Detroit Red Wings Logo (From Wikimedia Commons)
Detroit Red Wings Logo (From Wikimedia Commons)

Sports Editor

We are less than one week away from the start of NHL Free Agency. Plenty of hype surrounds the big name players such as New Jersey forward Zach Parise and Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter.

The Detroit Red Wings are at the center of a lot of this hype because of their salary cap space.

For the first time since 2006, the Red Wings were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. Following that heartbreaking series loss to the Edmonton Oilers in ‘06, “The Captain,” Steve Yzerman, retired. All-Star defenseman, Nicklas Lidstrom became captain that summer and led the Wings to two Stanley Cup Finals appearances in 2008 and 2009, winning in six games in ‘08 and went to Game 7 in the ‘09 Finals. Lidstrom has now retired from professional hockey citing his ability to not be able to play at the level he wants to.

As Lidstrom moves on to retirement, only one player remains from the late 1990s, Tomas Holmstrom. He may not be around to see next year in a Red Wings uniform and we could definitely see the end of an era in Hockeytown. It’s not the end of an era as in the Red Wings won’t be at the top of the NHL, just seeing the last of the players from the late ‘90s move on.

Heading into July 1, the Red Wings have over $20 million in cap space. Lidstrom retired, and they traded defenseman Brad Stuart to San Jose, as he wants to play closer to his family in Southern California. They re-signed speedster and third-line center, Darren Helm to a four-year, $8.5 million contract.

Jiri Hudler, Tomas Holmstrom, Fabian Brunnstrom, Chris Conner, Jamie Johnson, and Chris Minard are all unrestricted forward free agents. Garnet Exelby and Doug Janik are unrestricted defensemen, while Ty Conklin is the only unrestricted free agent goaltender for the Wings. Justin Abdelkader is the only restricted free agent forward, while Travis Erhardt and Logan Pyett are the only restricted free agent defensemen for the Wings.

“The main ones to focus on are Hudler, Holmstrom, Brunnstrom, Conklin, and Abdelkader.”

Hudler put up 50 points this past season and is going to look for an upgrade (more money) in free agency. Holmstrom is looking to come back, but the Red Wings may not see him in their future plans. Brunnstrom may come back with a two-way contract, but may look for more money and playing time elsewhere. Conklin will probably leave and the Red Wings will most likely want to part ways after a sub-par season behind Jimmy Howard. Abdelkader is a lock to return once General Manager Kenny Holland can work out a contract with the former Michigan State product.

Nashville has a lot of players coming off of their books and won’t be able to sign all of them. Their first priority will be signing captain and star defenseman Shea Weber. Suter has told reporters he doesn’t want to go to the East and wants to sign with a contender. The rumor is that the Red Wings are number one on his list.

New Jersey came off a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Finals, only to fall short three games to the Los Angeles Kings. The Devils are heading into the offseason with an unsure balance of power and money, and could be flipped over to the NHL if ownership doesn’t work out. Shaky ownership means shaky contracts and Parise might not be back. His potential suitors include the Red Wings, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pittsburgh. He turned down the New York Rangers publicly, and has stated he wants to play with Suter. He is from Minnesota, but wants to play for a contending team. Pittsburgh has cleared some cap space for Parise and could play on a line with Crosby or Malkin.

The closer we get to free agency, the more nervous Red Wings fans will get. The front office has a great chance to revamp this hockey team and make it a favorite for the Stanley Cup next year, but only if the pieces fall into place.

Parise and Suter may or may not end up on the same team, but if they do, it will most likely be with the Red Wings. They have the cap room, the core players, and are ready to compete for another cup. I even drew up a team for next year, so you can see what the Red Wings could look like in 2012-2013.

It’s going to be quite a day on July 1. Hopefully, it goes well for the Red Wings. They have the money, the cap space, and the talent to surround great players. Whether or not the Red Wings get Suter and/or Parise, this team will look a lot different than last year.

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