DETROIT - The search was on for a defenseman, and then Darren Helm got a headache. And then Pavel Datsyuk saw another doctor, and the news just got worse.
The Detroit Red Wings front-office staff was gathered at general manager Ken Holland's house Tuesday night when Helm became the latest center to suffer an injury, forcing a change in priority before Wednesday's NHL trade deadline. The Wings will have Grosse Pointe Woods' David Legwand available Thursday when they host the Colorado Avalanche - because Datsyuk won't be available, because Helm won't be available, because Henrik Zetterberg won't be available, because Stephen Weiss won't be available.
The trade was costly - the Predators got previously highly touted prospect Calle Jarnkrok, a third-round draft pick that will become a second-rounder if the Red Wings extend their playoff streak to 23 straight seasons, and little-used forward Patrick Eaves.
Legwand is 33, a former Plymouth Whaler, and a solid, but not superstar, center. He's a pending unrestricted free agent.
Maybe he can get the Red Wings into the playoffs, but it's going to be an arduous task given the real threat that Datsyuk won't be back, on top of Zetterberg being out at least through the end of the regular season.
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Datsyuk has been bothered by an inflamed left knee since January. It didn't get better while he didn't play for five weeks spanning January and February, and it hasn't gotten better despite medication. A fourth specialist Wednesday again ruled out surgery - for now. Holland said the Wings will do some "aggressive" treatment on Datsyuk for a few days, after which he will be told to do nothing: Don't work out, don't skate on your own, don't get out of bed, really. If this doesn't help, Holland said there will be "a conversation" about surgery.
The decision on Datsyuk came after Holland found out Helm might be out for a while, too, came after Stephen Weiss' comeback from sports hernia surgery is as murky as ever.
"With Zetterberg, with Datsyuk, with Helm, and with Weiss, the uncertainty of where we're at, we felt it was important to get a bona-fide center," Holland said. "The news in the last 48 hours, that all factored into acquiring a center. The one we acquired is a local boy, so if we want to keep him beyond this year, we think it's reasonable that can happen, because he had to waive a no-trade clause to come here. He wanted to come home."
Captain Henrik Zetterberg already is out the remainder of the regular season — at the very least — after undergoing back surgery. Pavel Datsyuk is in limbo because of an inflamed left knee that has bothered him since December. The Wings' ears perked when Ryan Kesler, a native of Livonia, became available; he's a top-six power forward who plays hard. But the Vancouver Canucks ransomed him, wanting a forward in his early 20s, a top prospect and a first-round pick.
It made no sense for the Red Wings to ante that up — it would have cost Gustav Nyquist, along with Tomas Tatar or Tomas Jurco or Riley Sheahan, along with Anthony Mantha (last year's first-round pick, a 50-goal scorer in juniors), and a first-round pick.
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Legwand has 10 goals and 30 assists in 62 games this season. He's slated to center Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist, becoming the de-facto new no. 1 center in Detroit. The Wings considered Livonia's Ryan Kesler briefly, but Vancouver's asking price involved Nyquist, 2013 first-round Anthony Mantha, and a first-rounder this year.
The Red Wings instead went with Legwand, and a dose of hope that maybe someone will get healthy.
"If we can win some games as we go along here," Holland said, "we're hopeful that we're going to get some people back. We're hoping this plan of attack with Pav will allow us to wake up in three or four weeks and have Pav practicing and thinking about getting back in our lineup.
"We were hoping to do something on the back end because if we have a healthy Helm and a healthy Pav and with the development of our kids, we'd have the ability to roll four lines."
Instead the Wings will roll out a new center, a defense that could have used an upgrade among the top four, and see if this group can create enough of a headache for opponents to reach the playoffs.
Helene St. James writes for the Detroit Free Press.