The Red Wings are en route to their 24th consecutive playoff appearance, but may be without concussed key winger Johan Franzen for its entirety. With that in mind, GM Ken Holland moved Sunday and made a deal with his former assistant GM and current Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill for veteran Erik Cole.
The trade also sends a third-round draft pick in 2015 from Dallas to Detroit, while the Stars receive a second-round pick in 2015 as well as two 22-year-old prospects: centre Mattias Janmark, and defenseman Mattias Backman. But the Wings get the most recognizable asset in the Cole, who at 36 is nearing the end of his 13-season NHL career, yet still is contributing a better-than average amount of offense (he's got 18 goals and 33 points in 57 games this year after posting 16 goals and 29 points in 75 games last season) and plays a physical game coach Mike Babcock will appreciate.
Janmark was selected 79th overall by Detroit in 2013 and has AHL experience, but he's currently back home in his native Sweden and having a strong season (13 goals and 36 points in 53 games for Frolunda); Backman was selected 146th overall in 2011 and has split this season between Grand Rapids of the AHL (where he had four assists in 18 games) and Linkopings of the Swedish League (where he has four goals and 16 points in 23 games). And Nill, who left the Red Wings organization in 2013 to take the Dallas job, is no doubt familiar with both youngsters. His Stars team is now out of the tough Western Conference playoff race, and Cole is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, so it made sense for Nill to ship him off for an investment in the future. Neither Swede is a can't-miss NHLer, but Cole wasn't going to be one for them much longer anyway. If Nill can develop just one of the two into a contributor in the next few years, the trade probably becomes a runaway win for the Stars.
Cole's minutes have been more or less steadily dropping since 2011, and he's averaged just 14:31 per game for the Stars this season. But the Wings don't need him to play 20 minutes a game. They need him to play the body and score some timely goals. And although the cost for his services wasn't cheap, it wasn't onerous enough for Holland to reject. Detroit is once again surprising people and could make it out of the Eastern Conference as easily as any team, and having a proven veteran on hand at a time like that would make this deal more than worth it for Detroit.