Eric Fish files this end of year Red Wing report!

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By Eric Fish

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           It was a bittersweet season for Detroit Red Wings fans.

           The season was sweet because hockey was being played again in America’s greatest hockey city.

           But it ended on a disappointing note when the Wings were upset by the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.

           If you’re anything like me, you live and die with this team and no matter how disappointing things get, you’re always looking ahead and remembering how sweet the championships in 97, 98, and 02 really were.

           So where does general manager Ken Holland go with his team from here?

           Let’s take a look:

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           Which Wings are in contract years?
           Nicklas Lidstrom and Brendan Shanahan are the two biggies. Holland will do whatever it takes to get Lidstrom back and I’m sure he’ll work with Shanahan on terms. I would guess he’ll try to ink them both on two-year deals. Shanny’s future in Detroit is uncertain, but if I had to guess right now, I’d say he’ll be back. I’m sure he wants to retire here.

Daniel Cleary, Chris Chelios, Manny Legace, Chris Osgood, Steve Yzerman, Mark Mowers, Jason Woolley, Johan Franzen, Jiri Hudler, Brett Lebda, and Jason Williams are all also listed as free agents after this season according to hockeytraderumors.com.

           So who will be resigned? Chelios if he doesn’t retire, and most likely Franzen, Cleary, Hudler, Lebda and Williams. Each of them had good seasons and players like Hudler, Williams, Franzen and Lebda are still developing.

           Woolley played sparingly this season and Mowers is a role player that can be easily replaced.

           Yzerman likely played his last game in the game six loss to Edmonton, but if he wants to come back, he’ll be back in the only uniform he’s worn in his NHL career.

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Who will be back?
           For the most part, the same core of players will return next season. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, who finished top two in terms of points for the team in the regular season and had breakout years, will need to continue to take their games to the next level. Don’t forget, those two are just pups.

           Other returning players are 20-goal scorers Mikael Samuelsson, Tomas Holmstrom and Robert Lang along with Andreas Lilja, Mathieu Schneider, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Nicklas Kronwall.

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           Who will take over the captaincy if Yzerman retires?
           Nicklas Lidstrom will likely be the next Red Wing to wear the “C” in Hockeytown. Lidstrom is a lot like Stevie Y in many ways. He’s soft spoken, leads by example on the ice, and has the experience in the league to be a great captain. Lidstrom will have tough skates to fill in that aspect, but he’ll fine.

           I would predict next year’s assistants to be Shanahan (assuming he re-signs) and Draper.

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            What about the goalies?

           It wouldn’t surprise me if either Chris Osgood or Manny Legace is back in a Red Wings jersey next season, but as a backup. Holland will likely try to acquire an accomplished goaltender this summer either by trade or in free agency. Another possible option is to not sign either Osgood or Legace back and make 21-year old Jimmy Howard the team’s backup. The Wings’ staff is riding high on young Howard and expects him to be the goaltender of the future for the team.

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           Will the Wings make any trades?
           It’s always a possibility. The Wings might try to unload Datsyuk or Lang in a deal for an all-star goaltender. Of course other options are possible, but Lang and Datsyuk are the two forwards making the most money next season. Unloading their contracts would only make the most sense.

           If there are any trades, Wings fans should know that they have the best GM in the NHL making the decisions and that they should trust him with whatever he does.

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           What are some trade possibilities?
           There has been talk already about dealing Pavel Datsyuk or Robert Lang for a goaltender. Datsyuk led the Wings in scoring last year and is one of the best stick handlers in the league when he isn’t getting slowed down by neutral zone traps or bigger, more physical defenseman. Lang can be counted on for a chunk of offensive production and is a big body that isn’t easily knocked off the puck. I think Lang would be a much easier replacement than Datsyuk.

           Another possibility is the trade of Mikael Samuelsson. Samuelsson had a terrific regular season, but arguably the worst postseason of all the Detroit forwards. Holland signed Samuelsson to a contract extension in mid-season, but he wouldn’t hesitate to unload him if opportunity came knocking.

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           Who should the Wings try to acquire through free agency?
           The Red Wings need to go after a younger power forward type player that wins the battles in the corners and can still score 20 goals a season. Those types of players are absolutely critical in the playoffs! Detroit did it in the 1996-97 season with the acquisition of Brendan Shanahan. Now Shanahan is obviously older and serves different purposes to the team, but don’t be surprised if Holland picks up someone who can give the team a type of power lift because they need to get stronger and bigger up front. There really aren’t any notable free agents that strike out to me in this category, but obviously a trade is always a possibility and if a signing is made, nobody should question Holland’s decision, he’s the best GM in the game.

           I also wouldn’t be surprised if Holland looks to acquire another accomplished defenseman. Nicklas Kronwall and Brett Lebda are the defenseman of the future, but who knows if Chris Chelios will return for another season and who knows if Jiri Fischer will ever play again. Holland might go the way of another veteran defender to give Mathieu Schneider and Lidstrom some help.

           The Red Wings should have plenty of money to spend within the salary cap, which should increase by a few million for next year. It should be an interesting summer in that aspect.

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           Do the Wings have any prospects?
           Detroit has one prospect playing in Russia that has been receiving tons of hype from the day the Red Wings drafted him.

           Igor Grigorenko will likely make his debut next season in Detroit. He would have played for the Red Wings during the 2003-04 season, but a bad car accident kept him out of action and he was told by Detroit to stay in Russia and concentrate on getting his game back.

           I know Holland is going to want to bring this kid over next season and from what I’ve heard, Grigorenko is supposed to be something very, very special.

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           What about ticket prices for next season?
           Red Wings owner Mike Illitch should, but probably won’t, cut ticket prices.

           Illitch has jobbed over Wings fans this season when a salary cap and rollback on contracts was enforced in the NHL for the first time in league history. He should have slashed prices then. But he didn’t and you can’t blame him for the decision he made because fans still sold out every home game last season.

           However, I’d imagine fans are going to start to become a little upset about paying top dollar for regular season games and more money in the playoffs to watch a Stanley Cup contender underachieve in the end.

I would encourage fans to click on this website http://www.detroitredwings.com/community/contact.jsp and fill out the necessary information voicing your concerns over ticket prices.