Krupa: Wings left with slim pickings minus Stamkos
Detroit — One of the several loud squeals you may have heard at about four o’clock Wednesday was the Red Wings’ window to improve their roster, as Steven Stamkos vigorously shoved it down towards the sill.
The others were the fans.
Used to contending for Stanley Cups, denizens of the place trademarked Hockeytown are increasingly frustrated.
Their club played a season so disappointing the brass, including GM Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill, said the summer of 2016 would be all about change.
The urgency of now remains fierce. But, yet again, the Wings ability to resolve it has been significantly weakened.
After the wild events of Wednesday, questions loom: Did the brilliant goal scorer effectively close the window on any chance the summer of 2016 would provide a much-needed infusion of talent into an increasingly thin roster, or is there still work they can accomplish?
One is left to hope that at least the Red Wings caught Stamkos’ garter belt.
Bidding adieu to someone else’s bride, again. Stamkos has gone the way of Marian Hossa, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle and others, who fled not necessarily because of money, but because of family, friends and prospects for a Stanley Cup.
It may be on the last criterion that the Red Wings now continually fall short.
Lure of Stanley's gleam
Stamkos did not take the money or move closer to family. Instead, he stayed to play with his friends in the place where he had the best chance to win a Stanley Cup.
The Red Wings could offer more money than Steve Yzerman did, in Tampa. But they could not match Yzerman’s roster.
The situation is a reminder of what Mike Babcock said early in his last season in Detroit, after a previous offseason of bad luck with free agents. “Around July 5 when not much happened, I was disappointed,” Babcock said. “A few of my veteran players who called me were disappointed, too.”
That timing is coincident with Pavel Datsyuk’s dissatisfaction with the team, and a meeting when he said he told Holland he wanted to go home.
Similar concerns likely affected Stamkos.
The Wings may need to improve their roster before they can make additions that will significantly improve it. But the problem for Holland is that the window is closing quickly on what is a critical offseason for a long-successful hockey club that is, at risk of a perhaps a bit of overstatement, reeling.
To provide dramatic, assuredly productive change now, Holland would need to acquire Kevin Shattenkirk. But the trade for the best available puck-moving defenseman available would require lots of what the Red Wings can ill-afford to relinquish: Young players, prospects and high draft choices.
Also on defense, 24-year-old Cam Fowler of the Ducks is a fine No. 2, and he grew up in Farmington Hills, providing the local pedigree that increasingly attracts the Wings. But Fowler is another prohibitively expensive date, who can only be acquired by trade.
There was some private talk among Red Wings brass that P.K. Subban was in their crosshairs, at the end of the season. Well, the Predators just got him Wednesday for Shea Weber, and the Wings had absolutely nothing similar to offer the Canadiens, despite their evident dissatisfaction with Subban.
Lower on the menu
Milan Lucic, the hulking forward who produces some offense, is deemed by some a decent fallback from Stamkos.
But Lucic likes the West Coast, especially if he can move north from Los Angeles closer to his home in Vancouver. And the trade the Oilers made Wednesday, sending Taylor Hall to the Devils for defenseman Adam Larsson, a defenseman whose only attribute is “promise,” suggest Lucic may be headed to the largest city in northern Alberta.
And so it seems in the wake of the rejection by Stamkos, the Red Wings prospects are down to the 32-year-old Danish forward Frans Nielsen, of the Islanders; the brawny increasingly-effective Kyle Okposo, another forward on the Brooklyn-based club; and Loui Eriksson, another skilled 30-year-old forward, of the Bruins.
None, of course, are in Stamkos’s league, nor is the next tier of possibilities, including Troy Brouwer and Andrew Ladd.
Because of the market, all are likely to receive more money than deserved.
One can already see the Twitter stream emanating from the denizens of Hockeytown: “Those guys? PLAY THE KIDS!”
One day, the Red Wings may look back and wish they had gone for a full rebuild in the offseason of 2012, after Nicklas Lidstrom left.
That planning was already well underway for the new arena helped kill that possibility.
Now, once again, the onerous task of reinforcing the Red Wings roster just got considerably tougher. It is likely to yield a big payday for a 30-something forward who is decent and may even provide the same offensive performance a 38-year-old Datsyuk would have posted, next season.
Improvement over last season? Maybe.
The sort of significant improvement the Wings need to contend? Clearly not.
The desperation is such that Thursday and Friday can conceive of the Wings trying to create even more than their current, surprisingly high cap space of $15 million, perhaps by buying out Jonathan Ericsson and significantly lowering their standard for trading Jimmy Howard to accept one late-round draft choice for him.
But Holland already had the franchise prepared for an expensive date.
Now, it is standing there with the money still in its pocket, flowers a day older, and prospective catches knowing that yet another big free agent has rejected the Red Wings entreaties.