Wings again will take ‘best player available’ in draft

DETROIT >> When it comes to the first couple rounds of the NHL draft of late, the Detroit Red Wings have been of the mindset to select the best player available.

And because of that the team is stocked full of prospects at forward.

This year they’re going into the two-day draft, which begins Friday in Buffalo, with the same mindset, but hoping a defenseman falls to them.

“Somewhere along the line we’d like to start to draft a few more defensemen,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We’ve had lots of forwards who are on the team or coming up and not as many defensemen. If the best player available that’s there is a forward we’ll take him, but somewhere along the line here we have to start to draft some D.”

Detroit has the 16th overall selection in the first round.

“We’re going to take the best player available,” Holland said.

The last defenseman the Wings took in the first round was Brendan Smith, in 2007 with the 27th overall pick.

Last year they nabbed a defenseman in the third round, Vili Saarijarvi.

The highest they’ve taken a defenseman since Smith was when they had two picks in the second round in 2011 and selected Xavier Ouellet (48th overall) and Ryan Sproul (55th overall).

“We’re expecting one of those or maybe two of them to make our team,” Holland said referring to Ouellet and Sproul. “But behind those two guys and Saarijarvi it’s not like we have a lot coming up on the backend as prospects. I’d like to think that between the first couple of picks one would be a defenseman. I could say all that, but both could be forwards.

“We’re trying to draft and develop to get a group of young players to work their way onto our roster that allow us to be competitive,” Holland added. “What’s competitive? Make the playoffs and go on a playoff run. Fortunately we’ve made the playoffs, but unfortunately we haven’t been able to go on a playoff run the last four or five years.”

Holland added that they’d also be willing to move up or move down in the draft.

“The drafting game when you’re dealing with 18-year-old players is not an exact science,” Holland said. “You see that with (Henrik) Zetterberg in the seventh round and (Pavel) Datsyuk in the sixth round. If their draft was held all over again they’d both be top five players in their draft. But certainly higher in the draft in the first round there’s a little more certainty.

“If somebody slides around 12 or 13, I’ve talked to some teams a little bit above us that we may have some interest in trying to move up,” Holland continued. “If we get to our pick and philosophically we think there are a few players that are close and somebody wants to move up we’ll see.”

The Wings have made a couple trades of late to slide back in rounds and have gotten two top prospects in their system.

“That’s how we got Tyler Bertuzzi and we went back two picks and got Anthony Mantha,” Holland said. “It’s like getting a free player.

“The more spins at the wheel the better it is, but if a player slides and we’re excited and we might have to pay the price to move up,” Holland continued. “Right now I’m working the phones and seeing who’s got interest in moving up and down and we’re telling them what we’re thinking so when the draft unfolds you’re ready to go in either direction.”

Holland: “He’s probably got a good month to make a final decision.”

DETROIT >> The players in the Detroit Red Wings locker room at the time did everything to try and convince Nicklas Lidstrom to stick around for one more season.

It didn’t work.

Now they’ll turn their attention on Pavel Datsyuk.

“Let’s hope it’s not,” Niklas Kronwall said when asked if Thursday was the last time he’d play with Datsyuk in Detroit. “I just hope it’s not. Right now it’s a completely empty feeling. Let’s just hope for everyone’s sake, for the hockey fan and for us and for Detroit, that it’s not.

“I think everybody is going to try to do whatever they can (to convince him to stay),” Kronwall added. “Obviously we’ve got a chance to play with him for a long time and we’d love for that to continue.”

Datsyuk made headlines prior to the start of the playoffs when he said he was not returning to Detroit to fulfill the final year on his contract.

A day later he said he hadn’t officially made a decision on what he’d do next season and he confirmed that after the Wings were knocked out of the playoffs for a second straight year by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“I’m not thinking about two days or how many days (until I decide),” Datsyuk said after the Wings lost Game 5, 1-0 to the Lightning, on Thursday. “I need a little bit (to) cool down and (let) emotions get out and then I start thinking about it more.”

