For the longest time, July 1st was like Christmas in July for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans. The Red Wings didn’t need to wish for Santa to bring them the biggest names on the market, they would just happen to appear under the tree at 12 p.m. every year.
How times have changed. Now, General Manager Ken Holland and the rest of the Red Wings front office have to write their free agency lists with hope every year. For the past few seasons, the list has grown longer, but the days of just expecting players to sign with them, are a thing of the past.
Star players don’t desire to come to Hockeytown these days, but why? Here’s a quick look at those who turned down contracts on July 1, 2014.
On the list heading into free agency was a top-four defenseman, a scoring forward, depth, and re-signing some of their own restricted free agents (RFA’s).
Among the top-4 defenseman on the market that the Red Wings were interested in included Matt Niskanen, Dan Boyle, Christian Ehrhoff, Stephane Robidas, and Anton Stralman.
According to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press, Stralman didn’t want to go to Detroit period. Niskanen did not have Detroit on his short list before free agency even began. Boyle rejected more money in Detroit, and went to the New York Rangers instead. Ehrhoff wasn’t offered a contract by the Red Wings because he was a left-handed shot, and reportedly wanted a 5-year contract. Holland didn’t offer him a contract, and he ended up signing with the Pittsburgh Penguins on a one-year deal.
In what seemed like a panic move, Holland signed Kyle Quincey to a 2-year, $8.5 million deal. He also signed minor league forwards Kevin Porter (Northville, University of Michigan), and Andy Miele (Grosse Pointe) to help provide depth in the Griffins organization.
So why did three of the four players reject contracts in Detroit? It’s not really one reason; it’s a combination of a few reasons.
Many fans were blaming Ken Holland on Twitter for not signing any of the names mentioned above. But really, you can’t blame Ken Holland. He made offers to two players, rejected one, and was turned down by another completely with no offer.
It’s certainly not the coach, as Mike Babcock has won two gold medals, a Stanley Cup, a world junior championship, and was second in runner-up for the Jack Adams award this past season. He’s disciplined and a tough coach, but that’s what makes his team’s great.
Owner Mike Ilitch and Holland treat the players well, that’s one of the reasons why so many players have wanted to play in Detroit in the past, and the current teammates want to stay in Detroit to finish their career.
Heck, even Daniel Alfredsson, who will either play for Detroit this coming year or retire, will still live in Metro Detroit if he does retire.
The real reason that player’s no longer want to come to Detroit? The Red Wings are no longer a top contender in the NHL. Welcome to the new NHL. Under the new CBA, there is a salary cap, which means Holland can’t throw money at just any player anymore.
It’s more about having to draft and develop players, as the Red Wings have done so very well in the past 20 years. The Red Wings have no problem doing this, but it’s the other teams that are now catching on.
No longer a top contender in the league, the Red Wings have been looked upon as a middle of the pack team. Their two top stars, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are in the mid-30s, and after that, the top players are Tomas Jurco, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar, all of which are in their mid-20s.
There is a lack of identity on the team. It’s like the Red Wings are in their pre-teen era. They aren’t really a teenager yet, but then again, they aren’t children anymore.
The window of remaining years left in the league for Datsyuk and Zetterberg is closing, and Holland wants to make this team into a winner, but a lot of players don’t see the Red Wings as a contending team.
Detroit is a model organization in other aspects such as drafting, developing, front office, and coaching, but when it comes to the product on the ice, it becomes a bit hazier.
I’m sorry to say Wings fans, but you might want to get used to this for a while. The balance of power has shifted to the Western Conference, and the Red Wings will be lucky to even contend in the Eastern Conference during the final years of the Datsyuk-Zetterberg era.