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Krupa: Wings still need immediate help to contend

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Ken Holland

Detroit – Too bad Steven Stamkos is not a defenseman.

Sarcasm, of course.

But it underlines the circumstances of the Red Wings after the 2016 NHL draft.

The roster requires reinforcement.

The 11-year-old salary cap, two decades of trading draft choices and stumbles with free agents and evaluating talent in recent years discourages quick fortification.

For another June, it looks like the Wings’ prospective roster is unlikely to advance far in the playoffs unless it achieves the NHL equivalent of retrieving lightning in glassware.

Bolstering is especially necessary along the blue line. Improving the performance of the defensive corps is the top priority, and the root of much malfunctioning last season.

But a top-notch sniper is a long desired priority, arguably since the Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan stopped skating in red and white. In Stamkos, 26, the Red Wings would seize a big chance at something their long success is depriving them of – playing with a No. 1 pick in the draft (2006), and one that has matched, even exceeded expectations.

That means he will be hard to get.

The world wants Stamkos, a goal scorer who rivals Alexander Ovechkin and Patrick Kane. His current team, the Lightning, along with the Rangers, Sabres and Red Wings, are in hot pursuit.

Don Sweeney, the Bruins’ GM, said Saturday in Buffalo that his club would take a run.

Steve Yzerman, the Lightning GM, says he has made what is, in effect, a final offer to Stamkos, reportedly for $8.5 million for several years and in Florida, which has no state taxes.

The Wings, or anyone else, might well have to spend $10 million to $12 million per year for seven years to sign the Ontarian with the hard, accurate shot, who would prefer to play center rather than sometimes on the wing, as he has recently in Tampa.

But even if the Red Wings get it done and another No. 91 plays hockey in Detroit, the need for two top-pair defensemen on the blue line remains an aching one.

And unlike the last No. 91 in Detroit, Sergei Fedorov, Stamkos is clearly not capable of playing as a defenseman.

No immediate help

GM Ken Holland and staff, including the amateur scouts, harvested what may prove a strong yield of defensemen Friday and Saturday in Buffalo. But they will not play in the NHL anytime soon.

Trading Pavel Datsyuk’s cap space to the Coyotes and moving down from the 16th pick to the 20th, the Wings also diminished chances of drafting young defensemen who might contribute far earlier.

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The Coyotes think Jakob Chychrun, whom they picked, plays for them this season.

Then, two more touted defensemen, Dante Fabbro and Logan Stanley, who played for the Spitfires in Windsor, went to the Predators and Jets with the next two picks.

The Wings selected Dennis Cholowski of Chilliwack in the British Columbia Hockey League, whom Holland said he will be happy to watch in college, almost certainly St. Cloud State, for a few seasons. Presumably, it would be Grand Rapids after that.

Meanwhile, top NHL defensemen are at a premium.

The asking prices for Kevin Shattenkirk of the Blues and even Cam Fowler of the Ducks are enormous. Reports out Buffalo are that the cost is discouraging almost any inquiry, despite the fact there is a huge universe of potential suitors, especially for Shattenkirk.

Just before the draft, the Panthers reportedly agreed to pay Keith Yandle, formerly of the Rangers and Coyotes, $44.5 million through 2023.

Any thoughts that Red Wings would land P.K. Subban of the Canadiens seem fleeting.

Meanwhile, during the draft, the Sabres acquired a potentially valuable asset on the blue line, Dmitry Kulikov, for Mark Pysyk

in an exchange with the Panthers that included swapping draft choices.

Kulikov is top-four defender.

Fitting the likes of Shattenkirk, Yandle and Subban under the salary cap along with Stamkos requires a sort of mathematics not yet conceived. But a trade for someone like Kulikov also could pay significant dividends for the Wings.

Mixed results

Holland did more than well creating the cap space by deftly exploiting the Coyotes’ desire to draft Chychrun and relinquish the $1.5 million salary of Joe Vitale.

But he and the Wings have many more labors.

Meet all of the Red Wings’ draft picks

More cap space would help. But events in Buffalo made clear the hope of trading a goalie, presumably Jimmy Howard, to create some or draw a top defenseman in return is succumbing to despair.

A former Red Wings goalie, Jim Rutherford, the Penguins’ GM, said in Buffalo he would retain Marc-Andre Fleury at least at the start of the season, after the brilliant performance by the Stanley Cup winning rookie Matthew Murray.

Yzerman hopes to rid his club of big Ben Bishop’s salary, too.

All three teams might begin the season looking for the opportunity to move goalies, especially in advance of the expansion draft in 2017 that will allow each club to protect only one.

Events in Buffalo produced mixed results for the Red Wings, despite the huge accomplishment of moving Datsyuk’s cap space.

To realistically compete for their annual goal, the Stanley Cup, anytime soon, more success managing the roster is required.