DETROIT – Ask Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland about it and you get a terse, “I’m not going there.” Ask Red Wings veteran Kris Draper and you get the death stare.
(Trust me, I got it when I asked him about it.)
But no matter what transpires over the next two games, the Red Wings – once again – will be faced with some difficult decisions over the summer and they know there are players in their dressing room who won’t be with them next season.
And we’re talking about core players here. If the Red Wings are intent on signing Marian Hossa this summer – and every indication is they are – it’s going to mean some very loyal and productive players are going to be leaving Hockeytown this summer.
The Red Wings already have $53.5 million dedicated to their salary cap next season and that’s before Hossa takes a hometown discount. So you don’t have to be Warren Buffett to come to the conclusion that there are going to be some key players gone next season.
“We know we have some difficult decisions ahead,” said Holland. “This is probably the best team that we’re going to be able to put together in the cap world. We’re going to lose some players.”
This time last year, the Red Wings were in the middle of the NHL pack when it came to the salary cap, which was about $5 million under the high-water mark. That allowed them to trade for Brad Stuart at the deadline and sign him to a long-term deal over the summer, then sign Hossa to a one-year deal as a free agent.
“We got lucky (last summer),” Holland said. “We signed some guys long-term and they took some big jumps in their careers and they were at the tail end of their contracts, it allowed us to add a star in Marian Hossa. Those days are over.”
Hossa will undoubtedly take a discount and will sign on the Red Wings' terms if he wants to stay, but even then they still have to re-sign Ville Leino and decide what to do with Jiri Hudler, who is due to become a restricted free agent. Henrik Zetterberg’s cap hit jumps from $2.65 million to $6.08 million in 2009-10 and Johan Franzen’s cap hit goes from $942,000 to $3.95 million.
Mikael Samuelsson will become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and, as surprisingly good as he has been in his four seasons as a Red Wing, it’s difficult to fathom there will be room for him on next year’s roster. Hudler is another prime candidate to go and the Red Wings might be at least able to get something for him if they take him to arbitration and the team acquiring him knows what his salary will be for next season.
What about Tomas Holmstrom, who appears to have been rendered redundant by Franzen? Have veterans such as Draper and Kirk Maltby played their final games for the Red Wings? Will Chris Chelios come back knowing there’s a good chance he won’t play any more than the 28 games he played this past season?
Although Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has not dwelled upon it, he realizes there will be changes next season. He has watched as players such as Brendan Shanahan, Mathieu Schneider and Robert Lang left the organization without the Red Wings being too adversely affected.
“We don’t want to lose players,” Babcock said. “So I don’t know how Kenny (Holland) is going to work his magic there, but he usually comes up with some theory to keep as many players as he can. And we try not to lose players that we think are the cornerstones to our organization.”
One thing that takes some of the sense of urgency away is teams can be 10 percent over the cap during the off-season. But if it doesn’t go down this summer, any ceiling increase will be negligible and that doesn’t help, either.
“If the cap was going up again $7 million, maybe it would be different,” Holland said. “But we’re faced with the same kinds of decisions 29 other teams are and we’ll make them.”
OZZY ON BABS
Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood provided some comic relief Monday when he was asked about the progression of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
“He was tough on us when he first got here,” Osgood said. “I think he tried to come in and be a bit of a tyrant when he came (to his first training camp) in Traverse City and he was working pretty good yelling and screaming. I don’t know, is he behind me right now? I’d better make sure he’s not.”
When asked the same question, Babcock had some pretty interesting insights of his own.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe just how dumb you were,” Babcock said. “It’s unbelievable. I think what happens is you end up forgetting how bad you were.”
KEEPING IT REAL
The Red Wings are expecting Pittsburgh to give them everything they can handle and the Penguins are confident they can bounce back from their putrid effort in Game 5.
“If we were in 10th place in the middle of the season and they told us we had to win a game to force a Game 7, we would have taken it to the Stanley Cup final,” Sidney Crosby said. “So we’re keeping things in perspective here knowing what we have to do.”
There’s little chance huge disappointment Petr Sykora will see action in this series, but Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Monday the thought of using Sykora to see what kind of spark it would give his team has crossed his mind.
“I’ve considered it every game from the time he hasn’t played until now,” Bylsma said. “So I’ve always considered it. We’ve certainly talked about different scenarios in the coach’s room and talked about what our team needs and what would help us win Game 6 and we’re still talking about it.”
Sykora has been a healthy scratch for the past 14 games, has been injured for two in this year’s playoffs and hasn’t played since Game 2 of the Penguins’ second-round series against the Washington Capitals.
THN is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports until a champion is crowned. To read other entries, click HERE. Also, check out THN.com's regular video roundtable, the THN.com Shootout for updates from both Detroit and Pittsburgh.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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