After Thursday’s announcement that longtime Detroit Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom was retiring after 20 years of service, the focus now shifts to Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and the rest of the coaching staff as the team looks to fill the void left by Lidstrom as best they can. Fortunately for the Wings, they have the money this offseason to do so, and several different options to help them replace the void left by Lidstrom’s departure.
First off, there is no way the Red Wings can replace a player of Nicklas Lidstrom’s caliber. Not only was he one of, if not the best defenseman of his generation, but he is one of the top two or three best defenseman in the history of the game. His accolades include four Stanley Cup championships, seven Norris Trophies and a Conn Smythe as the most valuable player of the 2002 NHL playoffs – the first European player to win the award. No, you don’t simply replace one of the best to ever lace up skates in the NHL.
However, Lidstrom’s retirement does leave a void in Detroit’s top four on defense. Add in the fact that Brad Stuart will likely sign with a West coast team (preferably San Jose to be close to his family), and Detroit has two voids to fill on their blue line and they need two top-four defenseman to do it.
The dream scenario would be to sign Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if he doesn’t re-sign with Nashville, to a long term deal. Of the players potentially available this summer via free agency, Suter best fits the mold of what the Red Wings need to succeed next season and beyond.
The 27-year-old Suter plays a solid two-way game, excelling defensively, on the penalty kill and has a good knack in the offensive zone as well. Suter posted 46 points last season for Nashville, a team that traditionally focuses on defense and grinding out close games. Could Suter post 50, perhaps even 60 points with the Wings, who play a puck-possession style of hockey that gets their defenseman heavily involved in the offense? The Wings certainly hope so, and they hope Suter will be available July 1 so they can try to lure him to Detroit because Suter is the best free agent option to help Detroit fill the void left by Lidstrom’s departure.
Outside of Suter, the prospects dwindle rapidly. Dennis Wideman could be a target if he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Wideman is mobile and moves the puck well, making him a good fit for Detroit’s system, but his inconsistencies defensively may prompt the Wings to look elsewhere.
Barret Jackman has been linked as a possible target for the Wings if he doesn’t re-sign with St. Louis. Jackman plays an abrasive style that the Wings desperately need, but adding Jackman would help replace the loss of Stuart more than it would help fill the void left by Lidstrom.
Other free agent options include Matt Carle from Philadelphia, Jason Garrison from Florida, and Filip Kuba from Ottawa. It’s also been speculated that the Wings may try to sign unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz, who opted earlier this week not to sign with the Anaheim Ducks and instead test the free agent market. Although a younger defenseman, Schultz played for the University of Wisconsin where Red Wing prospect Brendan Smith also played.
The Red Wings may also look to trade for defensive help as well. Some reports have indicated that the Calgary Flames may be willing to trade defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Bouwmeester put up good numbers with the Florida Panthers early in his career, but his stats have dwindled during his time with the Flames. Perhaps a change of scenery could help reinvigorate Bouwmeester. But the Red Wings would also need to take on his $6.6 million salary as well, which would immediately make him one of the highest paid players on the team.
Detroit may also take another route to assembling a winning team if they lose out on Suter. What if the team gave more ice time on the blue line to their younger, up-and-coming defenseman and tried to overcome their defensive deficiencies with offense?
Reports suggest that Detroit will also aggressively pursue potential free agent forward Zach Parise in addition to Suter. Adding Parise would give Detroit depth similar to what they had when they inked Marian Hossa back in 2008. But what if the Wings landed Parise and used some of their leftover cap space from not signing Suter on a player like Alexander Semin? That could potentially give Detroit some of the best offensive depth of any team in the NHL. Semin recently played on the top line for Team Russia during the IIHF World Championships with Detroit Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk, so it’s possible that Semin may want to sign with Detroit to play with Datsyuk permanently.
Plus, in a scenario like that, Detroit would get a good look at some of their young defenseman, like Brendan Smith, to see what they have to work with and could possibly swing a trade for a more experienced defenseman if they feel the need to upgrade later in the season when more talent becomes available.
With more than $20 million in salary cap room, and the cap expected to rise even higher before the start of free agency, the Detroit Red Wings have several different options when it comes to filling the gaps left by departing players. You never replace a player of Nicklas Lidstrom’s caliber, and Detroit fans will remember him fondly and miss him terribly when the new season rolls around in October. Still, Detroit needs to bring in a top-four defenseman to help fill the void left by Lidstrom, and fans can rest assured that the Detroit Red Wings will do everything in their power to remain competitive.