As I was preparing for bed on June 31st I couldn’t help but feel like an excited child going to bed on Christmas Eve. Rather than looking forward to unwrapping a brand new toy the next morning, the present that every Detroit hockey fan had been dreaming of was a new right-handed defenseman on the Red Wings. Every citizen of Hockeytown was sure that they were on the “Nice List” this year and that Uncle Kenny would work his magic to deliver us our big free agency wish.
Instead we got a lump of coal.
Going into the opening day of NHL Free Agency on July 1st all the conditions seemed perfect for the Red Wings to land one of the highly coveted veteran right-handed defensemen that would be available this year and with Buffalo buying out Christian Ehrhoff’s contract it only seemed to improve the Red Wings’ chances of landing a new defenseman. Detroit had the money, the reputation, the coach, the GM, and the reported “mutual interest” from some of the players to make it seem a like a deal could easily be struck with somebody.
All we got was two more years of Kyle Quincey.
So what went wrong? Did the city of Detroit’s financial issues and media status scare away potential players? Did Ken Holland not make the right offers? Did Mike Commodore call everybody and tell them how Mike Babcock ruined his NHL career and forced him to play in the KHL? Were there not enough German-born players on the Red Wings for Christian Ehrhoff to bond with?
If you look at the deals that were offered to Ehrhoff, Niskanen and Boyle by GM Ken Holland it’s clear to see that it definitely wasn’t a money or term issue. All three players went and signed with other teams for millions of dollars less than offered by Detroit. I salute Holland for his aggressive effort in trying sign one of these guys and place none of the blame on him.
Matt Niskanen had said earlier in the week that Detroit was on his short list of teams he was interested in only to come back later and say that he was not interested in Detroit.
The real icing on the cake is when Christian Ehrhoff told ESPN that his “First priority is to be on a good team.” I guess a team who just fired their GM and head coach is a “good team” in the NHL these days.
The bottom line here is that Niskanen, Boyle and Ehrhoff ultimately did not want to play for the Detroit Red Wings and as a loyal Red Wings fan I don’t want anybody on the team who doesn’t want to be there, no matter how skilled of a player they may be.
So we all got rejected and rejection sucks. It’s also a little disheartening watching the other teams in your division/conference make moves that improves them while your team basically stays the same. But you know what? We’ve still got a pretty good team and a lot of things to look forward to if you ask me.
Remember that Anthony Mantha kid who tallied 120 points in 57 games last year in the QMJHL? Chances are we will see him in a Detroit uniform at some point next season. Speaking of talented youngsters, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan will all be in the Detroit lineup on opening day and not in Grand Rapids like they were last year. Zetterberg and Datsyuk have also taken the steps and procedures to address their respective injuries in hopes of being able to play a long and productive season.
Similar to how the team relied on the kids to step up on the offensive side of the puck last year, look for the kids to have a bigger impact on the defensive game this season. The Red Wings may find their right-handed blue-line shot in either Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet as they move up the depth chart and gain more experience. Danny Dekeyser will also continue to build on his game as he gets another season of experience.
As easy as it has been to bash both Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith at times (I’m guilty of it) over the last two years, I look for both players to build on their improved play that they both showed at the end of last season. And you never know, Kronwall might start hitting some people again next year. Can I suggest starting with Milian Lucic?
Detroit hockey fans may have not got what we wanted through free agency this year but keep in mind that free agency signings don’t always guarantee immediate success (See Stephen Weiss). I have to and choose to believe that there will be some great unexpected things to come. It was only two seasons ago that this team was just one win away from playing in the Western Conference Finals.
So keep the faith Hockeytown! LGRW