While watching the Detroit Red Wings lose 2-1 in overtime to the Chicago Blackhawks last Sunday, I came away with a realization.
The Wings lack at least two things: (1) a quality defenseman now that Nicklas Lidstrom retired and (2) a skilled forward.
Lidstrom's retirement was expected and you just can't replace a player with his talent overnight - if ever. He's unquestionably bound for the NHL Hall of Fame.
The Wings tried to sign free agent defenseman Ryan Suter in the offseason to help fill the void left by Lidstrom. They made Suter a substantial offer, but he decided to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
Needing a skilled forward, though, has kind of snuck up on the Wings the past couple of years. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are star players, of course, but aren't in the same class as Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos or Patrick Kane, to cite three examples.
Datsyuk has never scored more than 32 goals (2008-09) in a season for the Wings or notched more than 97 points (twice, 2007-08 and 2008-09).
Zetterberg's high total for goals is 43 (2007-08) and points is 92 (same season).
Notice it has been several years since the two turned in top-notch seasons, indicating both may be on the downswing of their careers.
Valtteri Filppula should be in his prime at age 28, but has never scored more than 23 goals (2011-12) or 66 points (same season).
Aging players Johan Franzen and Todd Bertucci can score a few goals, but both are streaky.
The Wings have a lot of role players like Patrick Eaves, Drew Miller, Dan Cleary, Darren Helm (when healthy), Justin Abdelkader and Cory Emmerton. They even picked up Jordin Tootoo in the offseason, whose sole value is to be physical and combative.
But the team needs another skilled forward, someone who can turn on the red light with regularity, collect a lot of assists and make his linemates better.
He would also provide another offensive problem for an opponent now bent on stopping largely Datsyuk and Zetterberg.
The Wings attempted to sign that player during the summer, offering free agent Zach Parise a ton of money. But he, too, decided to go to the Wild.
Rookie Damien Brunner holds a lot of promise for the Wings. But he might not reach stardom for at least 3-4 seasons and by that time, Datsyuk and Zetterberg might experience declining production due to their age.
Lacking another quality forward is not entirely the Wings' fault, though they might have been more aggressive in the free agent market 2-3 years ago to address what team officials must have known was going to be a need.
The Wings have been one of the best teams in the NHL for so long, they've rarely - if ever - have had a draft choice in the top 20, let alone the top 10.
The organization has done a remarkable job drafting top players (e.g., Datsyuk and Zetterberg) in the late rounds. But they've never been able to select that one forward who would make a difference for years.
I don't see the Wings in the Stanley Cup finals this spring, as the squad seems to be in a transition period.
But it needs to somehow pick up a quality center or winger soon to keep the team among the elite for the next few years.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is email@example.com