6/16/2009

Wings Clean Out

By HELENE ST. JAMES • FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

Credit: NHL/Getty Images

Wings Clean Out

January 20, 2011

Tomas Kopecky walked away hauling a bag loaded with hockey equipment. Jiri Hudler had a pack of gum in his hands. Mikael Samuelsson grinned at Hudler on the way out. Marian Hossa took his time, just about the last guy to leave the Red Wings' locker room Monday.

The 2008-09 Wings have disassembled. Their lockers have been cleaned out, the needed gear appropriated for summer fitness programs, and the last team photo taken.

So what will next year's squad look like? It will be similar but not entirely the same.

"You're getting changes every season," captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. "You don't know who is going to be back and what-not. It's sad, in a way. You see all the guys that are packing their stuff and they're all headed home or going different ways. It's a little bit sad to see all the guys leaving."

With as much as $54 million already committed toward next season (and the salary cap expected to remain about $56.7 million), the money isn't there to keep everyone whose contract is up.

Most certainly defenseman Chris Chelios, at 47, has played his last game for the Wings. Hudler may have, too, and likewise for Samuelsson and Kopecky.

Hudler, a restricted free agent, is young and skilled and will attract attention from other teams, although he hurt his value by not scoring the last two rounds of the playoffs. Samuelsson has fit in extremely well as a third-liner and power-play point man, and as an unrestricted free agent he will definitely attract offers. Kopecky, also an unrestricted free agent, hasn't developed into the physical presence the Wings had hoped for, but on the upside, he won't command much money. All three have said they'd like to stay.

Hossa, in all likelihood, will be back. As much as he disappointed in the playoffs, it has to be factored against the fact he got the worst possible draw in the Stanley Cup finals in meeting his former teammates. The fact is, he scored 40 goals during the regular season. If he's amenable to a long-term deal, anywhere from seven to 10 years at a salary cap hit of about $4 million, he'll be back next season.

"I'd like to see him stay," Lidstrom said. "I think he's been a great addition to our team, and a 40-goal scorer is not easy to find. Even though he didn't score the way he did in the finals, he still means a lot to our team. We've told him that we'd like to see him come back."

Hossa, 30, wants to come back, too, and wants a long-term deal.

"Detroit is on top of my list, that's for sure," he said. "We'll see what's going to happen with today's economy, with the salary cap and everything. But I hope. I want to settle down with a family."

The Wings already have 10 forwards signed for next season and soon will get an 11th in Ville Leino, who, like Hudler, is a restricted free agent, but who hasn't played enough to garner as much interest from other teams. He has natural scoring instincts, and, after spending the past season in Grand Rapids, is ready for the NHL.

"Hopeful we'll get an agreement," Leino said. "I like it here. I want to stay here. I think we'll get things done. But I don't want to play in AHL anymore, and I won't do that anymore. So we'll see what's going to happen."

Goalie Ty Conklin won 25 games for the Wings after signing as a free agent last summer and is hoping to extend the relationship.

"I enjoyed it here," said Conklin, a free agent again at 33. "I was able to play a decent amount, and I enjoy the locker room. It's a hard locker room not to like -- there are a lot of good people here. I had a great time. People take less to play here for a reason."

Everyone does take less to play in Detroit, from Lidstrom on down -- but it's a cold, hard fact that unless every restricted and unrestricted free agent wants to play for $1 million, some Wings said their final good-byes Monday.

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