Making sense of the Wings’ reported Free Agent Wishlist

NHL Free Agency opens on Friday and the Red Wings are expected to be a very busy team this offseason, especially after they were able to offload Pavel Datsyuk’s contract on the NHL Draft floor

After Datsyuk’s cap-hit was moved, it was no secret that the Red Wings were going to be all-in on trying to land this summer’s big fish, Steven Stamkos. On Tuesday afternoon, TSN’s Darren Dreger listed a few other names that are believed to be on the Red Wings’ Free Agency wish list. 

  1.  Steven Stamkos – C
  2.  Frans Nielsen – C
  3.  Milan Lucic – LW

That is the presumed order of the Red Wings want list heading into Friday. According to our friends at NHL Numbers, the Red Wings have $21.070 million in estimated cap-space, giving them a tonne of wiggle room to sign more than one big name player. However, this all depends on the Petr Mrazek deal and the Wings’ other holes created by departing free agents.

Stamkos and Nielsen are not the only quality centres who are expected to hit the open market, but they are the top two, so it isn’t surprising to see them at the top of Ken Holland’s list as he tries to fill the hole left by Datsyuk returning to Russia. 

Let’s quickly take a look at these three players and determine whether or not the Red Wings should actually pursue them or not. 

We’ll start with Stamkos. The former 1st overall pick is arguably the biggest name to ever hit the free agent market and he is undoubtedly at the top of almost every team’s wish list as well. He is just 26-years-old and is one of the NHL’s most gifted goal scorers. He has four seasons with 40-plus goals, including 51 and 60-goal campaigns. He has had some bad luck with injuries, including a freak broken leg in 2013 and a blood clot issue this past season. Neither of those injuries are the type of issues that place an “Injury Prone” tag on Stammer, but they are worth mentioning given their severity. 

To land Stamkos, it is believed that you will need to sign him to a seven-year deal worth more than $10 million per season. The Red Wings certainly have the cap-space to sign him to a lucrative deal like that and if the number gets over $10.5 million, it will make him the highest paid player in the league. 

While Stamkos is a goal-scorer, Nielsen is more of a playmaker. He has been underrated for a long time, as evidenced by the four-year, $11 million contract he is coming off of. He has come into his own in Brooklyn in the last three years, only missing seven games and averaging 20 goals and 39 assists per 82 games. 

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Adding someone like Nielsen, for a significantly lower cap-hit that Stamkos might make more sense for the Red Wings. His playmaking abilities may be a better fit for the Red Wings’ young goal scorers like Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist and Anthony Mantha, who are all expected to take a step forward in 2016-17. Another plus to adding Nielsen is his penalty killing prowess. He was third among Islanders forwards in shorthanded time-on-ice per game (1:59) and their penalty kill was good for fourth in the league. In addition, he was also third among forwards in power-play time on ice and cashed in with seven goals and 13 assists with the extra man. 

The one thing that is definitely working against Nielsen is age. He is 32 and his agent is reportedly seeking a long-term deal, which is certain to scare some teams away. 

Then there is the case of Milan Lucic. The 28-year-old winger is a mammoth at 6-foot-3, 233 lbs. and has had plenty of success in his first nine NHL seasons. Lucic is another hot commodity with a large number of teams vying for his services. While he wouldn’t fill the hole at centre, the Red Wings have enough cap room to sign one of Stamkos or Nielsen and Lucic. The Vancouver native would bring size and a physical brand of hockey that the Red Wings have been lacking for a long time. 

Lucic is coming off of a 20-goal, 35-assist season with the Los Angeles Kings and that is exactly what we have come to expect out of Lucic in his career. If you take out his rookie year, where he didn’t play a prominent role with the Bruins, he has averaged 21 goals and 32 assists per 82 games, but his game is more than just points. However, he appears to be so highly sought after that his potential cap-hit could grow too large for the Red Wings to take a chance with. 

Regardless of who the Red Wings end up signing up front, there is still work to be done with their blueline before this team becomes a contender. However, it is nice to finally have ample cap-space and to see the Red Wings in the mix for a player like Stamkos. Friday can’t come fast enough.