|Where do the Red Wings go after missing out on Ryan Suter? (Getty Images)|
All along it seemed like Suter and the Red Wings would be perfect fit for both sides.
Following the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom earlier this offseason the team has an obvious need for a No. 1 defenseman. Suter just happened to be the best one available and is still in the prime of his career, which would have probably been the best possible way Detroit could have filled that role.
But like every other team in the NHL that wasn't the Wild, the Red Wings not only missed out on acquiring the top defenseman in free agency, they also missed out on Zach Parise, the top forward to hit the open market. The two players joined forces and signed matching deals in Minnesota, making the franchise the talk of the league for at least a couple of days.
That leaves the Red Wings in a rather interesting spot as we head into the rest of the summer. They have some obvious areas that need to be addressed (a top-pairing defenseman, forward help), a dump truck full of money in the form of salary cap space (nearly $17 million) in which to fill them, and very few options remaining in free agency that are worth spending it on.
Once Suter signed in Minnesota that left former Flyers defenseman Matt Carle as the top defender remaining -- and the Plan B for every team that missed on Suter -- until he signed a six-year $33 million contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning later Wednesday night. Of the remaining free agent defensemen still on the market after that none project to be a top-pairing (or perhaps even a top-four) defensemen on a contending team, which is bad news for teams like the Red Wings.
One option general manager Ken Holland is considering is simply promoting from within and giving younger players already in the organization an expanded role, telling Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, "I'd rather play the kids."
"Our focus going back to last year was to be positioned for this summer," said Holland. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to add a high-profile player or two. But I think we have a lot of good pieces in place, and we have some players ready to take bigger roles. We'll explore the marketplace. We'll explore trading. We'll move on."
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One of those players would be 2007 first-round draft pick Brendan Smith.
He's only appeared in 14 NHL games (all of them last season, and he played well in his limited role) but has put up nice numbers in the American Hockey League in each of the past two seasons. He's not going to be ready to step into a top role at this point, but barring a trade (perhaps Calgary's Jay Bouwmeester could be available, given the numbers the Flames now have on their blue line) there's nobody else available that would be able to at this point either.
For as many hits as the defense has took this summer (Lidstrom retiring, Brad Stuart going back to San Jose) they could also look to spend that money on giving their forwards an additional boost. One name that's out there is Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash, who happens to have Detroit on his short list of teams that he will accept a trade to.
There are, of course, multiple problems with this idea.
Chief among them is the completely unreasonable, unrealistic, and downright absurd asking price that Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson has put on Nash. It's perhaps the biggest reason this saga is still going on, and if he's reportedly asking for players like Jeff Skinner in return from the Carolina Hurricanes, you have to imagine he would want even more from a division rival like the Red Wings. Especially as some in the local press plead with Howson to not deal the franchise's best player to its closest "rival" to the north, as Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch did on Wednesday.
The other issue is that Nash's contract is ugly, carrying a cap hit of $7.8 million over the next few years for a guy whose production has been trending in the wrong direction in recent years, and has very likely already played his best hockey.
Another intriguing option: Alexander Semin.
He's the best player still available in free agency, and based on his talent and production over the years should have been able to find a new home by now.
There is perhaps no other player in the league that faces more scrutiny and criticism than the talented 27-year-old free agent, formerly of the Washington Capitals. Some of it is deserved. Much of it is not. There is no doubt that he has his flaws as a player, but he also has many strengths. He scores goals. His talent level is matched by few in the league.
He also excels at helping to drive the play up the ice while playing a style of hockey that keeps the puck away from his opponents. His talent seems like it would be a perfect fit on a team like Detroit that aims to dominate possession and play a skill game. He also seems like the type of player that enough teams around the league have a poor enough opinion about that it could drive his price down to a pretty reasonable level given what he can provide.