Ken Holland and the Wings scored big over the weekend despite losing both of their games against Chicago. Thanks to a pair of timely wins by St. Louis and Phoenix, the Wings were able to avoid an uncomfortable first round matchup with Anaheim. Holland—never to be outdone—continued to build a legacy of near-perfection by inking Johan Franzen to a long-term, incredibly reasonable, contract. Things are going so well for the Wings right now that they’re winning even when they’re losing.
Before I get into the Franzen news, I want to quickly rehash the importance of avoiding Anaheim in the first round. The positives of avoiding such a fate are too numerous to list in their entirety but I’ll touch on a few. First, not only do the Wings avoid playing Anaheim—the 2007 Stanley Cup Champions—but now San Jose—the #1 seed in the Western Conference—has to deal with Anaheim. That series is going to be long and physical. Normally, the 1-seed gets the advantage of playing a weaker opponent but that clearly is not the case in this instance. The Wings catch a huge break by playing experience-challenged Columbus in the first round. The Jackets are making their first ever playoff appearance. They are a gritty and talented bunch but they are considerably more tame than the Ducks. Dodging Anaheim also prevents the Wings from having to play what could’ve been three successive series on the West Coast. It’s hard enough to win one series travelling across three time zones. Three in a row against the likes of Anaheim, Vancouver/Calgary, and San Jose would’ve been brutal. Conveniently, Columbus just happens to be the only other team in the Western Conference besides Detroit that plays in the Eastern Time Zone. If Ken Holland was permitted to play God himself, he could not have arranged the Western Conference playoffs in a more hospitable fashion. On a side note, we are privy to possibly two of the greatest 1v8 matchups in NHL history. The aforementioned San Jose/Anaheim series is going to be electric but I expect the Boston/Montreal series to be even better. On to Franzen…
Ken Holland made NHL GMs weep in January when he inked Henrik Zetterberg to an extension at the bargain cap-hit of $6 million annually. Although Zetterberg is one of the NHL’s elite players, the tears weren’t simply because the Wings re-signed a great player. Rather they were because of what Zetterberg’s relatively low cap number meant for Detroit’s ability to re-sign Johan Franzen and Marian Hossa. There were countless articles written last summer after Hossa signed with Detroit that flat-out stated the Wings could not afford to keep Zetterberg, Franzen, and Hossa beyond this season. Economically, those sentiments made sense. Franzen—rapidly approaching stardom—seemed to be heading for a big payday this summer. Hossa—having already taken a discounted contract to win a Cup—also seemed to be headed for a monstrous payday with ring in hand. However, as soon as the Zetterberg cap number was revealed, it was obvious to everyone who follows hockey that Ken Holland had “hat trick” on his mind. Shortly after Zetterberg re-signed, Hossa started to say things like, “To be able to stay as a Red Wing, I am prepared to take less money, but a fair deal, so both sides are happy. That's what I'm looking for. I know if I go somewhere else, I could have more, but I'm willing to take less to stay here. Hopefully things work out." Had Holland inked Hossa to a new contract before Franzen, we would've had to wait, fingers-crossed, through the playoffs for the verdict on Franzen. Franzen is an extremely valuable commodity. Fans should/would rightfully fear the offers that his performance over the last calendar year would fetch on the open market. Knowing Hossa's preference, the fact that Franzen signed first—and at an incredibly low cap rate of only $3.95 million annually—increases the likelihood that all three end up in a Wings uniform next seson. A lot will depend on whether the 2009-10 salary cap can withstand the recession. If the cap doesn't increase at all or--even worse--drops, Holland will need to take a page out of David Blaine's book to make this happen.
With four Stanley Cups and a basement full of President’s Trophies, Holland’s legacy is ironclad. However, it was a consensus before the season that the Wings weren’t going to be able to re-sign Zetterberg, Franzen, and Hossa. If Hossa falls in line, this could be Holland’s most impressive feat yet. The Wings can't re-sign Hossa before July 1 but fans should be comforted by Hossa's stated preference and the general feeling that he will make the necessary concessions to stay in Detroit. If the Wings march to another Stanley Cup, Hossa’s desire to stay in Detroit will probably increase significantly if that’s even possible. Getting Columbus in the first round was an important step in making that happen.