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With the 19th pick in the first round Friday, Wings most likely taking best player available

DETROIT >> Six years in a row the Detroit Red Wings have selected a forward with their first pick in the NHL Entry Draft.

That could again be the case this season or it could not.

The Wings have the 19th overall pick in first round of this year’s draft that begins Friday at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

“At No. 19, we definitely got some options,” said Tyler Wright, who’s the Wings’ director of amateur scouting. “We’re confident we’re going to get two pretty good players at 19 and 73. We have options, too.”

The other options include choosing a defenseman or moving the pick.

The Wings could trade down to add picks since they don’t have a second rounder this season, which they dealt away to Dallas for Erik Cole at the trade deadline last year.

“For sure, especially with no second this year,” Wright said when asked if trading down was a possibility. “It’s obviously an option.”

The Wings traded down two spots – from 18 to 20 – to get Anthony Mantha in 2013. They also picked up an additional pick and took Tyler Bertuzzi (58th overall).

“We’re going through every scenario as far as moving back and picking up extra picks,” Wright said. “I’m not opposed to moving up either. Not going to leave any option closed. I’m OK with moving back.”

The last defenseman Detroit selected in the first round was Brendan Smith in 2007, getting him 27th overall.

The Wings’ first three picks in last year’s draft were centers, while six of the seven were forwards, who were all 6-foot or taller. The other was a goalie.

“Last year we didn’t really target centers,” Wright said. “At that point the depth of defense went away. We’re excited about the bigger centers. Just because they’re centers doesn’t mean they’ll be a center at the next level.

“I don’t think we’re really going to target specific needs,” Wright continued. “But if you never draft right-handed defensemen you’re not going to have right-handed defensemen. If there’s one area we’re looking at, that’s it. But we want good players regardless.”

The depth on the blue line in the organization is lacking with their top four prospects – Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul – will no longer be waiver-exempt after this season.

“I really like our depth,” Wright said. “You get all excited about prospects, but at the same time they haven’t played a game in the league. Young kids need to develop and get better. I think we’ve got a cluster of really good prospects. We have to continue to develop them. Until they’ve been regular NHL players they have to prove it every day.”

The final six rounds of the draft will take place Saturday.

“You look at all three positions,” Wright said. “It’s a fairly deep goalie draft. You try to add a goalie if it’s the right pick at the right time. I think goalies are a little harder to judge as far as development. If you have too many goalies that are good, that’s a good position to have.”

In the end the Wings will most likely select the best player available at No. 19 if they keep the pick.

“Everyone says it’s a deeper draft,” Wright said. “I think every draft is a deep draft. You have to dig and find players.

“It’s a very good draft,” Wright added. “Once you get out of the top 10-12 players there’s a group of players that could go into the second round and be successful players – at all three positions.”

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Wings want to continue to build on the fly with young talent

DETROIT >> With a head coach in place, the Detroit Red Wings can turn their focus on how the roster will look for the 2015-16 season.

And that gets going Tuesday when general manager Ken Holland oversees things during the annual pro scouting meetings, which run to Thursday.

“We’re trying to go younger,” Holland said. “We’re trying to get better and sometimes when you’re dealing with younger people you’ve got to have patience and believe the patience is going to reward you somewhere down the line.”

The Wings’ core – Pavel Datsyuk (36), Henrik Zetterberg (35) and Niklas Kronwall (33) – are getting up there in age.

“There’s no doubt the core group of our team is old, but they’re superstars in their prime,” Holland said. “Those players can last longer. Even as their skills diminish, they may not be superstars, but they’re still good players. That’s what happened with (Steve) Yzerman, (Nicklas) Lidstrom. They could play until they’re 40. We’ve got a core that’s older, but if we can support them with youth, enthusiasm, speed, energy, it allows those players to kind of hold and maintain their status.”

The Wings have 17 players signed for next season with a cap hit of $56 million. This year’s projected cap is around $71 million.

Of the 17 players signed, two – Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss – may not be back because of different issues. Franzen ($3.955 million per year over the next five seasons) because of his concussion issues and Weiss ($4.9 million per year over the next three seasons) having the potential to be bought out.

