Don't overlook Red Wings' signing of Brad May

October, 9, 2009

I apologize ahead of time for doing a second straight item on the Detroit Red Wings, but a move they finally made official on Thursday bears some thought.

Detroit signed rugged veteran Brad May to a one-year, $500,000 contract. This is a team that hasn't had a prototypical tough guy in a while. May is more hockey player than tough guy, but he will obviously drop the gloves in an instant to protect his teammates. In his heyday, Darren McCarty was the perfect fit, a willing fisticuffs participant who also could play.

I think bringing in May is an interesting move on the part of GM Ken Holland given the other tough customers in the Central Division, namely Ben Eager in Chicago, Jared Boll in Columbus, Cam Janssen in St. Louis, and Wade Belak and Jordan Tootoo in Nashville.

Holland denied he reacted in any way to what was going on within the division, but it's clear this was a missing ingredient late in camp. May, 37, was brought in for a tryout for the last two preseason games, and the Wings saw enough to want to keep him.

"When you put a team together, you want to have as many ingredients as possible," Holland told "He obviously adds a dimension that we don't have much of."

But the modern-era Wings (read: post-Joey Kocur, post-Bob Probert) don't believe in goons who can't play the game. When they bring in toughness, they bring it in the form of a guy they trust can play a regular shift. McCarty was the perfect example of that; so was Dallas Drake. The latter wasn't in the same weight class as May or McCarty, but he would drop the gloves when need be. And he was a valuable playoff member of the 2008 Wings team that won a Cup.

"I'm not looking for just that one dimension -- Dallas Drake could play," Holland said. "My mom knows what Brad May stands for. He's a hard-nosed guy who can provide fisticuffs, play physical, he can make a pass, he's got some skill, he can play on your fourth line.

"At this stage of his career, I compare him a lot to Dallas Drake. He's a guy that can make a pass; when he gets the puck on the wall in the defensive zone, he can make an outlet pass, put it out to safety. I think in the offensive zone, he can protect the zone. We think he gives us a dimension we don't really have."

In a perfect world, the Wings would much rather have a Milan Lucic or Zdeno Chara or Jarome Iginla on their team, star players who can fight. But let's get real. They don't grow on trees.

"I don't have a philosophy that we're going to be as nonphysical as possible," Holland said. "If we could have a tough guy that could play, I'd be in line like everybody else for him. But how do you get these guys? In a lot of cases, they're drafted and developed, and most cases, they're drafted high, where they are real players. When we pick late in the draft, we've gone to Europe, we like skill. We've gotten guys like [Jonathan] Ericsson, [Johan] Franzen and [Valtteri] Filppula in those rounds."

Chris Neil is a player the Wings have liked, and they even tried to acquire him at last season's trade deadline. But again, because of the cap dollars, they've spent on studs like Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Franzen, Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom. They simply can't go out in July and compete with the $8 million, four-year deal Neil got to stay in Ottawa (Toronto offered as much, if not more).

Instead, the Wings try to find their toughness where they can. So far, I think you can argue they've survived just fine over the past decade.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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