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Detroit — The Red Wings probably need both a top-six forward and a top-four defenseman, preferably a No. 1, to have a reasonable shot at the Stanley Cup anytime soon.

It was fanciful to think that might have happened Monday, or any time before the trade deadline.

But the hope that it will happen this summer is bolstered by the length of the Wings “rebuild on the fly” and other factors, including managing the salary cap, which make the offseason a more fertile time for substantive trades.

Both desired, required players could arrive then, by trade or free agency, if general manager Ken Holland and his staff manage to get the job done.

Holland and company have collected enough significant forces at enough positions that making a trade of considerable consequence is entirely likely — indeed, by design, such things cap intended, long-term roster development. But it is way more possible this summer, before the NHL entry draft, than during the season, before the trade deadline.

Cap space will grow by rule. The Red Wings can remove some of the current unrestricted free agents from the NHL roster, for more maneuverability.

They may trade a goalie.

And it will be then, and only then, that the modified reconstruction of the roster, undertaken for the past three seasons while still making the playoffs and continuing this season, can be fully evaluated.

A long process? Sure.

Three-to-five years was about the expected time sequence for returning the 2011-12 Red Wings to the status of legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup, given losing Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski to retirement and Brad Stuart to the demands of his family life, along with the franchise’s long history of relinquishing top draft choices to contend for Cups for the previous decade and more.

Hope is a fine thing, nurtured throughout the winter, pointing toward the spring. But even copious amounts of it never suggested that this Wings roster was a tinker or two away from competing for the Cup this season.

A deeper run now than the first-round exits of the past two seasons? Possible.

Playing in the conference final in this year, let alone winning it? If someone can upset the Capitals before the Red Wings must play them, or if the Wings perform the enormous feat, maybe that can happen.

Maybe.

But to spend their resources now, trying to get there this season would have been unwise, especially at the prices ultimately sought in recent days for some of the available players.

As currently constituted, the Wings roster is not a trade deadline acquisition or two away from the highest echelon of NHL teams. To have dumped reasonably good talent now, at the high prices listed, would have been ill-advised.

But Holland and his staff along with the amateur scouts have collected enough significant mass at enough positions that making a deal of considerable consequence is entirely likely, but way more so this summer, before the NHL draft.

It is by not delivering then, that Holland & Co. would truly disappoint.

Patience still needed

Once the Red Wings did not win the big sweepstakes for Ryan Suter and Zach Parise four summers ago, returning to the Stanley Cup finals was going to take time. And it would result more from building from within than acquisitions.

But then, two summers of more disappointing results in the free-agent market followed.

The acquisition of Stephen Weiss, influenced by Mike Babcock’s judgment, blew up in their faces. And now, Mike Green and Brad Richards have mostly disappointed, to date.

The need for patience with the rebuild has only grown.

But, entering play Monday, the team was six points above elimination from the playoffs and five points out of first place. The fact of the matter is, the development of talent within the system, in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Toledo, has gone mostly well, four seasons after having established that process as the pre-eminent priority.

But the time to use some of that talent to leverage the acquisition of the remaining needs of the “rebuild on the fly” is upon them. Key decisions must be made, and made well.

Holland & Co. must improve the roster, while not frittering away assets so meticulously and patiently accumulated.

Time for action this summer

On Monday, others may well have frittered.

The Stars likely overpaid with promising personnel for Flames defenseman Kris Russell and to the Bruins for John-Michael Liles (Michigan State).

The Wings were smart to not make either of those deals, with their developing stockpile. Having preserved their prerogatives, however, they must eventually use them judiciously.

Between the gathered depth of similar players on defense, in goal, and, to some extent, at the forward positions, along with more cap space and more control over the space that exists, the time for action will be upon them this summer

A top-six scorer and a top defensemen. They remain on the to-do list, and then all can judge the performance of Holland and his staff, entering a fifth season of a “rebuild on the fly.”

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/greggkrupa

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