Debate: Whither the Wings and Rick Nash?

Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun go at over free agency and trade bait. Lots of ground to cover, so let's go.

BURNSIDE: Well, my friend, it's just about time for you to close up shop and begin a well-earned summer respite. It has been an interesting week, as the first week of free agency always seems to represent. We've discussed the Minnesota Wild’s dramatic inking of Zach Parise and the Ryan Suter and the ripple effect those signings will continue to have long into the summer. It didn’t take long, for instance, for Tampa Bay to jump up and sign Matt Carle to a six-year deal. Carle would have been a top Plan B for many teams that fell short in the pursuit of Suter, and now those teams will be left scrambling. Let’s talk about some of the teams that we expected might be players in free agency but to this point have been quiet. For me, the Detroit Red Wings remain an interesting study. Hot after Suter, they decided against paying Jiri Hudler the big bucks that Calgary was willing to pay (four years at $4 million annually). They repatriated Mikael Samuelsson, but with Nicklas Lidstrom retiring and Brad Stuart now back in San Jose, this is a Red Wings team that all of a sudden isn’t nearly as fearsome as it has been for, oh, about 20 years now. I know folks have been predicting the Wings’ decline since the lockout, but are we finally on the cusp of difficult times in the Motor City?

LEBRUN: I would never, ever, ever count out Ken Holland. He is the best GM in hockey. Bar none. He’ll find a way. Wings owner Mike Illitch has no intention to see his team rebuild. The Wings will find a way to make moves to fill their holes. For sure, the Wings have investigated the Rick Nash situation and would love to deal for him (coach Mike Babcock had him at the Olympics in Vancouver and has been a fan ever since). I find it hard to believe Columbus would deal him within the division, though. Detroit would have to pay handsomely. Then there’s unrestricted free agent Shane Doan. He told me Sunday that he would wait until July 9 to figure out whether he’ll begin to field offers from other teams or get enough good news on the Phoenix situation to stay put. His heart is in the desert. He does not want to leave. But like Martin Brodeur did on July 1, he might at least have to listen. The Wings have real interest in him, but so do many teams, including Los Angeles and the Rangers. On defense, you have to imagine the Wings would look into Keith Yandle. But as I reported Thursday, I think the Coyotes would rather move him east, where there has been sizeable interest, if they move Yandle at all. In the end, Detroit has another avenue: wait it out until the new collective bargaining agreement is signed, sealed and delivered. Several teams I’ve spoken with over the past few weeks believe there will be bargains to be had on good players come September, October or November -- whenever there’s a new CBA -- because some overspending teams will have miscalculated and will need to get rid of players to get under the new cap. At least a half-dozen teams I know of are waiting for this. Detroit could benefit from that as well.

BURNSIDE: I agree that no one should count Holland and the Wings' organization out, although right now that defense is a shadow of its former self with no real obvious fixes in sight. We’ll revisit this one come training camp -- which I believe will start on time or close to on time -- but in the interim, will Scott Howson ever find a taker for his disgruntled captain? When you hear Howson was looking for Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes, it reinforces what many people around the hockey world are saying, and that is that Nash is a front-line offensive asset but he’s not worth disrupting a team’s core to acquire. And that’s what Howson is asking teams to do, whether it’s the Rangers, Hurricanes (who are now out on the Nash hunt) or anyone else who comes calling. At some point, won’t Howson have to modify his request to move a player who has made it clear he no longer wants to be wearing a Blue Jackets jersey? Or do you think the pressure on a team such as Philadelphia, the Rangers or even Pittsburgh that coveted Parise to make a big move will ultimately give Howson what he wants in terms of young NHL-ready assets? That’s a pretty big game of chicken, and Howson has painted himself into a pretty tight corner. The team has failed to move forward under his tutelage, and now he can’t afford to give up his franchise player without hitting a home run. But by holding out for a home run, does he end up with nothing but an unhappy camper come training camp? Great story to watch unfold.

LEBRUN: I know in the conversations I’ve had with Howson since last February’s trade deadline came and went without a deal, he has remained consistent about one thing: Even if it takes until August, September, heck, December, he would wait until he got the deal he wanted. He’s asking for a lot, no question. As one NHL GM told me Thursday, Howson is looking for a home run deal, but right now only doubles are being offered. Question is, will the home run come? The Rangers, to me, remain the most natural trade partner out there. They have the young assets to deal. The Penguins are also looking at Nash, but they won’t overpay to get him. The Flyers have flirted with the idea, but something tells me Bobby Ryan in Anaheim makes more sense for them. And there’s San Jose, another team on Nash’s short list. The Sharks do indeed covet him and would love to see him on a line with Joe Thornton, but as long as the starting asking price is Logan Couture as part of the package, San Jose will never do that. I think the question for ownership in Columbus is, at some point does the distraction of still having Nash on the roster outweigh the merits of holding out for the home run deal? I have to think there’s a breaking point. You need to sell tickets this summer and you need to put a new marketing face on this team, one without Nash on it. If I’m Howson, I take the best deal that’s there by the end of this month -- at the very latest -- and move on it.

BURNSIDE: Speaking of needing to move on, the other big must-trade player who remains on the market is Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo. Canucks GM Mike Gillis has taken a Howson-like approach to this matter, indicating he’s happy to wait as long as it takes to get a deal done that makes sense for the team. But the market for the former Vezina Trophy nominee is pretty tight, as in one team, perhaps two teams, that are really interested (Florida and Toronto, in that order), and those teams are only interested if it’s not going to cost them anything to bring on Luongo and his salary, and perhaps only interested if they can shed salary. I have to think at some point Gillis gets a deal done with Dale Tallon and sends Luongo back to Florida, but only if Tallon doesn’t have to give up much of anything on his end. What does your gut tell you on Luongo? And before I send you off to quiet lakes and big shade trees, do you really think Ryan or Yandle is on the move? Both are quality, blue-chip players with huge upsides. I get that they’re attractive to a host of teams, but unless Bob Murray in Anaheim and his counterpart Don Maloney in Phoenix get blown away by deals with likewise top-end young talent, I don’t see either moving.

LEBRUN: A source told me Friday morning there was finally traction on the Luongo front but still nothing imminent. My understanding is that the Panthers and Canucks have kept dialogue alive. It’s the deal that makes the most sense, especially, as I pointed out Thursday, if Jose Theodore is willing to move his no-trade clause to go to Vancouver. Luongo wants to be with the Panthers again. Florida can use the upgrade in goal, and the Canucks can divest themselves of the $53.3 million left on Luongo’s deal, although for this trade ever to happen certainly player contracts would have to go the other way as well to make it financially viable for the Panthers.

On the Yandle front, the Coyotes would need a home run deal. They’re not shopping him. They’re listening. Ryan? That’s going to be oh-so intriguing. The Ducks could really gum up the works on Columbus by offering up a star winger with a way more cap-friendly contract compared to Nash's. I believe Anaheim listens long and hard and ultimately deals him.

And yes, my friend, this is my last day at the shop for this season. Once again, a pleasure and a privilege to work alongside you this year, sir. Looking forward to some R & R.