With the Red Wings early exit in the playoffs this spring, it leaves one to wonder what is next for the team of the 90’s. The future does not look that much brighter than Detroit’s hockey plans for the remainder of the summer. The team is likely to have several new faces at the start of training camp in the fall. Name tags may even be required for a team that has not seen a great deal of change for several years save for some deadline deals.
This spring the Wings traded much of their future to ensure success this playoff season. After trading a top forward prospect ( Petr Sykora ) and a 3rd round pick for the return of Doug Brown last fall, the Wings parted with what little future they had left in March. Anders Eriksson and TWO first round picks ( 1999 and 2001 ) were sent to Chicago for Chris Chelios. A 2nd and 3rd rounder were sent to the Rangers for Ulf Sameulsson, while a 2nd rounder and prospect goaltender Kevin Hodson were moved to Tampa Bay for Wendel Clark. That leaves the Wings with no pick sooner than the 4th round in the 1999 draft and no 1st rounder in 2001. As a result of the 1997 Brendan Shanahan deal that sent their 1997 pick to Carolina , the Wings will have two 1st rounds pick in a span of five years. Not the things that champions are made from.
After watching the New York Rangers trade talent like Doug Weight and Tony Amonte to ensure cup success in 1994, the Wings are likely to suffer a similar fate in the coming years that the Rangers have recently. A quick check of the minor leagues revels that the Wings have very little to replace the aging Steve Yzerman, Igor Larionov, and Larry Murphy. The premature loss of Vladimir Konstantinov and probable loss of Nicklas Lidstrom will also damage the teams hopes of remain atop the NHL.
Detroit has used its last five first round picks to select defenseman only two or three of which seem able to affect the team’s future success. With no pick in 1997 and the failure of former 1st round pick ( 1992 ) Curtis Bowen to even make it to the NHL, the Wings have little else save role players and grinders to assume the role of the soon to depart forwards mentioned above. This would lead one to assume that the Wings merely need to go out and sign some free agents to fill in until future draft picks can pick up the slack. However, the team will likely look to make huge subtractions for its fifty million US payroll.
Many within Detroit circles believe that Brendan Shanahan will surely be moved this summer and there are many that think that Sergei Federov has played his last game as a Red Wing. Shanahan will be a unrestricted free agent after the 1999-2000 year and Ken Holland will try to get full value for the former 50 goal scorer this summer prior to the draft. Teams like New Jersey who are close to playoff success and full of young talent or Vancouver who have already offered their top pick for a goal scorer are some possible destinations.
Red Wing’s management also think that after the Wings begin to fall from grace that Sergei Federov may lose some interest in remaining a top flight NHL forward. After paying the forward close to 30 million US in the last two seasons, Detroit fears that Federov may choose not to play more than another year or two for a modest 2.5 million. With the departure of other top players, the Wings are likely to fall into the middle of the NHL pack with or without Federov and may decide to trade the eccentric center.
The Wings are likely to bring in three NHL rookies next season to play defense ( Fischer, Wallin and Gobulovsky ). Added to Aaron Ward and Matt Dandenault, the Wings will have a very young and inexperienced blueline. Adirondack is unable to contribute any rookie forwards to next year’s team after the worst year in the team’s history demonstrated that there is very little future NHL talent on the roster.
Phillippe Audet lead the team in scoring with 20 goals but needs at least another year or two to get stronger. In several call ups this season the former QMJHL star looked somewhat out of place against the bigger, stronger players in the NHL. He has some talent but must play on the top two lines to be effective. He may never be able to reach that level of play.
Darryl Laplante is a checking forward that can play all three forward positions, however, his is limited at the offensive end of the ice and may not be more than a 4th line role player in the NHL. The remaining forwards that played on Adirondack’s roster are career minor leaguers that are unlikely to play in the NHL even with the up and coming expansion. Which leaves the prospects in junior and Europe.
The Wings have three forwards that will likely make the trip over from Europe next year to play in the AHL. Yuri Butsayev ( the Wing’s 1997 2nd round pick ) is a two way Russian center that has has limited talent but a great work ethic. He was able to score at a respectable level in the Russian Elite league for three seasons, played in the World Juniors and for the National team. The Wings are now hoping that his work ethic will allow him to transfer his success to North America and allow him to grow into the player they think he can become. Though Detroit scouts disagree, few outside the Red Wings organization see him as a future NHLer however.
Two forwards that spent the 1998-1999 season in Europe are likely to be given the opportunity to make Adirondack’s roster and play in Detroit someday. Toivo Suursoo has proved himself as a goal scorer in both the Swedish and Finnish Elite leagues. He is a top end finisher but it remains to be seen whether his other skills are of NHL caliber. He played a few games in Adirondack late in the season and should be back in Glens Falls following training camp.
Johan Forsander has also spent the last three years playing Elite level hockey in Europe playing for HV71. He captained the 1998 Swedish World Junior team and projects as a solid two way 3rd or 4th line talent in the NHL. He is a good skater that can play a North American style game but he needs to get stronger to be effective in the big leagues.
Beyond that, we are forced to look at the Canadian Junior leagues for players that have any hope of playing in the NHL from within Detroit’s system. The Wings actually appear to actually have done quite well in the 1998 entry draft despite their low draft position. Jiri Fischer appears to have top line talent on the backline. He is 6-5, 210 lbs, skates like the wind and matched Ray Bourque’s offensive numbers in the QMJHL as a 2nd year player. Jiri lead Hull all the way to the Quebec league finals and was the top defenseman in Canadian junior this season. As mentioned before, he will be given a chance to make Detroit’s roster in camp next fall. Most expect him to do so.
Ryan Barnes appears to have the toughness and skill to play in the NHL. He lead the OHL in penalty minutes and put up some respectable offensive numbers. Ryan now needs to prove that he is a well rounded player and can stay away from bad penalties that he took throughout the year. The Red Wings see some Darren McCarty in him and hope he can make the same transformations in his game.
Adam Deleeuw also had a very solid season and was a real find in the 6th round. He also plays a tough brand of hockey and has some skill to go along with it. The Hockey News considers him one of Detroit’s top ten prospects and many believe he will be a power forward in the NHL after some seasoning.
Brent Hobday hopes to continue to surprise with solid play after a 40 goal season in the WHL. Hobday is a utility forward that hopes to find a role on Detroit’s roster because of his versatility. Hobday has a great one-timer and scores in bunches. He is a good skater with average skills but does not have the top end talent that will allow him to succeed as an offensive threat in the NHL. Therefore his development as a role player will ultimately decide his future as an NHLer.
Tomek Valtonen also showed promise as a rookie in the OHL though he battled some injury problems. Though his offensive totals were modest, Detroit is hopeful that he will follow in the foot steps of Tomas Holmstrom and make a career out of driving opponents crazy and playing that grinding style down low that Holmstrom does.
All this adds up to four or five solid utility forwards that Detroit can count on to add to its roster in the next three or four seasons. However, there is a glaring lack of top line talent or franchise type forwards. That could all change soon however. The Wings appear set in goal with youngsters like Chris Osgood, Norm Maracle, Jason Elliot and Aren Miller as well as on the blueline with Fischer, Wallin, Dandenault, Ward and Gobulovsky. I fully expect Ken Holland to make some shrewd moves prior to the draft in June to secure some high end forward talent to ensure that Detroit competes at a high level well into the 21st century.