Wings GM in league of his own

They say goalies are a breed apart. In the case of Detroit general manager Ken Holland, the stereotype is certainly true. Considering the job he’s done with the Detroit Red Wings during his 11 years as GM, Holland is skating in a league of his own.

A career minor-leaguer who guarded an NHL net just four times during his playing days, Holland has emerged from relative obscurity as a player to a major player as a manager. Overseeing the third Stanley Cup of his tenure on Wednesday night is Holland’s latest crowning achievment.

Since taking over for long-time Red Wings executive Jim Devellano following the team’s ninth Cup in 1997, Holland has compiled the most success of not only every GM in the league, but arguably any team builder in professional sports.

Besides three Cups under Holland, Detroit has captured four Presidents’ Trophies, eight Central Division titles, and five regular-season Western Conference titles. The Red Wings have won more games (560) than anyone in the league since 1997-98, including the most regular-season wins (493) and the most in the playoffs (67).

In capturing their sixth Presidents’ Trophy in 13 years, leading the league in wins (54), points (115) and goal differential (plus-73), the Wings tied Montreal’s league record by reaching the 100-point plateau for an eighth straight season. They also extended a current pro sports’ streak of reaching the playoffs for a 17th straight season.

Yet, a picture of Holland as someone who barricades himself in an office, pushing pencils and reading spreadsheets all day, is not accurate. People are impressed with how genuinely interested Holland is in the people he hires.

Take for example a recent off-day in Pittsburgh as his team prepared for pivotal Game 4 against a Penguins team that was coming off an emotional win and hoping to tie the series. Holland was certainly aware of and concerned about the situation, but that didn’t stop him from getting into an extended conversation with one of the Red Wings who hails from a small town in western Canada. Holland was very interested in its whereabouts, how to get there and everything about it.

But just because he’s reached the pinnacle of the sport once again, Holland can not rest. The city of Detroit throws a big parade Friday, but otherwise it’s back to work for the GM.

Some roster decisions will be made for him. Veterans Dallas Drake and Darren McCarty are pondering retirement while Dominik Hasek and Chris Chelios may lean toward a possible return. Drake wanted a chance at the Cup, and now he’s earned it for the first time in a 17-year career. McCarty, 36, made an improbable comeback through the low minors to reach the NHL again.

The Wings and Hasek, 43, have to decide if he can stand up to the everyday rigors of the NHL. The 46-year-old Chelios started to show his age for the first time this postseason, but he says he wants to return.

Emerging second-line center Valtteri Filppula is the most significant restricted free agent, but the 23-year-old Finn is joined in that category by impressive defense prospect Jonathan Ericsson, the 20-year-old Swede that coach Mike Babcock said of during the postseason, “I can’t believe how good this guy is and we can’t play him.”

Andreas Lilja, Brad Stuart and Chelios are three defensemen due to be unrestricted free agents on a blue line that will have Nicklas Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall, Brett Lebda and Derek Meech tied to multi-year contracts.

Holland expressed an interest in at least retaining Stuart, the 28-year-old he acquired from Los Angeles in exchange for two draft picks at the trade deadline. Holland sees the physical Stuart, who enjoyed a terrific postseason run, rounding out the team’s top four on defense.

Up front, the key will be negotiating a contract extension for Conn Smythe Trophy winner Henrik Zetterberg before the 27-year-old Swede enters what would be the final year of his current contract next season. Holland said in November he wanted to extend Zetterberg in much the same manner as star running mate Pavel Datsyuk, who is under contract with Detroit through 2013-14.

Zetterberg, the league’s leading scorer in the postseason with 27 points and a finalist along with Datsyuk for the Selke Award as the league’s best defensive forward, would appear to be due a sizable raise. Zetterberg earned $2.7 million this season, and gets a small bump to $2.9 million next year.

Current contracts for forwards Mikael Samuelsson, Jiri Hudler, Johan Franzen and Tomas Kopecky, who was injured for the playoffs, are all up after next season. Those including Tomas Holmstrom, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Daniel Cleary, Darren Helm and Datsyuk have deals that extend at least past next season.

In goal, Holland may be looking for a new 1-2 punch if Hasek steps away. The GM has been known to take his time with that otherwise key position, and he doesn’t necessarily break the bank with his decisions there. Detroit’s playoff savior, Chris Osgood, was a bargain-basement netminder this year as he earned $800,000. He’s under contract for three more years. Potential back-up Jimmy Howard is due for restricted free agency, and has another year of waiver-free time in the minors.

Holland, who has proven he doesn’t need high draft picks to identify future NHL stars, also will have some room under the salary cap to not only cement the talent he has but look around the league for more assets.

Add it all up, and it could be more bad news for the rest of the NHL.

Ross McKeon is an NHL editor for Yahoo! Sports. Send Ross a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jun 5, 2008