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Let the Rebuilding Begin Again
Leadership tops long list of improvements needed...
By Jason Kasiorek

After the dust settles on the worst season in franchise history, many questions will have to be answered as to the makeup of next seasonıs club. So many things went wrong, that there is no shortage of areas to be addressed. A lack of leadership was the primary issue for the majority of the season as this club never really came together or responded to adversity. Other weaknesses exposed during a season long slump included a lack of consistent offense, no game-breaking scorer, a porous defense, and inconsistent netminding, to name a few. Add in an inexperienced coach who was too passive at times, and a lack of preseason games for the team to bond, and it all snowballed into a record setting season of futility.

Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill has made comments to the press about going with a younger team in the AHL for 2008-09, which seems to contradict most of the above. If that is the case, Griffins GM Bob McNamara will have a huge task, trying to fill those spots with AHL only contracts. He must replace the leadership that left this team over the last two seasons, and adding a consistent offensive threat up front ala Donald MacLean or Michel Picard should be at the top of his list. The next trouble spot is between the pipes where Jimmy Howardıs lackluster season has muddied the waters. Rumors out of the organization indicate that if Detroit can acquire another suitable netminder, that Howard may return to the AHL at least on a part time basis. In the meantime the organization is precariously thin behind him and may have to sign a veteran to carry the farm team until Daniel Larsson is ready to go.

Here is an early look at next seasonıs team:

Sure Things

PosPlayerContract Status
F Ryan Oulahen Detroit RFA
F Evan McGrathDetroit 2009
F Mattias RitolaDetroit 2010
F Jamie Tardif Detroit 2010
F Cory EmmertonDetroit 2011
F Jan MursakDetroit 2011
D Jakub KindlDetroit 2010
D Logan Pyett Detroit Unsigned
D Tom GalvinGrand Rapids 2009

The Wings have several young talented forwards under contract for next season who are earmarked for the Griffins. Ryan Oulahen, a restricted free agent, should be offered another contract, and is expected to return in his usual defensive role. Also expected to be back is Evan McGrath who will be expected to build on his strong finish and Mattias Ritola who should be much improved after a year of seasoning. Jamie Tardif earned an entry-level contract with Detroit and should give the Griffins a useful two-way player. Rookies Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak are both top flight offensive talents who should help in the scoring department.

Tom Galvin headlines the cast of returning defenseman after signing a two-year contract with Grand Rapids midway through last season. He will be joined by Jakub Kindl who has nowhere to go but up after an abysmal rookie campaign. Logan Pyett is expected to sign before the July first deadline and should provide the Griffins with some offense from the blueline as he learns the pro game.

Good Bets

PosPlayerContract Status
F Randall GelechDetroit2009
F Johan RynoDetroit2010
F Justin AbdelkaderDetroit2011
F Chris MuellerGrand RapidsUFA
D Jonathan EricssonDetroitRFA
D Garrett StaffordDetroitUFA
D Jason JozsaGrand RapidsUFA

Randall Gelech has another year left on his contract with Detroit, so he should return and hopefully he can improve on an inconsistent season. Swedish winger Johan Ryno is expected back to give the AHL another try after an aborted start. Former MSU Spartan Justin Abdelkader will probably be in GR to start the season, though he is a long shot to make the wings out of camp. He could be joined on the roster by former teammate Chris Mueller who was impressive in a late season audition.

On the back end Jonathan Ericsson should start the year in the AHL unless Wings coach Mike Babcock gets his wish to keep the talented blueliner. Offensive rearguard Garrett Stafford was rumored to have been offered a multi-year contract in the organization but turned it down. It remains to be seen whether he can be signed, but at this point he would have to remain a strong candidate to return. Rookie Jason Jozsa played well enough to earn a contract in the late going, and could return depending on who else signs.

On The Fence

PosPlayerContract Status
F Frankie LemieuxDetroit RFA
F Darren HelmDetroit2010
F Carl CorazziniDetroit UFA
F Dick AxelssonDetroitUnsigned
G Daniel LarssonDetroitUnsigned
G Jimmy HowardDetroitRFA

Gritty winger Frankie Lemieux, a restricted free agent, played well enough to be offered a contract but may fall victim to the numbers crunch as the Wings get close to the 50 contract limit. Veteran Carl Corazzini was the most consistent player on the team offensively but may not be back for the same reason. Darren Helm would be a huge addition to the Griffins, but his strong play may have earned him a spot in the NHL next season. Rookie "Hat Trick" Dick Axelsson is expected to sign a contract soon, but may be heading back to Sweden for another year of seasoning.

The organization's goaltending picture is in a state of flux with the only sure thing being that Swedish rookie Daniel Larsson should sign before the July 1st deadline. Where he and Howard will play are questions that will answered in the next few months.

Out The Door

PosPlayerContract Status
F Mark CullenDetroitUFA
F Zack TorquatoDetroitUnsigned
F Jozef FojtikGrand RapidsUFA
F Mike WalshGrand RapidsUFA
F Mark OıLeary Grand RapidsUFA
D Cleve KinleyGrand RapidsUFA
D Jon InsanaGrand RapidsUFA
D Brad FerenceDetroitUFA
D Kyle QuinceyDetroitRFA
G Adam BerkhoelDetroitUFA

Veteran center Mark Cullen endured a tough season, fighting through injuries and slumps. He is rumored to be headed to Europe next season and is unlikely to return to GR. Zack Torquato will return to Junior for another season after making his AHL debut, but may return after graduation. Jozef Fojtik, Mike Walsh and Mark OıLeary all played to varying levels of success but other than OıLeary none made a lasting impression.

Kyle Quincey is out of waiver eligibility and is expected to graduate to the NHL. Feisty defenseman Brad Ference was a non-entity this year, turning in some sub-standard performances before suffering a season-ending injury. The unrestricted free agent will probably not be back for a second tour of duty. Jon Insana never regained his form of last season and will probably head off into the sunset. Cleve Kinley looked OK in short looks, but was passed over enough to times to see the writing on the wall. Backup netminder Adam Berkhoel got better in the second half, but did not provide a high level of consistency between the pipes and probably wonıt be back.

Dark Horses

PosPlayerContract Status
F Eric HimelfarbDetroitRFA
F Mark HartiganDetroitUFA
F Fabian BrunnstromUnsigned
F Darren McCartyDetroitUFA
G Logan KoopmansDetroitRFA
G Stefan LivDetroitRFA

Several dark horse candidates will emerge during the off-season, including the possible return of Eric Himelfarb or Stefan Liv. Himelfarb was given a qualifying offer by the Wings, and after a solid season in the Swiss league is rumored to be thinking of a return to North America. Livıs name has also come up, fresh off his SEL championship season; he could be thrown into the mix in the goaltending quagmire. Darren McCarty or Mark Hartigan could be back in Grand Rapids depending on what the Wings do in the off-season. The newest rumor is that Swedish wunderkind Fabian Brunnstrom will sign with Detroit and see some time in Grand Rapids. And of course every season there is a new crop of amateur tryouts that the Wings scouting staff unearths with the possibility of finding a diamond in the rough.