The NHL instituted a salary cap in 2005. The Wings have made the playoffs every year, won a Stanley Cup, made it to game 7 of the Stanely Cup finals, several conference finals and we can't say Holland is a great post cap GM? Who would be then?
Since we were really feeling the cap when we were still paying Zetterberg around $2.5 million/season? Or when we had one Stanley Cup winning goalie playing for around a million (who won us our last Cup) and another Stanley Cup winning goalie playing for $2 million and bonuses? Or when Franzen was making less than a million and actually producing? Or when Flip was doing as much as he does now for less than a million? Or when we still had Lidstrom, money be damned?
We didn't have to start putting together a real cap team until 2009-2010. We were so stocked before the cap because of Mr. I's wallet that we didn't have to rush any talent, so by the time we start using some of our prospects, we had solid NHLers who were contributing far more than one would expect from typical guys making the kind of money they were. Once Holland had to start making cap decisions and signing our younger guys to real NHL deals, he has struggled in my opinion. And again, I'm not saying he utterly and completely failed, but I don't think he was great and I absolutely don't think he put the best team on the ice that he could. Whether we make the playoffs or not, if you can look at the situation and say, "you could do better," than something isn't right.
He's had a pattern of favoring guys that we develop, whether it made the most hockey sense or not, and in multiple cases, it didn't, and it really bit us in the ass. I still think the worst off-season was the summer of 2009 when he failed to sign any of our FAs, but made sure to sign Franzen to a lifetime deal before the regular season ended. He could've signed Hossa for around a million more per year, but instead prioritized the signing of Franzen, a one-dimensional player with only a couple strong seasons to his name, and Hudler, another small, one-dimensional player who ended up leaving for Russia anyways. When you have a chance to lock up a legitimate superstar who will outwork nearly everyone on the ice every night at both ends for a $5 million cap hit or less, you don't focus on Franzen and Hudler, or hell, Samuellson for that matter, who also left.
But it ended in an interesting manner, because he picked up some solid guys on the cheap because he had no other choice when he failed to sign anyone. And oddly, I'd say this is his strength. He's pretty good at finding descent NHL level guys like Patrick Eaves for very little money, bringing them in and getting a good amount of solid hockey out of them. What's nuts is that if he had his priorities straight, he could've kept Hossa and still would've ended up signing these types of guys to fill out the team with the cap space he had left.
But he keeps going back to the same old well for a lot of the same old guys. For the love, we signed Samuellson again this last off-season! And sure, we're making the playoffs, but like I said, there's that nagging "you could do better" factor. After all, when you have a team with Dats and Z and a descent goaltender, let alone when we had Nick Lidstrom anchoring our defense, I would hope you'd be in the playoffs every year! But I didn't know we were supposed to be satisfied with that, especially when it's practically a given when you have Dats and Z and Lidstrom and descent goaltending? Sure, it's nice, and I'm not saying it's not an accomplishment, but we should be there with the guys we have. That we don't go farther with the guys we have when Holland has had the power to put a better team on the ice and hasn't is the problem.
Most every good thing that's happened to this team in the cap era is a gift from the pre-cap era. Since the cap has started to catch up with us, things haven't looked so hot. And hell, when you've got whispers around time from guys who know and blatant remarks made to the press from the coach about dissatisfaction with what Holland's been doing, especially when we've had cap space and when we have enough prospects to move guys without leveraging the future, you've got to wonder if this is more than Armchair-GM critique at some point.
Bottom line, we've had a lot of guys leave the last few years, and little has been done to address it. We've had plenty of questionable signings. We've let guys slip away. We've failed to make moves to improve the team when opportunities are out there. We utterly and completely failed to prepare for the loss of Lidstrom before we were placed into a position of desperation.
And for the love, I don't care who was or wasn't available. Bottom line is, when you know you're going to lose a guy like Lidstrom, you move mountains to make a deal to land someone who can help bridge the gap and instill confidence. You really want to try and tell me Holland couldn't have brought in a solid guy capable of serving in that #1 role before Lidstrom left? I don't care if you have to give up prospects, picks, solid roster people, or overpay. You're in an infinitely better position before you lose Lidstrom than after, when every team or player is going to be demanding all the more from you, knowing you're desperate, all while you no longer have the benefit of being able to say, "you're going to be on a pairing with one of the greatest hockey players in history until he retires." You really want to try to tell me Holland couldn't have shaken enough trees to find even another Kronwall-level guy to at least help ease the pain somewhat before Lidstrom left? Please.
We have a core in place still that allows this team to compete every night, but the core deserves better. This should be a team that's not just able to make the playoffs, but have a legitimate chance of going the distance. I expect this team to get by in the regular season these days, but I don't expect anything out of the playoffs, when nearly every other team in the playoffs the last couple years has been able to show they're capable of making a racket? Why do I think that is? We don't have another level to go to anymore. We've got a lot of tired guys who don't have nearly as much to play for anymore after winning Cups and feeling the grind a few too many times. I'd rather have young, unproven guys than some of the guys we have hanging around still, because at least they still have something to prove. That is what motivates guys to find another level for the playoffs. We were lucky enough to be able to let our guys get ripe in GR so we could pay them less when they could contribute at a high level before, but I really don't know how much longer that's going to work in the cap era. It's one thing to let vets carry you through the season, but these mid-level vets with little left to play for don't get the job done in the playoffs.
And lastly, again, some of the guys Holland's ended up bringing in the last 3-4 years haven't been bad guys at all. I'm fine with Eaves, Miller, Tootoo, and a few others here and there. But he brought those guys in when he had no other choices. He could've done the same thing and made better high-end choices before he was up against the wall only to come up dry. That's the real problem with Holland. I think he could be a great cap-era GM if he gets back to making splashes like Rafalski or Hossa and then finding cheap guys who can contribute and have something to prove. I'm glad he hasn't thrown a ton of money at a goalie as I think it's one of the dumbest investments some teams make. But all in all, the "you could do better" thing hangs over the last four years like a cloudy sky on the verge of rain.