My pick for Wings Most Improved Playoff Player is:
Lilja tells Ryan Getzlaf a very scary story in the Detroit crease.
(Photo: Detroit Free Press)
There's little doubt that no player performed as surprisingly well as Lilja throughout the playoffs. As soon as the early parts of the Calgary series, Wings fans noticed a distinct lack of... suckage. Lilja led the team in hits, was solid positionally, and even made a few nifty plays with his stick. Sure he coughed up an ugly one, at an inopportune time, but I think most fans can agree that Lilja's overall body of work was a pretty impressive one (relative to what we'd been expecting, anyway).
The question now is what to do with the guy. I'll talk about this in more detail when I start my offseason gameplanning, but Lilja's sudden ability to play defense gives the Wings a bit of a pile-up of talent. Let's say everyone comes back, here's the D-Men the Wings have at 7th or lower on the depth chart:
9. Meech (can't be sent to GR without clearing waivers)
Kindl and Ericsson, while tremendously exciting prospects, are very likely to be stashed in GR for a few more years. But Meech's GR time is up, and Quincey has acquitted himself very well in these playoffs. I think the prevailing thought is that the Wings will only return one of Markov/Schneider, so the Wings could potentially have Lilja in the Top 6, with Meecher as #7 and fighting for play time.
But another possibility is that it's Lilja who goes to lighten the stockpile. It sounds bizarre to trade a guy who just turned in one hell of a playoffs, but remember Mike Vernon? Same situation (okay, Lilja didn't win the Conn Smythe, but it's a similar situation). Lilja's value must be high right now, and Holland could get his $1M off the books. This year upcoming is Lilja's contract year, and afterwards he may seek a team where he can have a bigger role. And don't expect the Wings to try hard to retain him - he's already 32 years old. He'll be 33 next summer and the Wings are far more likely to bring in a developing youngster (like the 20 year old Jakub Kindl).
So I say, how about the Penguins? Didn't they need a physical, veteran D-Man at the deadline this past year? And at only 1M for 1 year, no team is likely to think it a risky option.
This having been said, I've grown quite fond of Liljahammer, and would not mind at all to see him on the Wings roster next year (especially if he can continue to hone his newfound fighting ability...) But the best option for everyone, the Wings, Kyle Quincey, and Andreas Lilja, might be a trade. Just sayin'.