“I think the way things ended last year when I came back when the season started I wasn’t in the lineup, I was a healthy scratch, sat around for a while,” said Weiss, who has a no-trade clause in his deal. “They told me they were going to put me in and wanted to know if I wanted to go play a couple games in Grand Rapids. I wanted to. I went and did that, came back and got a good opportunity then. Playing with Pav there for a little bit and playing pretty well. And then, for whatever reason, I just fell down the lineup. I wasn’t playing a ton and when you’re not playing a lot it’s tough to do what you’ve always done.”

The buyout period runs June 15-30. Players receive two-thirds of the remaining contract value spread out over twice the remaining length of the deal.

If new coach Jeff Blashill feels Weiss, 32, will help the lineup he’ll be back.

A lot of the remaining cap dollars will have to go to re-sign restricted free agents Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Joakim Andersson, Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro.

They also have those in need of extensions next season – unrestricted free agents Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm, along with restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser, Petr Mrazek and Riley Sheahan.

Holland said Blashill will have input as well on how the roster will take shape.

“My management philosophy is we’re all in it together and at the end of the day the head coach has to have a voice as we head into the off-season as we make decisions,” Holland said. “He’s behind the bench. I can’t tell somebody ‘we trust you to run the bench but we’re not letting you be involved in any decisions. You’re not qualified to make any decisions.’ That doesn’t make sense.

“Mike Babcock was involved in lots of the decisions,” Holland continued. “Not many decisions went on where he wasn’t totally involved. Some of the decisions he was the leader on, good and bad. When I say bad, I mean decisions that didn’t work out. We’re in it together.”

Wings’ blue line needs are the same as a year ago

DETROIT >> When July 1 rolled around last year, the Detroit Red Wings were in the market for a right-hand shooting defenseman that could slot into one of their top two pairings.

They weren’t able to land one.

With that still needing to be filled, it’ll be a bit more difficult to do so since this year’s blue line unrestricted free agents that fit what they’re looking for are slim.

The top three right-handed shots on the market are Mike Green, Zbynek Michalek and Cody Franson.

Green had a cap hit of just under $6.1 million last season with Washington and Michalek, who was dealt to St. Louis from Arizona prior to the trade deadline last season, had a cap hit of $4 million. Franson, who was traded from Toronto to Nashville last year, made $3.3 million.

“A year ago on July 1 we were looking for a right-shot defenseman we thought could get points,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “There were two or three on the market. When we didn’t get them we just stopped. We felt that the young players we had in our organization were the answer.

“I’d like to think by getting 100 points and making the playoffs, to a degree, validated the decisions we made,” Holland continued. “Certainly we’re disappointed we weren’t able to finish off, being up 3-2 on Tampa Bay. We’ve got to get better. Part of that improvement is going to be the experience that (Tomas) Tatar, (Gustav) Nyquist, (Danny) DeKeyser, (Luke) Glendening, (Petr) Mrazek, (Tomas) Jurco and (Riley) Sheahan have had in the Boston series and in the Tampa Bay series.”

Detroit could also make a one-year pitch for Marek Zidlicky, who came to the Wings after the trade deadline from New Jersey.

The Wings are also in a better position, due to the depth they’ve got within the organization, to possibly make a trade to acquire what they need.

“I don’t want anyone to think ‘they’re making trades’ because the trades have got to make sense,” Holland said. “The other thing that factors into any decisions we make, if you forward to this summer and the summer of ’16, we’ve got to re-sign Nyquist, we’ve got to re-sign (Justin) Abdelkader, DeKeyser, (Darren) Helm, Sheahan, Mrazek, Jurco. We’ve got lots of people between the summer of ‘15 and summer of ‘16, when they get re-signed they go up in salary. They’re going to eat more cap space.

“Part of getting better is drafting, developing, staying patient, staying the course, try to tweak,” Holland continued. “We tried some things on the free agent market the last 2-3 years, it hasn’t worked out, hasn’t had the impact we wanted. Consider the free agent market again, what it probably did for me was reinforce the kids we got are pretty good. They can play in the league, but obviously our goal is to win a Stanley Cup, like 29 other teams. Sometimes it’s a process.”

