Saturday, May 26, 2012

What to Do with Hudler...?

I'm going to begin this little piece by saying that Jiri Hudler honestly did surprise me this past season.  Let it be known that I thought his stint in the KHL had wrecked his form beyond repair and that any strides forward he had made previously with Detroit had all been lost.

Then last year rolled around and we got a mostly decent 50-point producer who looked like he had begun to find himself again.  A perfect split between goals and assists with 25 each, had Happy Hudler finally gotten his groove back?  Perhaps he has, but we now find ourselves at a crossroads: Hudler's contract is up, and he is now an unrestricted free agent.  Now it is up to Kenny Holland and the Red wings brain trust to decide if it's worth pursuing an extension for Jiri or if it's time to move on and let Hudler test the waters of free agency.

On the one hand, as mentioned above, Hudler has made some improvements to his game and has relatively caught up to his old self.  His point production is back to where it was when he left and he's a more experienced forward now, yet he is still young at 28.  There could still be more room for Hudler to develop his game if he hangs around for a few more years, but if we do bring Hudler back, what do we pay him?  At $2.85 Million, Hudler had 50 points in last year's regular season, which equals roughly $57,000/point.  In comparison, Valterri Filppula--in what most would consider a breakout year--was paid $3 Million and tallied 66 points.  The average?  $45,000/point.  Many would say that we were forced to pay more for Hudler's services than we should have, and perhpas this is true, but let's look at Johan Franzen next.  In a very 'meh' season, Mule racked up 56 points with a $3.95 Million salary.  That averages out to about $70,000/point at almost the exact same output as Hudler.

In short: there -are- arguments on both sides as to whether or not Hudler is being paid too much or not.

If we do decide we're overpaying for Jiri and he walks, finding another team in the process, what is the Red Wings' plan moving forward?  Holland could either sit pat and simply move a prospect up to full-time roster duty, or Detroit could pursue a replacement during free agency.  Many rumours already abound with the idea of Detroit chasing Zach Parise out of New Jersey and into the Winged Wheel.  If Hudler walks, there's already a LW spot waiting for Parise when he lands in Hockeytown.  Suppose, however, that Tomas Holmstrom does retire this summer and Parise fills that spot.  Who else is out there that might fit in Detroit?  If you look at players comparable to Hudler in pay, then you get someone like a Niklas Hagman, who has never even breached 50 points.  If you're willing to pay a bit more, you get a Dustin Penner, who -has- had good seasons, but has dimmed in recent years.  Maybe with the right change of scenery, a player like Penner rekindles his scoring flame and plays at a level similar to what he's being paid to play at.

What do YOU think is the best route for Detroit in the case of Jiri Hudler?  Feel free to leave a comment explaining how you would pursue this issue with free agency little more than a month away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Riding The Rails and The Hometown Discount

With a two-hour train tide ahead of me, I find myself with an excellent opportunity to finally talk a bit about Nick Lidstrom's future in more depth.  To my shock and amazement, I should even be able to have this available to you, the reader, immediately.  It seems this rail service has a wi-fi connection I can actually gain access to, which has been a rarity during my stay in the UK.

With time going by quickly as the Conference finals have already begun, the question looms ever closer: Will Nicklas Lidstrom retire?  Some say yes and others say no, but the one thing that seems to be constant is the belief that Lidstrom is certainly -capable- of playing another season should he see fit to do so.  The problem is, what must the Wings do to make returning to the team look like the more appealing option, and what is Nick willing to do to help Detroit make this run more successful than the last four?

As far as the team goes, it all comes down to making the Red Wings look like a true Cup contender.  Making the playoffs is simply not good enough, just being there doesn't leave a player with much sense of satisfaction unless the big silver bowl is lifted over his head.  The Wings' management knows what the team lacked last season and has the money to rectify this.  I think an aggressive stance during free agency will help show Nick that we're not settling for the status quo anymore and that changes need to be made to win.  If Ken Holland and the gang don't show enough drive to improve, they may drive away our captain.

Keep in mind that Lidstrom has played through an entire generation of Detroit Red Wings hockey.  Almost all of the teammates he'd played the majority of his career with have come and gone, the last being Tomas Holmstrom, who I believe will retire this summer.  How strongly this will affect Lidstrom's decision to stay or go is immeasurable, but certainly important.  Detroit needs to make a strong case by going after key players this offseason if we are to see The Perfect Human play one more year.

