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Insider

Red Wings in market for veteran depth

2/15/2012
Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings are in good shape heading into the trade deadline. Anne-Marie Sorvin/US Presswire

Last year, on the day of the NHL's trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks acquired Max Lapierre from the Anaheim Ducks and Chris Higgins from the Florida Panthers. GM Mike Gillis gave up nothing more than Evan Oberg, Joel Perrault and two third-round picks to make it happen. On a day filled with trades, it barely registered a ripple.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland noticed.

He knows how effective and necessary veteran players are during a long playoff run. It was Lapierre who scored the only goal in Vancouver's Game 5 win over the Boston Bruins during the Stanley Cup finals. Chris Higgins scored the only goal during the playoff series opener against the Nashville Predators, one of four he scored during the playoffs. They were the kind of necessary moments teams require when making a long playoff run, the kind Holland's Red Wings hope to make this spring.

So when Holland phones one of his counterparts leading up to the trade deadline, chances are it's going to be for a veteran depth player and not a high-end player who is going to make headlines.

"There's a little more chatter the last few days than there has been because the deadline is coming," Holland said when we chatted on Tuesday afternoon. "Will we do something? We're going to explore. We have cap space; we structured it at the beginning of the year that way. We'd like to give our team a bit of a boost."

When he says cap space, he's being a bit understated. They have loads of cap space. They can take on at least $15 million in real salaries at the deadline, but that doesn't mean they will. Chances are it won't be close.

One of the reasons the Red Wings have exceeded the expectations of coach Mike Babcock, who said on Monday he wondered if this was even a playoff team before the season, has been because of the development of some of their young players. Jimmy Howard has evolved into an elite goaltender. Jonathan Ericsson has validated the faith Holland had when he signed Ericsson to a three-year, $9.75 million contract last summer. Valtteri Filppula is fulfilling the expectations his talent has long promised. Cory Emmerton knows his role and plays it with a purpose.

It means there aren't a lot of needs on the Red Wings right now. But we know Holland likes his veterans, especially those who know their way around a playoff series. He'll be on the prowl to find the right one.

"We have kids and we think they're OK," Holland said. "You're always looking for veterans who have that experience. I think that's the hot commodity right now."

What they did last year near the deadline: Absolutely nothing of note.

Where they are as a franchise right now: Tuesday's night's 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars was Detroit's 21st consecutive win at home, an NHL record. Nicklas Lidstrom refuses to show his age and is having another Norris Trophy-contending season. Pavel Datsyuk is probably the best two-way player in the game right now and will likely be in the Hart Trophy conversation. Henrik Zetterberg is finally starting to regain his offensive punch.

Once goalie Jimmy Howard returns, which will be Sunday at the latest, he can rejoin the Vezina Trophy race. This franchise is always in Stanley Cup contention and has emerged as one of the three favorites to win it all this season.

Rival NHL executive's scouting report on GM Ken Holland: "If you can get a word in [laughs]. I've made several deals with him. If you look at Kenny's track record, Kenny never makes a trade until the deadline. If you look at all their trades -- they never make a trade in the summer. They never make a trade in October, they only make a trade two days before the deadline. Kenny always knows what he wants and what he likes. He doesn't want to offer anything up. He'll tell you, 'I'm not going to touch anything on my team. If you want prospects or picks, let me know what you're thinking.'"

What they need: In a perfect world for Red Wings fans, Teemu Selanne will wake up on Feb. 27 and decide he wants to be dealt to Detroit. He'd be the perfect impact addition for the Red Wings. He's a playoff veteran, great dressing-room presence and the kind of superstar striving for a Stanley Cup that Holland covets. The Red Wings' power play has battled inconsistencies this season and currently sits at No. 13 in the league. Selanne has nine power-play goals this season, which puts him in the top 10 among league leaders.

If Selanne decides to stay put, the focus will be on a veteran depth player Babcock can turn to in the playoffs without hesitation. "What's depth? A veteran player who is probably leaving the team he's on and is a little on the long side," Holland said. "Put him on the third pair or on the fourth line and it gives you depth. They've got some experience. Could we use some depth? Yeah, I'm exploring."

At forward, that means a guy like Montreal's Travis Moen, Columbus' Sammy Pahlsson or Buffalo's Paul Gaustad. The one thing Detroit isn't looking for is a goalie. This is Howard's team, and Joey MacDonald, the winning goalie in Detroit's record-breaking performance at home on Tuesday night, has performed admirably in his absence, which should end goalie trade talk. "I hope so," MacDonald said on Tuesday. "I just wanted to get an opportunity here." His 4-1-1 record with a 1.72 goals-against average means the Red Wings will make no effort to add insurance in goal.

Could the Red Wings make a bigger splash at forward or on defense than just depth? One NHL source presented this option: "You know what's going to happen. Chicago makes a trade. St. Louis makes a trade. Vancouver makes a trade, and Detroit feels like it has to keep up."

What they can give up: The Red Wings won't be subtracting from their current roster or moving a high-end prospect like defenseman Brendan Smith, who will see NHL action later this season to give the organization a better idea of where he's at in his progress. Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill have consciously kept first-round draft picks to add organizational depth over the last several seasons, which gives Detroit ammunition to deal.

Earlier this season, Holland also said he'd be willing to move this year's first-round pick in the right deal, which is a bit of a departure. Thanks to their recent stockpiling, the Red Wings are fairly deep. Grant Sonier ranked them at No. 6 in his organizational rankings, highlighting the progress of Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan.

NHL scout breaks down Detroit's deadline strategy: "For the Red Wings, it's a matter of what are you willing to give up? You have to be careful; you have to keep your young guys. Depth up front would be great for them, not necessarily on the top two lines but in the bottom six and on defense. You're not sure what you're going to get out of [Jakub Kindl] in a playoff run; you don't know how much hockey you're going to get from Mike Commodore. Goaltending is not an issue as long as Jimmy Howard recovers."