DETROIT -- Now that Ray Whitney has joined the Red Wings, bringing some firepower to left wing, Detroit can concentrate on finding Sergei Fedorov's replacement at center.
Whitney signed a three-year contract, plus a club option on a fourth year, Wednesday as Wings General Manager Ken Holland moved to gear up an offense weakened by Fedorov's departure for Anaheim and reduced by Luc Robitaille's return to Los Angeles.
Whitney, 31, had 24 goals and 52 assists last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. A popular line of thought among Detroit fans is that Whitney, who will get heavy work on the power play, could easily exceed those numbers playing alongside the Wings' cast of artists.
"He's a forward with the ability to generate points and fit in with our top six forwards," said Holland, who would be "thrilled" if Whitney were to match last season's points. "But we have to use him properly. We don't expect him to play 23 minutes against another team's best players and have him replace Sergei Fedorov.
"He has great hands, hockey sense and creativity," Holland said. "There's no doubt he'll help our power play. He can play the point or play up front."
Whitney is lean at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds. But he is regarded as having top-tier skills and moves. He is particularly respected for his deftness at setting up at the side of the net and cashing in on the power play.
Scouts consider his weakness to be defense, although Whitney disagrees.
Reached while on vacation in Hawaii, Whitney said his defense is underrated, something that should have been made clear, he said, when San Jose beat the Red Wings in their first-round playoff series in 1994.
"I was on a checking line with Jamie Baker and Bob Errey," Whitney said, speaking from a charter boat as he fished for blue marlin. "It's not that I can't do it (forechecking). I simply haven't been asked to."
Conversations between the Red Wings and Whitney's agent, J.P. Barry, began immediately after Fedorov signed his free-agent contract with Anaheim. Whitney had been negotiating, not fruitfully, with Columbus for a multiyear deal. But those talks broke down when the Blue Jackets signed free agent Todd Marchant.
A native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Whitney was San Jose's second-round draft pick (23rd overall) in 1991. He later played for Edmonton and had several good seasons for Florida before moving to Columbus just before the March 2001 trade deadline.
Joining the Wings, Whitney said, is the kind of career move that would leave any NHL forward excited.
"It's the first time in my career that I get to go with a team that's considered one of the favorites to win a Stanley Cup," he said. "The personnel there, it's an amazing group of guys."
Whitney had not yet talked with Wings Coach Dave Lewis, and there is no absolute plan for whom his linemates might be. Much will be determined by what Holland can accomplish in finding Fedorov's replacement.
That objective could yet involve Holland's other front-burner task: figuring out how to trade Curtis Joseph or in some way lessen the goaltending logjam created by Dominik Hasek's return.
Holland said the Wings are definitely seeking size down the middle. That player, he acknowledged, might be best sought in a trade for one of Detroit's goalies.
Holland said he has had some interesting conversations with other GMs, but that the "economics are huge" when Hasek and Joseph are both in the $8 million-per-year range.