On Lidstrom's side, however, is another question: If Nick does decide to stay, how much does he sign for?  I feel the best option here is what's been commonly referred to as 'The Hometown Discount'.  Lidstrom made $6.2 Million last year, and I'm not contesting his deserving that amount for an instant.  I do think, though, that this number -must- come down next year.  If Lidstrom re-signs, if absolutely behooves him to help the team by offering up some of his contract dollars to help bring in bigger names to aid in what could possibly be his final run at the Stanley Cup.  I could easily see Nick comfortably signing anywhere from $3.5-$4.5 Million and giving Detroit more wiggle room to bring in a Ryan Suter or a Zach Parise, and reaping the rewards of his decision as he watches his team's potential grow.

Some don't agree with the idea of asking Nicklas Lidstrom to take a hometown discount.  I believe that we must move past the idea that to ask is an insult to him.  Lidstrom has earned his keep, again I am not disputing this, but this is about more than Lidstrom now.  The more money he takes at the contract table, the more he handcuffs his own team and makes it more difficult for them to improve as a whole.  Considering the fact that Lidstrom would only be returning if he felt Detroit had a legitimate chance to play for the Cup, it seems counter-productive to sign a similar contract to the one that just ended.

Perhaps you think I'm way off base, though.  What do you think? Should Nicklas Lidstrom take a 'Hometown Discount' and drop a couple million off his salary to help his team improve? Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts on the matter.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Thoughts From Abroad: More Off-season Reflection

Originally written May 3, 2012:

I'm currently 33,000 feet above the Atlantic as I write this. I'm going to the place where I first experienced a world that spanned continents rather than merely cities.  The excitement is such that I simply cannot sleep, despite the fact that our flight left Halifax at around 11:30PM and gets into London's Heathrow at just south of 9:00 in the morning.

As I shoot through the sky at nearly 500mph, I try to think of things to distract myself from the exhaustion that should be overtaking me.  If one thing can drive me to distraction, it is my Red Wings.

As the playoffs continue on without Detroit, the Wings, as it has already been painfully discussed, need to address a number of concerns that led to their quick post-season demise. Some of the thoughts I type here may echo my previous article, but again, I do what I must to stave off the thought of how tired I am while not being able to simply drift off.

Detroit's depth did not factor into their match-up with Nashville, and though there were key injuries, that is no excuse for the amount of no-shows who wore the winged wheel.  Changes to the bottom half of the lineup, both forwards and defensemen, would be welcomed.  A team's loyalty to a player can only extend as far as that playe is able to consistently contribute to the club.

As much as I hate how it will affect Nicklas Lidstrom's decision on retirement, I truly feel it is time for Tomas Holmstrom to call it a career.  Age has caught up with Homer and his ability to dominate in front of the opposition goaltender has drastically declined.  The perfect example came in the 1st round as Holmstrom was tossed aside like a cheap Swedish ragdoll by Pekka Rinne during play.  You can use Rinne's size as justification, but most goalies are picked to be big, and Homer is not getting any stronger.

Some players will also see the door, either by their own choosing or not.  Brad Stuart made his choice obvious by his terrible play in the playoffs, and some of the youngsters like Jakub Kindl and Jan Mursak are starting to feel the heat for not meeting expectations. With the projected cap increase and the potential exit of a number of last year's Wings, it could be a more interesting offseason than any of us imagined.  Jimmy Devellano went on radio basically stating that Detroit was looking to be aggressive this summer, and they really need to follow through with that plan of attack if they hope to make the necessary changes needed to compete at the top tier of the new, parity-obsessed NHL.  Whispers of Parise and Suter have already blown through the ranks of Red Wings Nation, but I'm willing to bet there are other names out there that Detroit has its eye on.

Until we know more about who is available for free agency, and who is hanging around opposed to leaving, it's hard to guess what direction next year's Red Wings will take, but we'll stil have fun playing armchair GM and analyzing what we think is the best course of action.

My flight will be touching down soon, and my thoughts are coming back to the present.  Next time, I'll be taking a look at a tactic that has been used to aid in Detroit's bid for success--and whether or not it should apply to the decision of a certain perect human.