The decision to leave, which he has thought about since lockout shortened 2012 season, would be so he can spend more time with his 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who lives in Russia with his ex-wife, Svetlana.

“Don’t (ask) me a scary question,” Datsyuk said when asked if Game 5 was his final game with the Wings. “I put this question out many times and I don’t start thinking this way. It’s not happy thinking about these questions.”

If Datsyuk, who turns 38 on July 20, does decide not to fulfill the final year of his deal the Wings won’t get any relief for his $7.5 million salary, unless they’re able to unload his contract to a team that needs to reach the salary-cap floor.

“I have to find out about Pavel Datsyuk, that’s going to be priority number one,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said during a phone interview with The Macomb Daily on Saturday. “If he’s coming back then I know we have Pav and if he’s not coming back obviously I have to go through the process of his cap space.”

Datsyuk was held without a point in the five games with Tampa Bay, but did lead the Wings with 18 shots on goal. It was just the second time in his 14 seasons that he was held without a point in the playoffs. The other time was in 2003 when Anaheim swept the Wings.

“I’ve read all the articles,” Holland said. “I’ve had conversations in the past with Pav, but I have to sit down with him here in the next … I don’t think we really need to know until the first of June. He’s probably got a good month to make a final decision.”

Datsyuk, who was drafted in the sixth round (171st overall) in 1998, had 16 goals and 33 assists in 66 games during the regular season.

“I think you know Pavel well enough to know that Pavel will do what Pavel wants to do,” Wing coach Jeff Blashill said. “I’ll sit down and talk with Pav at the end of the year and obviously he’ll meet with Kenny and we’ll see what he decides.”

Datsyuk won the Selke Trophy three years in a row (2008-10) and helped the Wings win the Stanley Cup in 2002 as a rookie and in 2008.

“Pavel is one of the best competitors what will ever be in this league and he was amazing to coach this year, so I hope I get a chance to coach him again next year,” Blashill said. “His work ethic is unreal. He was coming back from injury, if you saw the effort that he put in it’s not secret why he’s been one of the best players in the league. Obviously I hope I get a chance to coach him again.”

Playoff picks: Detroit reaches East final; Caps beat Ducks for Cup

Playoffs Predictions

Eastern Conference

First Round

Detroit over Tampa Bay (six games)

Florida over New York Islanders (five games)

Washington over Philadelphia (five games)

Pittsburgh over New York Rangers (seven games)

Semifinals

Detroit over Florida (seven games)

Washington over Pittsburgh (six games)

Finals

Washington over Detroit (five games)

 

Western Conference

First Round

Dallas over Minnesota (five games)

Chicago over St. Louis (six games)

Anaheim over Nashville (seven games)

Los Angeles over San Jose (six games)

Semifinals

Chicago over Dallas (seven games)

Anaheim over Los Angeles (seven games)

Finals

Anaheim over Chicago (six games)

 

Stanley Cup

Washington over Anaheim (six games)

Three reasons why Wings advance and three reasons why they don’t

DETROIT >> Since moving to the Eastern Conference the Detroit Red Wings have been bounced from the playoffs each of the last two seasons in the first round.

They get a rematch of last year’s opening round series with the Tampa Bay Lighting, which begins Wednesday. The Wings lost the best-of-seven series in seven games.

Here are three reasons why the Wings will advance past the Lighting and three reasons why they won’t.

Why They Advance

  1. Win one for Pav

If this is indeed Pavel Datsyuk’s last season in Detroit it could provide the spark the team needs to try and hand him another Stanley Cup before he returns to Russia. “If this is his final last run let’s make it a good one,” Niklas Kronwall said.

 

  1. Banged up Bolts

Tampa Bay will be without its top forward, Steven Stamkos, and one of its top defensemen, Anton Stralman, in the series. Stamkos had surgery to treat a blood clot near his right collarbone, while Stralman is sidelined with a non-displaced fracture on his left fibula.

Tyler Johnson, who torched the Wings for six goals in last year’s playoffs, is also banged up and will be a game-time decision for Game 1.

