It was a season of seismic change for the Detroit Red Wings as they transitioned to life without some key cogs. While many changes occurred on defense this season, the majority of the changes in this upcoming offseason will be up front with the forwards.
Youngsters like Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson are restricted free agents, but both will be re-signed and are major parts of the future. While players like Nyquist and Andersson are in future plans, unrestricted free agents like Valterri Filppula and Dan Cleary may not.
After a breakout 2011-2012, Filppula came crashing down to Earth this season. He came into the condensed season with a leg injury and never regained the touch he had last season. Despite playing alongside the likes of players like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen, Filppula still struggled. He had a mediocre postseason, ending with his leg injury against the Chicago Blackhawks early in the Game 7 loss.
Filppula and his agent were asking for a contract in the neighborhood of $5 million per season, but it appears that ship has sailed. Filppula may be worth that to other teams, but it seems as if he may have played his final game as a Red Wing at that price.
Cleary, meanwhile, had a stellar postseason with 10 points in 14 games, good for second on the team. He hasn’t had the strongest of regular seasons in the last couple of seasons and has problems staying healthy, but his cap hit of $2.8 million isn’t unbearable.
Like Filppula, the Wings will only bring back Cleary for the right price. If another team decides Cleary, 34, is worth more than $3 million, he likely won’t be back.
Damien Brunner is another unrestricted free agent. He got off to a torrid start but had a brutal second half of the season. He regained his scoring touch in the playoffs and led the team with five postseason goals. He will be just 27 when next season rolls around, and his rookie season gave him an idea what he needs to work on as he continues to adjust to the North American style of play.
His offensive upside is through the roof and he likes playing in Detroit, so he too figures to be a part of the Wings future plans.
A final unrestricted free agent the Wings will have to make a tough decision on is forward Drew Miller. At 29, Miller really came into his own this season. His role on the third and fourth lines gave the Wings great depth, as he chipped in on the penalty kill as well as offensively on the occasion. Miller even found himself on the second line alongside Zetterberg during the depths of the Wings’ injury-plagued season.
Miller should get a raise from his 2013 base salary of $837,500, but it shouldn’t be too significant. As long as no other team comes over the top with a big deal, expect him to be back in Detroit on the fourth line.
Speaking of the fourth line, veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi could be bought out of their contracts as the Wings continue to skew towards getting younger. Both Samuelsson and Bertuzzi are old, slow and injury-prone, so opening up roster spots by releasing these veterans appears to be the most prudent move.
With other youngsters like Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Landon Ferraro looking to make the jump to the NHL, along with the assumed return of Darren Helm at center, most of the aforementioned veterans may be looking for work elsewhere before the 2013-2014 season begins.
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