Mike Babcock: ‘It’s a career decision’

DETROIT >> In the end it came down to a new opportunity and a new challenge when Mike Babcock made his choice to leave from behind the bench he called home for the last 10 seasons.

And it wasn’t an easy one for him.

“Oh, it’s going to be hard,” said Babcock, who fought back tears numerous times addressing the media one last time Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “I have a burning desire to win. Winning where I’m going is going to be different. The immediate gratification thing that I’m used to every game day that I love is going to be hard. Yet, there’s a big plan there. They’ve made a big commitment, a long-term commitment to me. I’ve made a long-term commitment to them.

“We’re going to go grow that franchise,” Babcock continued. “The guys have already told me they’re happy to lay the boots to us when they play us. They already told me that. But what we’re going to do is we’re going to build a franchise that people of Toronto can be proud of.”

Babcock, 52, was named the Toronto Maple Leafs coach on Thursday and became the highest paid NHL coach – $50 million over eight years – in the process.

Detroit’s final offer to Babcock, who made $2 million last season, was $4 million for each of the next five seasons. The offer the Wings general manager Ken Holland made prior to that was a four-year deal worth $3.25 million a season.

“I didn’t want more than five years with Kenny,” Babcock said. “You already knew what you had here. When you’re going to these other places and they’re setup the way they are you needed more term. You needed more commitment. I even said to Kenny at one time just give me three. I wasn’t concerned about that at all. In the end what happened I think two pretty good friends sat down and talked it out. He’s my advisor too. In the end I had to make a decision.”

The Leafs, who have won 13 Stanley Cups, that last of which came in 1967, last made the playoffs in 2013, losing in the first round to the Boston Bruins in a heartbreaking Game 7.

The last trip to the postseason prior to that was 2004.

“It’s a career decision,” Babcock said. “I’ve spent a lot of time in my life chasing a dream thinking you can make it happen and it’s worked out thus far. Don’t get me wrong I love it here, but I also think it was time for me.”

The Leafs, who have the fifth and 24th overall picks in this year’s draft, finished 27th in the overall league standings last season.

“I wanted a different challenge and when I got it in my head I’m coaching an Original Six franchise, the model of the NHL, if I’m going to leave I have to go to an Original Six franchise,” Babcock said. “I went back and forth on it 100 times. I probably wore Kenny out being a pain in the butt and I know I wore my family out. It was gut-wrenching. As much of it is emotional for me right now I felt (Thursday) like I was 25. I was jacked up, scared to death. Only time will tell. I believe you put your foot on the gas and go get it and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Babcock, who leaves as the Wings’ all-time winningest coach, took over a winning organization and helped maintain its success.

He guided Detroit to winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and then reached Game 7 of the Cup finals the following year. He’s also the only coach to guide a team to the playoffs every year in the salary-cap era.

Babcock said he spoke with the Wings’ core players Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and left a message for Niklas Kronwall.

“I don’t think the young guys needed it,” Babcock said when asked if the team needed a new voice. “I love those guys. I’m going to be friends with those guys forever. When Pav goes home one day and sets up his sports school, I’m going to go help him. They’re great men. You don’t win as a coach without great players and great leadership. They provided me an opportunity.

“When I talked about the age of Z and Pav and Kronner at the end and the new guys coming and they’ve got to do it,” Babcock added. “That’s what those guys did for this franchise for 10 years. They’re great people. Do they need a new voice? Ask them. The way I look at it is I’m proud when I walk out of here knowing that, one of the teams I talked to showed me that we averaged 106.4 points over my 10 years here and that we played 23 playoff rounds, both the most and the only team to make the playoffs (all 10 years).”

The Wings have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in three of the last four seasons and haven’t made it out of the second round of the playoffs since 2009.

Wings won’t try and influence Dylan Larkin to turn pro

DETROIT >> While the Detroit Red Wings await a decision on whether or not coach Mike Babcock will return, they’re also waiting to hear on one from their one of their top prospects … Dylan Larkin.

Larkin will make it known sometime after the World Championships in the Czech Republic if he’ll return to the University of Michigan for his second season or turn pro.

And the Wings aren’t going to try and sway him either way.

“I’ve told Dylan we have no role in his decision,” general manager Ken Holland said prior to leaving to take in a few games at the tournament. “It’s different when your junior eligibility is over. Players in Europe and college want to know when they’re turning pro, like where they stand in the organization.

“It’s competition,” Holland continued. “If you don’t win that competition you go to Grand Rapids. I don’t believe in guaranteeing roster spots. My philosophy in player development is you’ve got to compete for a roster spot.”

In six games for the United States, Larkin has one assist with eight shots on goal and a minus-one rating.

“I think whatever decision he makes is a great decision,” Holland said. “Going back to Michigan for another year, playing with your age group is a positive. If he turns pro, there’s no doubt he can play at the AHL level. The question is can he play at the NHL level. You don’t know that until he gets to training camp in Traverse City. He’s still pretty young. The Detroit Red Wings will support his decision.”

The Waterford native was the unanimous winner of the Big Ten’s freshman of the year award, leading the conference’s first-year players in goals (15), assists (32) and points (47) in 35 games with the Wolverines.

He was second at Michigan in goals scored Zach Hyman and tied with him in assists. He did lead the team with 15 power play points (six goals) and with 151 shots on goal.

“He’s a good skater and can transport the puck,” Holland said. “He’s very competitive. He plays a 200-foot game. He back checks hard and he’s conscientious defensively.

“He needs to get physically stronger, like most young players,” Holland continued. “With strength you get heavier. He needs to put on weight and strength.”

Larkin, who’s a two-way center, is the Wings’ highest draft pick, selected 15th overall last year, since 1991.

“He can play the power play, penalty kill, four-on-four,” Holland said. “He can play in every different situation.”

It’s kind of uncommon for the collegiate players the Wings draft to leave the school after one season. Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Jimmy Howard all stayed three years.

Danny DeKeyser did as well, while Luke Glendening played four seasons at Michigan.

DeKeyser and Glendening both went undrafted.

“Some are ready sooner than others,” Holland said. “We’re not swaying him one way or the other. I like players to be mature and have a lot of experiences before they hit the NHL because the NHL is a tough league.”

Larkin had a very good World Junior Championships, leading the United States with five goals, seven points and a plus-seven rating.

“He’s a very good prospect,” Holland said. “I like his determination, his passion. He has the intangibles. He competes and doesn’t mind going to the hard areas. He’s got intangibles as part of his skills.

“When you’re building a team, you like to be strong down the middle,” Holland added. “We’re very pleased with the year he’s had.”

Weiss unsure of role next season with Wings

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ $5 million dollar man had another one of those less than $5 million dollar performance seasons.

And a lot of his performance issues are due to how things went his first season with the Wings since signing a hefty five-year deal worth $24.5 million.

Stephen Weiss, 32, tried to play through a sports hernia, which he started to feel the effects of during training camp, that first year. He wound up having sports hernia surgery and then had a second procedure later to repair an issue with scar tissue.

“What I had in mind last year was tough going through those injuries and it kind of hurt me this year,” Weiss said during the Wings’ locker room cleanup Friday at Joe Louis Arena. “Didn’t get in the lineup right away and I was still going through a bit of issues when I did get in the lineup. That took some time. I felt like I played really well when I got back and then for whatever reason fell down the lineup and just couldn’t recover.”

In the first season in Detroit, Weiss managed to play just 26 games totaling two goals, two assists and a minus-4.

“Looking back on it I should have taken time right away instead of playing through it,” Weiss said. “When I decided to play through it that wound up costing me.”

He played in 52 games regular season games this year and finished with nine goals and 16 assists.

Weiss appeared in the first two playoff games against Tampa Bay before finding himself benched the rest of the series.

“I’ve been around long enough, it was frustrating,” Weiss said. “You always want to do more. You feel like you can do more. I felt that way. I wanted to be in there, especially in the playoffs playing and have a bigger role, but it wasn’t to be.”

In all, he’s appeared in just 78 of a possible 164 regular season games since signing with the Wings.

After beginning this year as a healthy scratch, Weiss seemed to ignite the offense when he got in after a brief conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.

He had two goals in his first game back and had another goal in his next game.

