DETROIT – During the team's locker cleanout Tuesday at Joe Louis Arena, Red Wings GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock both said changes to the lineup should be expected next season.
But it won't be through a blockbuster trade or big free agent signings. Instead, they believe they have the right pieces within the organization, and fans should expect a younger roster in September.
Holland is calling it a transition to youth.
"I think the first thing we gotta decide is how many of these young players in our organization are ready to play on our team at the start of the season," he said. "Times have changed in the NHL and free agency ... I think July 1st free agency is a time for support players, secondary players. Teams now sign their best players for long-term contracts, they don't hit the market."
So, it will be an "internal" shift, as Holland put it, and Babcock sees the potential.
"We think we can be a way better team just because of the growth right here in our organization," he said.
This past season was one mired by injuries to veteran players -- and even some younger ones. That's how it goes some years. Holland and Babcock were not willing to dwell on the injuries which left big holes in the lineup for much of the 82 games, and into the playoffs. Instead, they have been embracing the opportunity to get the younger players in the NHL lineup.
Of course, the players have been embracing it, too.
There is a core group of young players taking shape. They won a Calder Cup together with the Grand Rapids Griffins. Now it's time for them to take their winning ways to the NHL.
Gustav Nyquist leads the pack (I can't get enough of the goal above). The 24-year-old tallied 48 points (28 G, 20 A) in 57 games with Detroit this season. It's hard to believe he wasn't on the NHL roster at the start of the season.
He went quiet in the playoffs, as young players tend to do against more experienced teams like the Boston Bruins.
"The young players that are going to be on our team ... have to realize how hard it is to win a playoff series. They have to use that experience to be more prepared and to take their game a little bit higher next year," said Holland.
Nyquist is joined by 21-year-old Tomas Jurco, 22-year-old Riley Sheahan, 23-year-old Tomas Tatar, 24-year-old Danny DeKeyser, 25-year-old Joakim Andersson, 25-year-old Brendan Smith and 25-year-old Luke Glendening. Unless management does a 180 and starts labeling some of them as trade bait, these guys are the future of the team. Yes, I'm well aware of Smith's downfalls -- the pinching and the giveaways (and the trying to fight with Zdeno Chara). But, I think his potential still outweighs his negative attributes at this point. The guy has played one full NHL season.
Nyquist, Jurco, Sheahan and Tatar will be looked to for offensive production. DeKeyser has the potential to a be a top-two defenseman, as does Smith. Andersson and Glendening are both strong two-way forwards who can kill penalties.
Those are just the guys we've seen actually play a lot with the Red Wings this year. Holland and Babcock seem excited about even more talent still with the Griffins.
"Ryan Sproul had a tremendous rookie year in the (AHL). He had three points in a playoff game the other night in Abbotsford," said Holland.
He talked about a lot of young defenseman he said he likes, especially the ones with right-handed shots. In fact, both the GM and coach made an emphasis for more right-handed shots.
"(Alexei Marchenko) and Sproul are right-hand shots that really can move the puck and play well. Are they guys that can fit in? That can help us? We'll end up making some changes on the back there, for sure," said Babcock.
Meaning, the future of Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff in Red Wings sweaters is unclear -- at least one of them might be gone by next season.
Making room for the young guys
If the Red Wings are serious about making this team even younger, it's obvious some guys will have to go. Seven players are unrestricted free agents -- Daniel Alfredsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, Jonas Gustavsson, David Legwand, Kyle Quincey and Mikael Samuelsson.
So, who goes and who stays?
If I had to guess, I'd say Alfredsson and Gustavsson are the most likely candidates to stay from that list of UFAs. Bertuzzi probably doesn't have a spot with Detroit, and the same goes for Cleary and Samuelsson. Legwand likely won't be resigned if Holland is looking at free agency in the summer to fill what he calls "support" and "secondary" roles.
As for Quincey, well, he's got some strikes against him, and his left-handed shot isn't helping. The 28-year-old's signing was controversial among fans from the get-go. Luckily, at least for anyone trying to run him out of town, his contract only was for two years. I see him going somewhere else where he gets less ice time, at least to start.
Jimmy Howard is not losing his starting position any time soon. However, it's unclear who will be backing him up. Does Petr Mrazek move up from the Griffins as Gustavsson heads out of town?
It's possible, but nothing is obvious at this point.
"Whether Mrazek plays here or whether Gustavsson plays here ... I mean, (Gustavsson) got 1/2 our wins this year," said Babcock. "So, the bottom line is if you're gonna be playing every day, you gotta earn the right to play every day. If you're gonna be a tandem, then that's what happens -- the other guy has gotta earn the right to have the 1/2."
It should be a fun 2014-15 season featuring a young, hungry Red Wings team with a list of new names.