In my opinion, this team had three main problems last season: #1) It didn't have a third line that could produce points. #2) It didn't have a 'real' grind line (e.g. physical). And #3) The defensive pairings.
...I think that the first problem boils down to the fact that we've had 4th line centers on the third line. i love helm, i love abby, and i love miller, but none of those guys have the hands to center a scoring line. either bring in a scoring third line center, or bring in a scoring wing and move flip to the third line (probably easier). free agency, trade, or whatever, i don't know, but it doesn't seem like it'd be impossible. any ideas? maybe ritola's ready? if we don't resign eaves and miller, then we might have enough cap-space to work something out...or we could involve them in a deal?
...I like Helm centering the grind line. he's not big, but he definitely brings a physical presence to the table. and his superb defense will allow us to get away with a bigger stronger wing on the right side. I really like having Abby flank the grind line. that's really where he belongs anyways. think maltby-draper here. then all we've got to do is bring in a nice big strong cheap hard-hitting wing that fights. think may, but bringing a little more skill to the table. i love eaves and i love miller, but these guys don't really bring that much to the table. we need someone more physical here.
Assuming a cap of $58.8M, once we sign Helm, Abdelkader and Bert, we'd have probably $2.5-3M left for your two wishlist forwards. It's possible, but unlikely, that we could get what you're looking for at that price. Even if we could, we'd still have a suspect 2nd line, 3rd pair on D, and no cap space to address either at the deadline. (And that's assuming no major injury issues, and no problems in goal.)
A lot of people keep talking about having a 3rd scoring line, but it just isn't feasible in the cap era. More to the point, no one else has that either, so we don't need it. People say things like 'depth is what wins in the playoffs'. But that's only true if the rest of the team does it's job. A good 3rd line might put you over the edge, but it's not going to make up for a crappy 2nd line.
We just need occasional scoring from the bottom 6. More importantly, we need timely
scoring. Guys who will work their asses off and get that big goal in a tight game. We can get that easy, and still have cap space left for other improvements. Draper-Helm-Eaves put up 30 goals last year. Miller added another 10. Abby has some decent upside. At least one of Flip, Happy, or Cleary will play on the third line (at least with a healthy roster). Ritola may even be able to contribute.
IMO, Cleary and Eaves are perfect 3rd line wingers, and Abby has the tools to become a perfect 3rd line center (but he'll probably need a couple years). All have some decent offensive upside, good speed, good defense, physical play, and for Eaves and Abby (at the moment at least) they're cheap. Helm doesn't have hands, but his speed makes up for it to some degree. He's good enough for the moment, and maybe he'll even surprise us.
Adding someone like Nystrom would be ideal for the 4th line, even as a replacement for Miller. Adding two like him would be better if they came cheap enough. And that would leave a good amount of space for other uses.
Henrik Zetterberg ($6.083m) / Pavel Datsyuk ($6.700m) / Tomas Holmstrom ($1.875m)
Jiri Hudler ($2.875m) / Valtteri Filppula ($3.000m) / Johan Franzen ($3.955m)
Daniel Cleary ($2.800m) / * Darren Helm ($0.900m) / * Patrick Eaves ($0.750m)
* Eric Nystrom ($0.800m) / * Justin Abdelkader ($0.900m) / Kris Draper ($1.583m)
Mattias Ritola ($0.517m)
Nicklas Lidstrom ($6.200m) / Brian Rafalski ($6.000m)
Brad Stuart ($3.750m) / Niklas Kronwall ($3.000m)
Jonathan Ericsson ($0.900m) / Jakub Kindl ($0.883m)
Chris Osgood ($1.417m) / Jimmy Howard ($0.717m)
(these totals are compiled using the bonus cushion)
ROSTER: 21; CAP:$58.8m; PAYROLL: $55.605m; CAP ROOM: $3.195m BONUSES: $0.000m
With that cap money we could add a decent defenseman, maybe Shaone Morrison for instance, or even someone like Lilja and another 4th line bruiser. Or save a decent chunk to pick up a $4M player at the deadline. Or trade someone like Flip or Happy and bring in an elite player.
That to me is a much better plan than bringing back Bert and another third-rate scorer a la Willy, which is all we can afford.