In a seven-game stretch, Weiss had four goals and six assists. He had just five goals and 10 assists over the next 44 games as he slipped further and further down the lineup.

“At this point I’m just trying to get stronger and stay healthy over the summer and hopefully find a way to get a bigger role,” said Weiss, who missed the final 26 games of the 2012-13 season with Florida due to a wrist injury. “That would be nice. I feel like I can do a lot more. We’ll see.

“I think the way things ended last year when I came back when the season started I wasn’t in the lineup, I was a healthy scratch, sat around for a while,” Weiss continued. “They told me they were going to put me in and wanted to know if I wanted to go play a couple games in Grand Rapids. I wanted to. I went and did that, came back and got a good opportunity then. Playing with (Pavel Datsyuk) there for a little bit and playing pretty well. And then, for whatever reason, I just fell down the lineup. I wasn’t playing a ton and when you’re not playing a lot it’s tough to do what you’ve always done.”

Babcock in ‘driver’s seat’ when it comes to where he’ll coach next season

DETROIT >> Will he stay or will he go?

That’ll be the question lingering around Mike Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings until a decision on his future is made either by the coach himself or the organization.

Babcock is scheduled to meet with general manager Ken Holland on Friday morning prior to the team photo and locker cleanout at Joe Louis Arena.

Will a decision be announced after that?

That seems highly unlikely.

Babcock, who turned 52 on Wednesday, wants to weigh his options, and with coaches still in place at his possible landing spots, he can do that.

“He’s in the driver’s seat,” Holland said. “He’s one of the top coaches in the game, if not the top coach and he’s in the prime of his career.
“Our hope is that Mike wants to stay,” Holland continued. “He’s positioned himself to have the option to explore.”

His contract doesn’t expire until June 30, which means he can’t talk to any other teams until then. He’s searching for a deal that would pay him close to $5 million a season.

The only thing that would speed up the process is the Wings deciding to not give him a contract and pursue his replacement, which could come within the organization in Grand Rapids Griffins coach Jeff Blashill.

Babcock said after the Wings were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for a second straight season Wednesday that he wasn’t going to discuss his future until he meets again with the media after locker cleanout.

He just wrapped up his 11th season in Detroit, earning roughly $2 million a season.

The Wings have not made it out of the second round of the playoffs since losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final in the 2008-09 season, the year after Babcock won his only Cup in Detroit.

They’ve also been eliminated in the first round three of the last four seasons.

“We want him back, I’ve expressed that,” Holland said. “He’ll have a lot of say in how it all plays out.”

Babcock wants to win.

He’ll be the first to tell you that.

“I just thought our team played hard and we gave ourselves an opportunity but you want to win,” Babcock said after the Wings’ 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7. “I want to win. In order to do that, you’ve got to score more goals and you got to find a way to win the series, bottom line right there but we didn’t get it done.”

And with that said, Babcock shed some light on how he perceives the Wings’ current roster and that their future looks like.

“I would tell you this, that our team isn’t as good as it was,” Babcock said. “It was very evident we battled our butts off to get in the playoffs. They picked us, whether you guys know what you’re talking about or not, they picked us to miss the playoffs and then no one even picks us to win in the playoffs. I thought we gave (Tampa Bay) a real good run for their money to say the least.”

His main focus appears to be on the core group – Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall – which isn’t getting any younger.

“You are what you are and (the Lighting) have a young team that they were bad here for long enough that they were able to rebuild it,” Babcock said. “Good, young players and they’ve got young players in key positions. Three of our best players are 34, 35, 37, so any way you look at it, we’re a team that’s changed a bunch of players. We’re a team that’s added a lot of youth to the lineup. Right now on the outside they don’t pick us as a Stanley Cup contender.”

Datsyuk turns 37 in July, Zetterberg turns 35 in October and Kronwall turned 34 in January.

The Wings began the process of incorporating young talent and needed to do so rapidly because of injuries two seasons ago to extend their playoff streak.

They also have a number of highly talented players in the minors.

Babcock, who has led Canada to two straight Olympic gold medals, was offered a four-year deal in excess of $3 million a season that would have made him the highest paid coach in the league.

Babcock said if a deal wasn’t in place before the season began he would not discuss a contract until after the season.