The most pertinent question revolves around Detroit lifer Henrik Zetterberg. The captain is 35 years old with four more seasons left on his deal after this year. His cap hit is north of $6 million. Now, it would be really cool if Zetterberg finished his career with the only NHL team he’s ever played for, but is that at the end of the contract, or before? He already has a Stanley Cup ring, but if he wants one more, it won’t be in Detroit. And while he leads the Wings in scoring this season, his offensive totals have been trending down for several years and there’s no reason to expect they’ll go up in the future.
Zetterberg can still be a great mentor for the next generation of Red Wings, but the salary cap side of things will only justify that for another season or two, tops.
Long-term deals for Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall and Frans Nielsen will also have to be dealt with and it won’t be easy, since many of them have no-trade clauses. On the bright side, most of those clauses have caveats. According to Capfriendly.com, Helm’s no-trade clause is nullified if the Wings don’t make the playoffs in 2019, for example. If GM Ken Holland can chip away at those contracts in the next couple seasons, it will help immensely.
But keep in mind; this is a long-term rebuild. By which I mean the Red Wings won’t emerge as a serious threat until 2020, at the earliest.
The most important building blocks have yet to be drafted by Detroit. Assuming the Red Wings land a top-five pick this summer (which is looking pretty good, even though Vegas can’t draft lower than sixth), I’d like to see them take someone with more long-term upside, rather than short-term pop: defenseman Timothy Liljegren comes to mind. Liljegren is already playing against men in Sweden, but as a defenseman and a player who has never skated in a North American league, you’d figure it’s three or four years before he makes a real impact over here, despite how promising he looks.
Detroit’s first round pick in 2016, Dennis Cholowski, is in a similar boat. The smooth-skating defenseman is in his first season at St. Cloud State and based on how raw he was coming in, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spend all four years (or at least three) with the Huskies. Similarly, Filip Hronek (53rd overall in 2016) is having an excellent season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, averaging a point per game from the blueline. His biggest need is weight and strength, something that will again, come with time. If Hronek, who was drafted out of Europe, goes to the AHL as soon as next year, he can continue to bulk up while adjusting to heavier competition. If the young Czech struggles at first, it’s fine. Three years in the AHL isn’t a condemnation. And the same could be said about Vili Saarijarvi, currently with OHL Mississauga.
Without a RADICAL change in strategy this team won't be great again for a long time.