The Wings have a wealth of options at D, perhaps too many. Everyone seems to be predicting that the Wings can keep only one of Markov and Schneider. Well we'll see. The Wings have Lidstrom, Lebda, Lilja, and Kronwall in the fold, and Chelios all but there. That gives them 5 D who are arguably starting material. Then there's Markov and Schneider, UFAs. And finally young abounds: Quincey, Meech, Kindl, and Ericsson all in the back pocket. Meech can not be sent down without clearing waivers.
The biggest question involves the biggest players: Daniil Markov and Mathieu Schneider. Let's take a look at each of them.
95 - Danny Markov - D
I'm a big fan of Markov's. He's not big, though he's tall (6'1) he has a wiry build (194). He's as physical as any Wings defenseman, and of those, the most defensively responsible. Kronwall has a greater propensity to hit but it often gets him out of position. Schneider and Chelios are both physical, but not to the same degree as Markov. In my mind he is the perfect compliment to Lidstrom - a top tier defender capable of playing against the top competition, but brings physicality that Lidstrom doesn't. Also an underrated skater and puckmover. He had a solid defensive season, and did manage to stay healthy. He is, however, a defensive defenseman, and defense is cheaper than offense. Last offseason I guessed 2.5M for him and was spot on. I'll say he deserves the same again, 3M at the most. Cost: 2.5M - 3.0M
23 - Mathieu Schneider - D
Schneider is the better known of the two. His offensive exploits are well known, and perhaps best attested not by point totals but rather the incredible slumps that mired the Wings during his two lengthy absences, in January and then in the postseason. His cannon on the point gave the Wings a potent weapon on the PP, although he did need to adjust in the postseason as defenders were more eager to lay out. Schneider's stat line is better in goals, points, and +/- than Andrei Markov of the Montreal Canadiens, who recently recieved 5.75M per year for 4 years from his team. To me this sets Schneider's minimum at 5M, and that's only if he's feeling generous to the Wings. I also would be surprised, but not blown away, if the Wings were willing to dish out more than 4M on Schneids. Cost: 5.0M - 6.0M
Route 1: Get 'Em Both (see Cap Chart)
The Plan: Retain Markov - 3M/yr, 3yrs ; Retain Schneider - 5M/yr, 2yrs
This, the most conservative but most expensive route, gives the Wings the exact same D lineup as last year. (Don't mind the pairings/lines on the cap chart, I was just to lazy to fix them.) This experienced bunch will be paced by Kronwall and Lebda - if those two step up and stay healthy this can be as good a D group as there is the league. Notice it leaves enough room to give Hasek 1.5M (with bonuses not counting against this year's cap) and around one and half mil for Bert, which I think is about where he'll end up. That leaves the perfunctory 2M piggie bank. Not a bad plan at all, and leaves the only changes as replacing Lang and Calder with Grigorenko and Kopecky. It does the Wings with a pickle regarding Derek Meech. Lilja would likely be the 7th D-man. There are a number of suggestions regarding getting rid of Lils, Kronwall, Lebda, and Chelios (that was a joke) to make room for Meecher, but another plan might be to simply retain 8 D, as Scotty Bowman was once wont to do. Since the Wings will likely not be carrying a 3rd G, it's possible.
Route 2: Take Schneids
The Plan: Retain Schneider, 5M/yr., 2yrs. ; Release Markov
This leaves Lilja as the replacement for Markov and likely also his replacement on the top pair. Lils played his heart out in the playoffs and merits the second shot. Leaves Derek Meech as the likely 7th D, perhaps rotating with Lilja when the Wings need an extra offensive boost. Lilja essentially plays the same game as Markov, physical, stay at home, occasional fighter. Lilja however has inferior foot speed and isn't quite up to Markov's level defensively, but when Lidstrom's your partner, who cares? This plan keeps the Wings as good offensively, slightly poorer defensively, but also ~2.5M richer. If the Wings plan on pursuing an FA, but retaining their offensive character on the blue line, this is the only way to go.
