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April 18, 2003 - Tough questions: Red Wings search for answers to what went wrong
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Tough questions: The Red Wings search for answers to what went wrong and what happens next

April 18, 2003

BY NICHOLAS J. COTSONIKA
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

After the game Wednesday night, Kris Draper and Darren McCarty sat in the dressing room side by side, stunned.

"Now what do we do?" McCarty said.

Good question.

First the Red Wings will take some time to digest how they were swept in the first round of the playoffs by Anaheim. Then they will assess the situation and address it. Finally, they will try to rebound.

None of it will be easy.

In a week, the Wings went from a dynasty in the making to a disaster.

"It's amazing how fast it happens, you know?" Draper said.

The Wings outplayed the Mighty Ducks for much of the series. They outshot them, 171-120. Still, they lost four straight one-goal games. They were outscored, 10-6.

"You're sick. You're in shock," McCarty said. "It's as unbelievable as it is because it wasn't like we laid an egg. We played well. We just didn't play well enough."

What happened?

Anaheim goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, first and foremost.

"We got beaten by one guy," defenseman Mathieu Schneider said. "Giguere won the series for them. That's the bottom line. You can look at it any way you want, slice it and dice it."

The Wings were the NHL's highest-scoring team during the regular season. Yet they couldn't put the puck in the net nearly enough. Giguere was good and lucky, and all the Wings' skilled scorers didn't get the job done.

"How does this team only get six goals?" Draper said. "You look around at who we have in this dressing room. We have guys that come playoff time step up and score some goals, and we did everything we could to try to score, but we couldn't."

That magnified every mistake the Wings made: turnovers by Dmitri Bykov and Chris Chelios, the miscommunication between Chelios and Curtis Joseph, the mental error by Mathieu Dandenault, the questionable goals allowed by Joseph.

While Joseph made many good saves and posted good numbers, a 2.08 goals-against average and .917 save percentage, he couldn't compete with Giguere, who had a 1.24 goals-against average and .965 save percentage.

"Not how I envisioned the year would end," said Joseph, who left Toronto and signed with the Wings last summer, chasing his first Cup. "Very disappointing. It's going to be a long summer."

The Wings will take their team picture today. They'll clean out their lockers, then go their separate ways. Sometime soon -- probably next week, after emotions have settled down a bit -- owners Mike and Marian Ilitch will meet with senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, general manager Ken Holland and others.

Devellano called the sweep a "gigantic disappointment." The Wings have one of the NHL's highest payrolls at about $65 million and, as usual, they budgeted for a long playoff run. Having only two home playoff dates was their worst nightmare. Failing to extend the series to a Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena cost them about $2 million alone.

"Obviously we are going to take a pretty good hit this year," Devellano said.

That reality -- and the reality that the collective bargaining agreement expires in September 2004, probably leading to a lockout and a new salary system -- will affect how the Wings go about their business.

But they still intend to go for the Cup again. Next season might be the last for many of their high-priced stars, and it might be the last time they can use their high payroll as an advantage.

Sergei Fedorov and McCarty can become unrestricted free agents July 1. Fedorov has turned down a five-year, $50-million offer; the Wings probably will offer a salary around $10 million but as part of a shorter-term deal. McCarty's salary this season was $1.95 million; the Wings probably will offer something similar. He already makes more than comparable teammates.

"We'll certainly make a good attempt to re-sign Sergei Fedorov and Darren McCarty," Devellano said. "But they are in the driver's seat come July 1. All we can do is make offers that we deem fair, and the history of our hockey club under the Ilitches is that we have been very fair to people to try to retain them. I don't suspect that will change a whole lot."

The Wings probably will try to re-sign Jason Woolley. But they might not bring back Igor Larionov, and they almost certainly will buy out Luc Robitaille for $1 million. They probably will add prospect Igor Grigorenko and minor leaguer Jason Williams. The rest of the team looks like it will remain intact. Other moves depend on what decisions the Wings make and how the dominoes fall.

Captain Steve Yzerman, who will be back even though he doesn't have a contract yet for next season, said the Wings would be a contender in 2003-04 -- and it wouldn't hurt that the sweep was "really humbling."

"It's a good lesson," he said. "After winning the Stanley Cup, there was a lot of stuff going on -- high-profile team, a bunch of stars, whatever. We got brought back down to earth hard in one week. Maybe being humbled is good for us in the long run."

Said Brendan Shanahan: "Hopefully we can come back and respond the way we did the last time we got knocked out in the first round."

The Wings lost to Los Angeles in the first round in 2001. You know what happened next.