 

  1. Bad Brad

Brad Richards knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup and Wings coach Jeff Blashill will rely on him to help lead Detroit to another.

“There’s no question he’s done that throughout his career,” Blashill said. “He’s got an ability to be calm under pressure so as the pressure increases as the moment gets bigger he stays calm. He knows how to manage his body throughout the year so he’s in a good spot come playoff time. We’ve got him up in the top few lines. We did that on purpose because we think he’s a guy that when the pressure increases he stays calm and continues to make plays.”

Richards won the Cup last season with Chicago and also in 2004 with Tampa Bay.

 

Why They Don’t Advance

  1. Big Ben

Lighting goalie Ben Bishop, who stands 6-foot-7 without skates, has put together a Vezina Trophy candidate season, posting a league-best 2.06 goals-against average to go with a .926 save percentage, which is second best in the league. In helping lead his team to the Stanley Cup finals last year he posted three shutouts and a 2.18 GAA and .921 save percentage.

 

  1. Goals for/Goals against

Of all eight teams that reached the playoffs, the Wings have scored the least amount of goals (211) and have given up the most goals (224). Conversely, the Lightning finished the regular season a plus-26 in goal differential.

 

  1. Drouin the X-Factor

With the loss of Steven Stamkos, the Lighting need to rely on Jonathan Drouin, who has scored a goal in each of his first two games since being recalled on April 7. Drouin, who was suspended by Tampa Bay for failing to report to the minors, was a healthy scratch in 20 of the Lightning’s 26 playoff games a year ago.

 

Pick

Wings win best-of-seven series in six.

If Datsyuk had it all to do over again he’d done a ‘little bit different contracts’

DETROIT >> If Pavel Datsyuk had it all to do over again he probably would have thought twice when he signed a three-year extension to stay in Detroit after the 2013 playoffs.

Datsyuk, who turns 38 on July 20, has one year remaining on that deal and could leave without fulfilling that according to his agent Dan Milstein, who spoke with me Sunday afternoon.

“Certainly since 2012, the lockout shortened year, he’s been thinking about going back to Russia,” Milstein said. “His daughter is getting older and just being away from her is tough. He’s a great dad. He spends so much time with his kids. It breaks my heart. He only gets to get see her in the summers. He’s been fortunate here in Detroit to be in the playoffs every single year, but as a result he only has two months or so at home.”

Datsyuk’s daughter, Elizabeth, is 13 years old and lives in Russia with his ex-wife, Svetlana.

“But never say never,” Milstein said. “They have to get together at the end of the year like normal. Sit down with Ken Holland and ownership of the team as well and there will be a discussion. While Pavel made his wishes public there still has to be a conversation with the team as well.”

If Datsyuk does decide not to fulfill the final year of his deal the Wings won’t get any relief for his $7.5 million salary, unless they’re able to unload his contract to a team that needs to reach the salary-cap floor.

“He feels very badly about that,” Milstein said. “Had he known about this earlier he probably would have done a little bit different contracts, but never the less we’re here. They had this conversation last summer as well.

“Both Pavel and I would work with the Red Wings to do whatever is necessary to address the salary cap situation in any way possible,” Milstein added. “He feels bad. He feels the team has been loyal to him.”

Wings general manager Ken Holland said he won’t comment on Datsyuk until after the playoffs.

A report last Saturday from Hockey Night in Canada’s Elliotte Friedman said that Datsyuk won’t fulfill the final year of his contract next season and that he’ll instead play next season in Russia for family reasons.

Milstein said Datsyuk would not confirm the rumors because he didn’t want it to become a distraction as the Wings fought to reach the playoffs for a 25th consecutive season, which they locked up in their final game despite losing to the New York Rangers.

“He didn’t want to have any distractions whatsoever, but unfortunately the rumor started floating about a week ago,” Milstein said. “He didn’t want any distractions for his teammates at such difficult times so that’s one of the reasons he came out now instead of earlier.

“He wanted to get it off his chest so he can concentrate on doing what he does best which is play the game and continue working towards another Stanley Cup for the city of Detroit and his team,” Milstein continued.

