DETROIT – Late Tuesday night, general manager Ken Holland scrapped his original plans to enhance the Red Wings’ defense as the league’s Wednesday trade deadline approached.
Learning of Darren Helm’s undisclosed head injury during the second period of the Red Wings’ 4-3 loss at New Jersey, Holland shifted gears to focus his attention on obtaining a No. 1 centerman.
The Red Wings believe they landed a legitimate, top-line centerman by acquiring native Detroiter David Legwand from the Nashville Predators late Wednesday afternoon.
The cost for Legwand – who was the Predators’ first-ever draft pick in franchise history – was veteran forward Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok from Grand Rapids, and a conditional third-round draft pick in 2014. The pick turns into a second-rounder if the Red Wings reach the playoffs this season.
“He’s good defensively,” Holland said of Legwand, who grew-up in suburban Grosse Pointe Woods. “He’s a guy that puts up 50-60 points and he’s an established, legitimate NHL player who can kill penalties and can play against anybody from the other team,” Holland said. “That’s sort of been his roles.”
Getting a centerman of Legwand’s proven ability became paramount for the Red Wings’ front office when Helm didn’t play the third period of the game in New Jersey. Coupled with the team’s decision to shutdown an ailing Pavel Datsyuk for the next three weeks, the loss of Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the season, and the unpredictability of Stephen Weiss’ return, the Red Wings were desperate to acquire help at center.
“When you look at our center ice with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Helm and with Weiss the uncertainty of where we’re at,” Holland said, “We felt it was important to get a bona fide center ice man.”
Holland wouldn’t rule out possible surgery in the off-season for Datsyuk, who has been hampered by a knee injury since late December.
“Right now the doctors feel we’re going to shut him down,” Holland said. “We’re going to back way off the ice. They’re going to do some treatments with him over the next few days. We’re going to see where we’re at in three weeks. Right now surgery is not an option, but we’ll see what the future holds.
“We're hoping that shutting Pav down for three weeks, we're hoping that sometime in late March we're gonna get news on the Pav front. We're hoping we're gonna get good news on Weiss, we're hoping as we go along that we're gonna get good news on Darren Helm.”
The Red Wings get an experienced 33-year-old who has played his entire 15-season career for the team that made him the second overall pick in the 1998 NHL draft. Legwand, who is in the final year of a six-year contract worth $27 million, can become an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
But Holland, who doesn’t like trading for rentals at the deadline, thinks the Red Wings can retain Legwand. Yet, while it’s not clear if Legwand will test the open market next summer, Detroit could be intriguing for a guy who owns a home in Harrison Township, which is about a 35-minute drive to Joe Louis Arena. Plus, Legwand had to waive a no-trade clause for the deal to go through, which is a good sign that he wants to be here.
“With all the news we’ve received, and Weiss could be OK in 2-3 days, but right now there is uncertainty,” Holland said. “That all factored into acquiring a center ice man. We’ve acquired a local boy so we’re thinking if we want to keep the player beyond this year we think it’s a very reasonable to happen. He had to trade a no-move to come here so obviously he wanted to come home.”
Legwand led the Predators with 30 assists and was tied for the team lead in points (40) with defenseman Shea Weber. Health hasn’t been a problem for Legwand, who appeared in every game for the last two seasons in Nashville. He’s also posted at least 40 points in eight seasons, including a career-high 63 points in 2006-07.
Legwand will join the Red Wings at their morning skate Thursday at The Joe. He is expected to be in the lineup – and wearing No. 17 – against Colorado, centering the Wings’ top line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist on the wings.
Without a bona fide No. 1 centerman, Holland didn’t like his team’s chances of making it into the postseason. But with Legwand in the mix, it gives the Red Wings a chance to gain some traction in the Eastern Conference standings until Datsyuk, Helm and Weiss can return, whenever that might be.
“We have to win some games and as we go along here we’re going to get some of these players back,” Holland said. “If can qualify for the playoffs we still believe there’s a chance in the first round of the playoffs Z will be back.”
For Eaves, his future with the Wings seemed bleak after he was placed on waivers and subsequently sent to the club’s AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids in mid-November. In his fifth season in Detroit, Eaves registered two goals and five assists in 25 games with the Red Wings. He was a healthy scratch in the past five games.
“Patty Eaves is in final year of a contract,” Holland said. “He wants to play, he wanted to play here but if he didn’t play here he would like an opportunity elsewhere.”
Jarnkrok was the Red Wings’ second-round pick in the 2010 draft. A skilled winger, he has one more year remaining on an entry-level contract, though there has been rumors in Sweden that the 22-year-old would like to return home to play in the Swedish Elite League.
“I think he’s going to play in the NHL but there’s so many people that he’s behind here that I don’t know when he was going to get the opportunity,” Holland said. “Young players get anxious; they want to play in the NHL. If they can’t play in the NHL here they want an opportunity elsewhere.”
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