson) combined for 30 points and an overall +31 rating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Conversely, Boston’s top four (Chara, Seidenberg, Ference, Boychuk) combined for 25 points and a +17 rating in the post-season.
As cliché as it sounds defense does indeed win championships. Detroit must add one more high-end defenseman if they want to win the Stanley Cup next season.
Here are four top 4 d-men Detroit should pursue via trade:
- Keith Yandle- His name has been part of much speculation over the last year as possible trade bait in the desert. He is an outstanding skater who can quarterback the powerplay. Would fit nicely on one of Detroit’s top pairings.
- Alexander Edler- It’s been well documented the Wings have had their eye on Edler for a long time now. The Canucks turned down a proposed trade for Edler from Detroit at the draft, but if the Wings sweeten the pot maybe things change. Edler is a big man listed at 6’3/215lbs and can log even bigger minutes.
- Kevin Shattenkirk- If the Blues re-sign defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to the big money he’s expected to be seeking ($ 6-7 million dollar range) then it’s possible Shattenkirk could become expendable. He’s an offensive minded d-man who makes a good first pass and can skate the puck out of the d-zone if need be. Doesn’t hurt that he’s a right-handed shot either.
- Alex Pietrangelo- Currently a restricted free agent, Pietrangelo is the young cornerstone NHL defenseman teams look to build their franchises around. If he doesn’t come to terms with the Blues it’s possible the Wings could sign him to an offer sheet or make a pitch for his services via the trade route… both may be an unlikely scenario but it’s worth a shot right?
The good news is that if Holland wants to make a move for a top 4 defender Detroit has a slew of young talent to offer potential suitors. Surely a team like the Blues would insist a high quality defensive prospect such as: Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, or Nick Jensen be included in a package going the other way. As well, defenseman Kyle Quincey’s name is one that is routinely brought up in trade talks.
Point being Detroit has enough pieces to offer to make such a deal reality.
Detroit has a small window of opportunity with this current Red Wings’ team to win another Stanley Cup title and it’s closing fast as their top players continue to age. Pavel Datsyuk isn’t getting any younger. If you didn’t already know, Pavel will be 35 years-old when the 2013-2014 regular season begins.
The onus is on GM Ken Holland to bring in that one missing piece that will put this Wings team over the top. With Daniel Alfredsson added to the mix the bar has clearly been set a lot higher than last season.
Simply qualifying for the playoffs is no longer the goal like it was last season. Anything short of a Stanley Cup will be considered a disappointing year in the Motor City.
If the Wings choose not to make any significant changes to their back-end and bomb out of next year’s playoffs… they can’t say I didn’t warn them.