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Krupa: Prudent moves at deadline will help Red Wings

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

An unexpectedly fine performance so far this season and a terrific run on the road in the last half of February might have suggested the Red Wings would stand pat at the trade deadline.

They did not.

And while the moves they made might fly a bit under the radar for some fans — after all, it was Marek Zidlicky for whom they traded to bolster the blue line, not Keith Yandle — it all seemed utterly consistent with the plan that has unfolded for the three years since Nicklas Lidstrom bid us all a fond adieu.

The rebuild-on-the-fly is going better than anyone had the right to expect, and is increasingly praised around the NHL.

Adding Zidlicky and the veteran goal scorer Erik Cole brings potentially important new components for the coming, critical weeks.

At some point, some really big pieces can be added to this lineup of veteran stalwarts from the Stanley Cup days and a developing supporting cast, which might include some new stars.

But, as the trades all around the NHL evidenced again this season, those bigger pieces are far more likely to arrive through free agency, given the personnel rules in the NHL, than at the trade deadline.

And, when they do, they cost only Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch's money and some cap space — not first-round picks, prospects like Anthony Mantha, Xavier Ouellet or Alexey Marchenko, and not proven NHL quantities, like Petr Mrazek or Brendan Smith.

As the roster restructures, gains experience and more and more of a winning edge, Monday was too soon to leverage too much of the future.

Veteran experience

The lack of a huge marquee name at the deadline is likely to disappoint some. But general manager Ken Holland signaled his intent well in advance.

And the moves that did evolve are just about what the club needs, at least for now.

Cole and Zidlicky solidify what is clearly a playoff roster and a group "around the room" that is absolutely intent on a deeper run in the playoffs than the first-round, five-game elimination by the Bruins, last spring.

Cole, quick, big, rugged, is likely to endear himself fairly quickly to teammates and fans. And all of those attributes are even more important in the playoffs.

He has 46 games and two Stanley Cup finals on his resume, including a loss to the Wings in 2002 and winning the Cup, with the Hurricanes in 2006.

Zidlicky has had six seasons of at least 40 points from the blue line, including as recently as two seasons ago.

And, he shoots right-handed, meaning that with Alexey Marchenko, the rookie, looking good as he plays regularly, the Wings and Babcock suddenly have two, shooting from the right.

Will Marchenko return from a strained oblique and play well enough to land a starting spot in the playoffs? He may.

Regardless, he will be a rookie in the postseason, and Zidlicky is a 38-year-old who has played in 38 playoff games, all with the Predators.

Big names are gambles

The temptation to gamble bigger, at the cost of young talent that continues to impress, did not distract Holland, and a team of pro scouts headed by Mark Howe.

"The moves that we made, if we're one of the good teams left on the sidelines after the first or second round, we're going to go to the draft and, for the most part for the next two years, we'll be picking in the top two rounds," Holland said.

"That's how these deals are put together.

"We were able to structure them so they would be good for the acquiring team, and good for us."

The Rangers got Yandle, a prized offensively-minded defenseman who is not always wily when he discards his defensive responsibilities to attack, at a far greater price. Leveraging a significant chunk of their future by sending two players and first and second round picks to the Coyotes, the Rangers were willing to pay far more heavily than the Wings.

As for the reported talk between the Wings and Maple Leafs about Dion Phaneuf, the disciplined approach to redeveloping the roster came in mighty handy, it would seem.

The Leafs reportedly wanted Anthony Mantha, in a package that likely included Stephen Weiss for Phaneuf.

A better question might be, who wants Phaneuf?

The steadiness on the tiller that has marked the Wings personnel strategy since they failed to sign the gold dust twins, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, three years ago is working.

Phaneuf? Better to wait and see what Mantha can do, and harbor hope that Weiss can still produce some reliable offense for the Red Wings.