Detroit — The next steps in rebuilding the Red Wings will come sooner or later and are critical.
But while disappointment with the decline of the franchise mixes with the generally disappointing reviews of Ken Holland and his staff at the 2017 NHL draft, there is more work to be done, beginning immediately.
The first buyout period ends at 5 p.m. Friday and unrestricted free agents become available Saturday.
In some important ways, the Wings are just about where they were a week ago, armed with some resources to improve the prospects for the club next season and, far more importantly, beyond.
They still have Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek.
Despite Mrazek’s recent decline and Howard’s occasional inconsistency and occasionally troublesome knee and groin, it is a surplus of generally above average NHL goaltending by any estimation. The Wings can still swing a trade.
Draft won’t help now
They used 11 draft choices in the 2017 personnel lottery, they retained nine they have in the seven rounds for 2018. More trading resources.
Holland said he is intent on assembling drafted assets for the long-term future while improving the playoff chances of the current roster, which finished 17 points out of the playoffs.
Time will tell how well the Red Wings did in the draft, and nothing has occurred yet to raise confidence about next season.
They have 11 new assets from the draft, most if not all of whom will skate at the prospects camp in Traverse City July 7-11.
Few, if any, are likely to skate for Grand Rapids until at least 2019.
But “drafting and developing,” is the Wings’ strategy now and for the next few seasons, at least.
Unable, so far, to fashion a trade to dump salary from some of the overly-long, overly-lucrative contracts signed in recent years, a well-considered buyout would free roster space without depriving the Red Wings of an essential player.
Among the free agents, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is in play with a number of teams, including the Red Wings’ rivals in the Eastern Conference, along with veteran Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner, the Rangers’ 33-year-old buyout Dan Girardi and the Flames’ Dennis Wideman.
If Girardi is interested in playing in Detroit, he might come a little cheaper because the Rangers will pay him $1.11 million in each of the next six years.
The Wings luck in free agency ebbed beginning at least five seasons ago, when they could no longer offer something close to contending for the Stanley Cup, a chief criteria for players beyond the money and family concerns.
Without a significant acquisition, however, the Red Wings hope for improvement on the ice next season lies with improved health for the fifth-most injured team in the NHL, and the hope players will improve.
High price in trades
The trades that were made during and before the two drafts last week demonstrate the increasing difficulty of making deals in the NHL.
The price for Travis Hamonic of the Islanders, likely a second-pair defenseman on most rosters contending for the Stanley Cup, is something the Wings can afford again when they have a better roster.
The Flames, who made the playoffs only to get swept, sent a first-round pick and two second-round picks to Long Island for Hamonic and a fourth round pick.
The Leafs would not make the expensive deal for Hamonic, and Mike Babcock said it only emphasizes, once again, the need for developing young defensemen through the draft.
But, the fact of the matter is that from June 15-24, there were 34 trades made in the NHL among 23 of the 31 teams.
The Wings, whose general manager and coach said at the end of the season they would take a hard look at the roster with an eye for change, did not participate.
“I anticipate I will be on the phone a lot a week or two before submitting a list of players (to protect in the entry draft),” Holland said, after the season.
“I think we had a number of players in that room who have more to give. We have to figure out which of the players are a part of the solution and where we need do upgrade.”
The Red Wings still have that opportunity this offseason.
The goalie market is settling in, with Ben Bishop (Stars), Marc-Andre Fleury (Golden Knights) and Antti Raanta (Coyotes) all finding new homes.
Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak and Antti Niemi are on the market, but the Wings might still be able to deal Mrazek or Howard.
Without a move, Holland’s hope to both increase playoff prospects and stock personnel prospects is unlikely to receive much of a boost from another in a trail of disappointing offseasons since the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom.
If 11 new players are the only changes this offseason, it is little wonder why some fans agonized while watching some top prospects.
Forwards Gabriel Vilardi and Owen Tippett, and defenseman Timothy Liljegren, tumbled down in the draft order, only to see the Red Wings bypass them.
Perhaps Michael Rasmussen, the Red Wings first top-10 selection in a generation, will have a better career.
But if they are not drafting like they did in the 1990s, if they continue having difficulty signing important unrestricted free agents, if they fail to take advantage of two goalies and nine draft choices for a possible trade, the short term is as bleak as last season.
And the long term would look dimmer than when Holland seemed to take a new tack at the trade deadline, making the team a seller for the first time in three decades and signaling a hoped-for acceleration in the five-year-old rebuild on the fly.