New Faces and Opportunities in the Motor City

While salary cap restrictions have limited the Red Wings off season moves, this hasn't prevented Ken Holland from signing a few new faces. Larry Craig (AKA nowhere) takes a look at this off season's signings, the opportunities for each, and how they can help Detroit improve on last year's performance.

Opportunity.


It's a word you hear from Detroit Red Wing's head coach Mike Babcock quite often if you've heard him in interviews and press conferences. He will use it when the situation facing his team is as bright or dim as it could possibly be. Babs will also use it to describe a specific player's roster status in both terms as well. As you look at this season's projected roster, you'll see that not much has changed, with the exception of 4 players. Each of these players has a unique opportunity ahead of them in the coming NHL season.

  • Mike Modano isn't new to the NHL and he isn't new to the Metro Detroit area, but he he is new to the Red Wing's franchise. Modano has come full circle in his hockey career, back to where his dream to become an NHL player began - back home. He returns home to a season full of opportunity. To play with a contending team. To play what very well may be his final season in front of friends and family for 41 regular season home games, and hopefully many more playoff games as well. To raise the Stanley Cup yet again.
  • Jiri Hudler is a familiar face to Red Wings fans, having spent the 2006-2007 through 2008-2009 seasons with the team after being drafted in the 2nd round by Detroit in the 2002 NHL entry draft. Jiri took the opportunity to bolt to the KHL last season and cash in, while his status as an RFA and subsequent arbitration ruling meant he was still property of the Red Wings. Many have speculated that "Happy" Hudler went to the KHL with the blessing of Detroit management, and afforded them enough cap relief to fill out their roster for the 2009-2010 season. Despite Jiri's talent, he will most likely be starting the season on the 3rd line with Mike Modano and Dan Cleary and will likely see time on the 2nd power play unit as well. I would anticipate that Jiri will be given the opportunity by coach Babcock to see spot duty on the 1st or 2nd lines.
  • Jakub Kindl will have the opportunity to fight for the 6th spot on Detroit's defense with Jonathan Ericsson and Derek Meech after spending the last 3 seasons with the Red Wing's AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins. With all of 3 games of NHL experience, the 2005 1st round draft choice will finally have his chance to prove that he deserves to stick with the big club. Along with the other 2 defensemen also fighting for the #6 spot on the depth chart, Jakub is out of AHL options and would have to clear waivers. Kindl has good size at 6'3", skates well, and good puck handling skills. The big knock on him has been his positioning without the puck and tendency to over think the play rather than going by instinct. There are some who think that the speed of the NHL game will force him to play more instinctively. I'm personally looking forward to seeing if he's capable of reaching his potential as a #2 defenseman in the coming seasons. I'd also like to see take an occasional shift with Lidstrom and give Kindl the opportunity to learn from one of the NHL's best defensemen ever.
  • Ruslan Salei will slide into the roster spot which was vacated when Andreas Lilja decided it would be a good idea to test the free agent waters and cash in like former teammate Mikael Samuelsson did the previous off-season. Lilja remains unsigned primarily due to the fact that he's coming off a season which was mostly lost due to post-concussion syndrome. Salei will be used as the #5 defenseman and stabilize the 3rd pairing alongside either Ericsson, Kindl, or Meech. While Salei has been injured quite often throughout his career, he is more than capable of logging 20+ minutes of ice time when healthy, and excels at shot blocking and penalty killing situations. Hopefully this will allow the Red Wings to reduce the ice time of Nick Lidstrom by a couple minutes per game and save his legs for the playoffs, thereby increasing the team's chances to be playing in June once again. If Ruslan's season with Detroit goes well, he will most likely be given the opportunity to stick around for the 2011-12 season.

For the most part, the carryover roster players from the 2009-2010 squad are pretty much known quantities. Provided they are able to be a healthier team than last season and Jimmy Howard proves that he deserves to keep the starting job between the pipes, I'm optimistic about their chances this season. As a fan, I'm excited to get training camp started and the season underway. Hopefully Detroit's latest "overripe" prospect in the form of Jakub Kindl will have a positive impact similar to that of Howard last season. Maybe that's asking a bit much from a 23 year old defenseman, but nobody expected Jimmy to put up the numbers he did and compete for the Calder Trophy, but he did. He just needed the opportunity...

Finally, I'd like to thank Prax for the chance to present my thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings as a Blogger for The Checking Line. I also have some questions for the TCL audience:

Which one of these players will make the most of the opportunity presented to them?
Which one will have the greatest impact on the Red Wings coming season?
Which player will be the most disappointing?

Larry Craig
AKA nowhere