Datsyuk had 16 goals and 33 assists in 66 games this season.

“Now he can concentrate on his game and on another playoff run,” Milstein said. “This is me, this is not him, but hopefully this is something that will energize the team so they can go and have a great Stanley Cup run. Pavel always plays at the highest level, but this will hopefully give him a little extra motivation. But this was what he needed to do. It was time.”

Abdelkader gets seven-year deal worth $29.75 million

Ottawa Senators center Zack Smith (15) and Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) battle for position in the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Ottawa Senators center Zack Smith (15) and Detroit Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (8) battle for position in the first period of an NHL hockey game Friday, Oct. 30, 2015 in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)


DETROIT >> When Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland finalized a seven-year deal with $29.75 million with Justin Abdelkader he didn’t hesitate one bit.

“I know the person, I know his passion and I know his commitment,” Holland said Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. “I’m with him every day. If you’re outside the organization you might have some hesitation but I know what he’s all about. So I think at the end of the day if it’s too long, you worry about it six years from now. The most important thing was to get him signed up.

“I know I’ve talked to some people in the industry that think it’s a fabulous deal for us,” Holland added. “I think it’s a fabulous deal because we’ve found a way to keep him signed and we couldn’t afford to lose him.”

The deal with Abdelkader, who would have been an unrestricted after this season, has an annual salary cap hit of $4.25 million.

“I wanted to make it clear in negotiations that I wanted to stay here and be here long term,” said Abdelkader, who’s in the final year of a four-year deal with a salary-cap his of $1.8 million. “I’m gonna keep fully committing myself to this team, this organization on and off the ice, and do what I can to be a leader.”

Abdelkader is coming off his best NHL campaign after registering career-high totals in goals (23), assists (21) and points (44) in 71 games last season.

He began the season with a hat trick in the opener and added a goal and an assist the next night. He’s since had two assists over the last 13 games.

“You try to say it’s not, you say it is, I don’t know,” Abdelkader said when asked if negotiations had become a distraction. “It was one of those things that you’re trying to negotiate during the season it’s probably never easy on anyone. But I just try to go out and play and do my best for the team.”

Wings GM Ken Holland isn’t sure when Franzen will return, he just wants him to feel ‘good about facing the day’

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins' Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Red Wings left wing Johan Franzen (93) shoots as Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sergei Gonchar (55) defends during the second period of a preseason NHL hockey game in Detroit on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

DETROIT >> Right now the furthest thing on Ken Holland’s mind is when Johan Franzen will return to the ice for the Detroit Wings.

“Right now the number one thing from my perspective is that Johan has a wife and a family,” the Wings general manager said in a phone interview. “If he gets to a place in his life where he wakes up every day and feels good about himself and feels good about facing the day … but right now he’s not there. I think that’s the most important thing before there’s even any contemplation of returning to play hockey.”

Franzen, 35, missed his third straight game Saturday night in Montreal after leaving Joe Louis Arena Tuesday after the morning skate prior to the Wings taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He has suffered multi concussions in his career, the last of which occurred last season after a blind-side hit by Edmonton’s Rob Klinkhammer last January. He finished the game, but began experiencing concussion-like symptoms the next day.

Franzen didn’t return the rest of the season.

“It’s like last year,” Holland said. “He went home, day of the game, we thought all was good. We don’t want to use the word setback. I don’t think it’s been as positive recovery the last couple of months as I think we wanted us all to think.”

Franzen, who averaged just under 13 minutes of ice time in two games, picking up one assist, was placed on short-term injured reserve (minimum seven days).

He was cleared to resume playing prior to the start of training camp.

Franzen, who has 187 goals and 182 assists in 600 regular season games with the Wings, said up until the time of training camp that his headaches weren’t completely gone, but they’re not as severe.

Franzen, who has been limited to just 128 regular season games over the last three seasons, played in 33 games a year ago, picking up seven goals and 15 assists.

Franzen has 42 goals and 39 assists in 107 playoff games.