Yesterdays goaltending decisions were easy. Today we tackle a much more important position. A position everyone from top to bottom in the Red Wing organization agrees needs to get better ... the defence.
As well as both Nick's and Brad Stuart performed, Rafalski had an average season, we got what we paid for out of Salei, Ericsson was a disappointment, and Kindl began his NHL career on a high note showing much poise and potential. That all adds up to a bottom 5 performance when compared to the rest of the league. The biggest problem area was our penalty kill. Some of that can be explained as just poor execution, and the rest explained by the removal of Lidstrom from one of the defencive pairs in an effort to lower the now 41 year olds ice time.
Last years prediction of ... "This could be the season Detroit's defence develops a big bad attitude" ... well, that just didn't happen. Salei showed why he signed for less than $1 mil. (adequate but not stellar) and Ericsson showed us why he started out as a forward. He doesn't hit anything and he barfs up the puck in his own end at least once a period. Thank you for your services gentlemen and good luck in the future with whatever team will sign you.
The limited ice time Jakub Kindl got was more than enough for him to prove he's ready for a #6 spot this coming season. Doug Janik has 1 more year on his contract and it's not a 2-way deal, so he either makes the roster or gets waived. Derek Meech put up respectable numbers in Grand Rapids this past season and deserves to be re-signed to a 2-way contract at the very least. The best option out of all would be to bring Brendan Smith up to be the #7 d-man and let him get a taste of what could be Captain Nick's final season.
Dropping Salei and Ericsson and most likely Janik gives us about $2.5 mil. to go UFA shopping with. If Lidstrom takes a pay-cut to re-sign (a-la yzerman) then we have more. Going slightly over budget and signing Joni Pitkanen would be great for 2 reasons. a) - it makes the distinction between #1 & #5 that much fuzzier and b) - it takes some of the physical pressure off of Kronner & Stuart. Maybe Pitkanen and Rafalski could be your #3 & #4 so you could pair Lidstrom with Kindl and Smith on a rotating basis.
Ottawa's Chris Phillips could be another option, and Montreal has to decide if they want to bring back Brent Sopel, James Wisniewski, and Hal Gill so we could grab one of those guys if Pitkanen says no.
Our PK has to get better, we need to get more physical, and we need someone with skill so Captain Nick doesn't play more than 15 or 16 minutes a game. Signing a skilled UFA will guarantee Lidstrom's return for one more season.
Tomorrow ... forward ho !!
See it all now, complete with graphics, here: