The Red Wings have reached an agreement with RFA blueliner Brendan Smith, signing him to a two-year, $5.5 million deal with a $2.75M average annual cap hit.
Smith, 26, was Detroit’s first-round pick at the 2007 draft and appeared in a career-high 76 games last year.
Despite that games played total, it wasn’t an incredibly successful campaign; Smith’s numbers took a dip (in points and minutes per game, specifically) and former head coach Mike Babcock made him a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the club’s opening-round series against Tampa Bay.
Still, Smith figures to be a fairly key cog of Detroit’s defense moving forward.
He’s scored himself a pretty decent raise — up from the $1.26M he was making annually on his old deal — and should be firmly planted in the top-six group alongside Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl and Danny DeKeyser next season.
Are the Detroit Red Wings a team moving up courtesy of a young core led by Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Danny DeKeyser, and Petr Mrazek? Or are they a fading dynasty having already lost former leaders like Nicklas Lidstrom and on the brink of watching the two stars they have left head off into the sunset?
“Who’s going to replace Pav?” head coach Mike Babcock asked, per NHL.com’s Аrpon Basu. One of the best two-way forwards in the game, Pavel Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. Henrik Zetterberg will celebrate his 35th birthday in October.
“Our team is not as good as it was,” Babcock also noted, according to Postmedia News’ Michael Traikos.
That’s hard to dispute. Detroit has only won a single playoff series in its last four campaigns after reaching the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back years in 2008-09. They won it all in 2008. Once Zetterberg and Datsyuk are gone or even just less effective, will the Red Wings start missing the playoffs entirely? Do they have anyone on their roster capable of filling that massive void?
Certainly the future isn’t all fire and brimstone for Detroit. The players mentioned off the bat have proven to be solid contributors and with their help, Detroit both made the playoffs and gave Tampa Bay a run for its money in the first round. The fact that the Red Wings came within a hair of advancing can’t be just brushed under the rug.
That being said, Babcock has raised legitimate points, and it will only add fuel to the speculation that the highly regarded coach will walk as a free agent this summer. Babcock didn’t confirm anything tonight, but Edmonton, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Toronto, and likely others would certainly be eager to sign him if he’s available.
Niklas Kronwall met with reporters on Wednesday, making his first comments since being suspended for Game 7 of the Tampa Bay series for a charge on Bolts forward Nikita Kucherov:
One guy not interested in talking about the Kronwall suspension was Detroit head coach Mike Babcock, who’d only say “I think if I talk about Game 7, then I won’t get fined.”
As for tonight, Kronwall won’t be the only veteran d-man out of the lineup. Marek Zidlicky has been sidelined by a concussion, forcing Detroit to ice a six-man defensive unit comprised of:
Jonathan Ericsson — Alexey Marchenko
Danny DeKeyser — Kyle Quincey
Brendan Smith — Jakub Kindl
Replacing veterans Kronwall and Zidlicky will be tough. The pair combined to play over 41 minutes in Monday’s Game 6 loss in Detroit.