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FINDING RIGHT VETERANS ON GRIFFINS PARAMOUNT WITH MORE YOUTH AHEAD

Photo: Mark Newman

By Pete Wallner, MLive.com


GRAND RAPIDS
- The Grand Rapids Griffins will have to decide this offseason who will form their leadership group next season as the AHL club gets younger to coincide with the youth movement in Detroit.

The Griffins saw their season end Monday with a Game 5 loss to Manitoba, the earliest exit in the team's current streak of six consecutive postseason appearances.

The scoring leaders were all veterans in Ben Street (4-4--8), Matthew Ford (2-3--5), Eric Tangradi (2-2--4) and Matt Puempel (1-3--4), and all eligible to leave.

Street, Tangradi and Puempel were also the top three scorers during the regular season with fourth occupied by Matt Lorito, who can also leave.

The organization will have to decide who stays, who they let go and who - and this affects the other two - will be their coach. Todd Nelson, who still has two years left on his contract, has been mentioned for NHL coaching openings.

Overall, the Griffins head into the offseason with nine unrestricted free agents, with six others who are unrestricted free agents under contract with the Red Wings and four others who are restricted free agents with the Red Wings.

Among veterans, defenseman Brian Lashoff and winger Colin Campbell are under contract for next season.

The influx of youngsters next season should include defenseman Dennis Cholowski and forward Givani Smith along with possibly bigger roles for second-year players such as Axel Holmstrom and Vili Saarijarvi.

Ford, who just completed a two-year contract with the Griffins and served this season as captain, said his interview went well but couldn't predict where he will be next season.

"We're talking right now and that's where I kind of want to leave it right now," Ford said. "Obviously, I'd love to be here, and they want me to be back and we'll see how it goes."

Free agent signings begin July 1.

Like Ford, Street and Tangradi also spoke highly of Grand Rapids and the Griffins organization. But both also would like an opportunity with an NHL team, an unlikely scenario for either with the Red Wings. Both have to decide it there is an opportunity with a different NHL organization or be satisfied as a leader/mentor within the AHL.

"I explore before July 1 and see what's out there. During the year there's really not an opportunity to see what's out there," said the 31-year-old Street, who led the Griffins with 65 points (21-44--65) "... That's homework my agent and I will do over the next couple months and we'll see where the best opportunity is.

"For me, I still believe I can be an NHL player and it was disappointing to me that I didn't get a chance at that. So, my job this summer is to find where that best opportunity is. It may be with the Red Wings or it may be somewhere else."

He added:

"There's definitely some value in familiarity within the organization and if it doesn't work out in the NHL, then Grand Rapids is an awesome place to play."

Tangradi had similar remarks after his interview. The 29-year-old, with the Griffins three seasons and concluding a two-year contract that netted him one game with the Red Wings (in 2015-16), is coming off his most productive season with 31 goals and 64 points.

"We're just going to have to wait and see," Tangradi said. "Grand Rapids has been great to me. I had my first daughter here, a lot of good memories here. So we could be back, we could not. We're just going to have to sit down as a family and evaluate what's best."

Griffins unrestricted free agents: Mike Borkowski, Corey Elkins, Luke Esposito, Matthew Ford, Patrick McCarron, Pat Nagle, Dominik Shine, Kevin Tansey.

Red Wings unrestricted free agents: Jared Coreau, Turner Elson, Matt Lorito, Tom McCollum, Ben Street, Eric Tangradi.

Red Wings restricted free agents: Matej Machovsky, Zach Nastasiuk, Matt Puempel, Dan Renouf.