DETROIT >> Some say free agents didn’t see the Detroit Red Wings as a good destination because of their former coach, Mike Babcock.
Wings general manager Ken Holland disagrees.
“I don’t put any stock into that,” Holland said. “I just think a year ago … we targeted so few people. If you look at our team, we’d like to think we drafted well. A year ago we wanted a right-hand shot defenseman which there was two or three people.”
The first offseason after Babcock left Detroit for the Toronto Maple Leafs and became the highest paid NHL coach ($50 million over eight years) in the process, the Wings landed that right-handed shooting defenseman – Mike Green – and a two-time Stanley Cup champ – Brad Richards.
“I think everybody wants to play manager and come up with reasons why things don’t happen,” said Holland, who hired Jeff Blashill once Babcock decided to go elsewhere. “I just think there are 30 teams in the game, and the salary cap has made it almost a level playing field.
“We saw (on July 1) a bunch of different teams were getting players they wanted, it’s just the nature (of things),” Holland added. “Some summers you’re going to hit, some summers you’re not going to hit. The important thing is to draft and develop and continue to have a steady flow.”
Last season, the Wings struck out on blue liner Dan Boyle, their top priority, and Matt Niskanen, who both chose to sign with other teams within the Eastern Conference.
Boyle signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers for $9 million instead of a better deal Detroit had on the table, three years at $12.5 million.
Boyle, who’ll turn 39 Sunday, was first being offered a two-year deal at around $11 million total.
Niskanen informed the Wings a couple hours into free agency that they were not on the list of teams he was considering to go to and finally chose the Washington Capitals, getting a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million.
Detroit was in the ballpark with its offer, seven years at $42 million, for the now 28-year old defenseman.
Then the second tier of right-handed defensemen began getting deals done with other teams – Tom Gilbert (two-year deal with Montreal worth $5.6 million), Stephane Robidas (three-year deal with Toronto worth $9 million) and Anton Stralman (five-year deal with Tampa Bay worth $22.5 million).
Christian Ehrhoff was the head-scratcher, signing a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Detroit was told by Ehrhoff’s agent that he was seeking a five-year deal at roughly $5 million a season.
The Wings were never given a second chance by Ehrhoff, who was bought out of the final seven years of a 10-year deal with Buffalo, to better the Penguins’ offer.
“When you’ve got 29 other teams in the mix and there’s two or three (players) the odds of every team hitting (aren’t good),” Holland said. “The summer before, we wanted a second-line center so we got Stephen Weiss and we got Daniel Alfredsson.
“Unfortunately Stephen Weiss didn’t turn out the way we hoped,” Holland continued. “Certainly Daniel Alfredsson with what he accomplished in his career had some options and chose to come to Detroit.”
Also under Babcock’s watch, they got Brian Rafalski (2007) and Marian Hossa (2008).
“At the trade deadline we tried to make some moves, with the second-round pick for (Erik) Cole and the third-round pick for (Marek) Zidlicky, we thought we had a chance to go on a playoff run, thought they were two great additions,” Holland said. “You wake up at the start of the playoffs and (Justin) Abdelkader’s got a broken finger and Cole is out with his back. Game 7, Zidlicky has a concussion and (Niklas) Kronwall is suspended.
“We’ve got to keep at it, we think we’re close, we think we’re in the thick of things, we think the moves we made are going to make us a little deeper, a little better and at the same time the experience we’ve gone through in the Boston series and the Tampa Bay series for the players on the team that are 25 or younger – (Gustav) Nyquist, (Tomas) Tatar, (Riley) Sheahan, (Luke) Glendening, (Danny) DeKeyser and now (Petr) Mrazek – that they’re going to be a little more prepared for the upcoming season. I think it’s such a fine, fine line. There are so many teams in the game, some years you’re going to get your guys and some years you’re not.”