DETROIT – In the summer of 2007, the Wings landed the big prize in the offseason.
This summer they’re hoping to do the same thing and maybe do it twice.
In 2007, Detroit signed defenseman Brian Rafalski, after he spent seven seasons with the New Jersey Devils.
This year the Wings’ wise list includes the top two free agents in the unrestricted pool – Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter and New Jersey forward Zach Parise.
“When we signed Brian Rafalski for $30 million for five years, we probably had 15 minutes to make the decision,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “We didn’t know what the money was going to be and we didn’t know if he was going to be available. On June 30 he was going to re-up with New Jersey at the time, but he hits the market and we contacted his agent on noon July 1.”
Detroit also kept in touch with the agent for defenseman Mathieu Schneider, who had played the last three-plus seasons with the Wings.
“We had Schneider on our list along with a couple of other guys, but we decided to sign Brain Rafalski,” Holland said. “There is no blue print. There is no master plan. It’s be prepared and make a decision when you have to make a decision.”
This offseason the Wings lost defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (trade).
They could also lose Jiri Hudler to another team that’s willing to offer the winger more money.
If Suter and Parise don’t re-sign with their teams before noon today, they will hit the open market and will begin talking with other teams.
It’s been written that Suter and Parise made a pact to play together once they became unrestricted free agents this summer. They were teammates on the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor 10 years ago.
“At noon we’ll contact all the people we have interest in and then the rest of it is experience, instincts and preparation,” Holland said. “There are relationships and information gathering that eventually lead to a decision. Whether it’s to sign someone or not sign someone.”
Suter is the best possible replacement for Lidstrom on the open market.
Parise is a high-scoring left wing that would slot easily into one of the Wings’ top two forward units.
The Wings have about $18 million to spend this offseason after the salary cap for next season rose to $70.2 million.
Detroit has 19 players signed for next season at a cap hit of $46.1 million, which includes Nyquist and Smith, both of which are on two-way deals.
The Wings also have two restricted free agents they’ve made qualifying offers to – Abdelkader and Quincey.
The Wings would like to get Abdelkader to sign a four-year deal at just under $2 million a season.
Quincey could be more difficult to sign at the number the Wings want since he made $3.25 million a year ago. They’re hoping to get him at a modest raise.
Then there’s Swiss star Damien Brunner Detroit is expected to sign to a two-way, entry-level contract once free agency opens of shortly after.
“We don’t have as many holes as some people think,” Holland said. “You’re not going to replace Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s going to be replaced by all defensemen picking it up.
“Brad Stuart is a loss,” Holland continued. “I look at the addition of Kyle Quincey, the development of Brendan Smith, Jonathan Ericsson. We’ve also got Nik Kronwall, Jakub Kindl, Ian White and Jonathan Ericsson. We don’t have big names, but we have good players.”
Holland admitted that filling Lidstrom’s void is his biggest challenge since the team lost Steve Yzerman.
“Life without Nicklas Lidstrom will be difficult, but (others) are waiting for a bigger role,” Holland said. “That’s what’s got to happen in the evolution of a hockey team.”
Detroit isn’t the only teams with cap space and needs to fill. The Pittsburgh Penguins made moves at the NHL Entry Draft to free up money to perhaps make a run at both Suter and Parise.
“You touch base with as many as you can right off the bat because if you wait on the first people on your priorities then you’re behind on the others,” Holland said. “You just have to know what’s going on. You have to be ready to make decisions.”
Whatever happens Wings coach Mike Babcock will be ready to go wherever or do whatever the team needs to land the best possible fit to their lineup.
“We’re a work in progress, so we’re talking each and every day about the moves that we’re trying to make and we kind of have an A Plan, a B Plan, a C plan, and we’ve probably got even a D Plan to tell you the truth,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told the NHL Network on Thursday. “I’m in a position to fly wherever they want me to fly. I’m just going to be ready to go.
“So does that mean I’ll be flying into Detroit on the night of the 30th and ready to go for a flight, or does that mean I’m going in and nobody wants to see anybody in July 1 and the meetings will be on the July 2, I don’t know the answer to that exactly yet, but I’d have no plans, I’d say that,” Babcock continued.
Holland will meet with his staff, which includes Jim Nill and Ryan Martin, along with his four pro scouts, in the morning and finish up their plan of attack.
“The staff got together just before the draft and we’ll meet for a few hours today,” Holland said. “We’ll look at our list one last time. Some of it has changed with players signing with their teams. We’ll formulate a plan. When noon hits, you’re going on instincts. A lot of it is preparation. You’re ready to make a decision. You’ve got five to 10 minutes to make a decision.
“We’ll decide how we’re going to attack July 1 and when Sunday at noon hits and then you hit the phones,” Holland added.