Route 3: Take Markov
The Plan: Retain Markov, 3M/yr., 3yrs. ; Release Schneider
This move is the cheapest of the three, as the Wings avoid matching the very high going price on elite offensive defencemen. The Wings maintain their excellent top-pair, with Markov providing the physical yin to Lidstrom's light-sabre-for-a-stick yang. Leaves Kronwall and Lebda as the likely second pair, and also means both must step up for the Wings offensively. Also gives the Wings ~4.5M in spendy. If the Wings choose not re-sign Bertuzzi, make that total about 6.19M in free spending, not including a 2M beer fund. Gee, who could the Wings go out and get with 6M? Who else?
Route Insanity: Fuck it, bring on the kids.
The Plan: Release both. Hellooo Jakub Kindl.
Gives the Wings a top pair of Lids-Lils, a second pair of Kronner-Lebs. The only way this possibly works? If the Wings third pair is Rookie of the Year Jakub Kindl and Old Man River Chris Chelios. That's right. Jakub Motherfucking Kindl beats out Jack Motherfucking Johnson. Some maniacal part of my brain wants to see this happen. Leaves this Wings with a ridiculous 8M to play with. The only way this happens is if Hasek retires and the Wings decide they need to get Giguere (and retain Bertuzzi). And if you get JS... do you really care if your D takes a hit?
My Analysis: Markov
Point 1: Defense wins championships. You retain the most physical member of the Wings blueline corps, and you drop the guy who in my mind is the weakest defensively. He's not horrid, but he's not great either. You replace him with Lilja or Quincey, an improvement on the back-end.
Point 2: Shots from the point are dramatically less important in the playoffs when players start manning up and laying out to block pucks. Not that I wouldn't rather have a guy with a cannon on the chance he can find a lane, but the Wings are better off spending next season figuring out how to score on the PP by cycling low, so they can use it in the postseason.
Point 3: Kronner and Lebs need to step up, or step out. Time to find out if these guys can become Top 4 D-men, at least offensively. If they can't, not signing Schneider gives the Wings probably a lot more than the standard 2M in rolled in small unmarked bills stored in a box under Kenny Holland's mattress for deadline day. If the kids can't get it done, the Wings can bring in the top offensive D-man available in February (hell, maybe it'll be Schneids.)
Point 4: Schneider is old. He's just so old. I mean look at him! He's so old. Seriously though, the Wings top 3 D-Men are, as we are constantly reminded, not young. The Wings need to start getting the Fab Four (Quincey, Meech, Kindl and Ericsson) IT in the NHL. It's not cool to have 4 rookies on defense suddenly, and Nik Kronwall and Brett Lebda as your seasoned veterans. If Schneider goes, the Wings can at least start with Meech (this argument also applies to taking Schneids and not Markov).
I think Ansar Khan's recent blog post concerning Schneider is mostly speculation, with the only real news being that Holland and Schneider have actually talked and will in fact talk again. This doesn't surprise me, and if Holland can get Schneider for 5M or less, I wouldn't mind. But as I've pointed out, Markov and Schneider both is a very, very doable plan, though highly contingent upon Dominik Hasek's retirement plans, and how much of a discount Todd Bertuzzi is willing to go for (but seriously I can't imagine any NHL team will give him more than 2M). But this having been said, Schneids doesn't strike me as a hometown discount kind of guy. He could probably get 6M somewhere, as crazy that sounds, just look at what A. Markov got. My guess is that Holland won't be able to retain Schneider and will move quickly to wrap up Markov. An outside possibility is Brad Stuart, who is more dynamic than both Schneider and Markov, bringing a presence to both ends of the ice; but he's likely looking for a long-term deal and the Wings can't afford to do anything big for more than two years - Hank hits FA in 09. No Schneids. Markov for 3M, two years.