The Top 5 UFA Defencemen to Target, and why Detroit Should Avoid All of Them

UFA fever has been raging all year. With every week that went by leaving Stamkos unsigned, the temperature rose. We saw some teams key in on their targets and do what it took to get them committed to their clubs. From LA locking down Koptiar, to Florida and Arizona acquiring the rights to Yandle and Goligoski respectively and signing them to big deals before they could hit the open market, the UFA crop is slowly thinning. 

Besides the fact that we have a forward-heavy group this year, the UFA defenceman crop is looking worse and worse as time goes by. So many mistakes have been made in this regard recently but every year we end up seeing a diamond in the rough rear its head and wonder how our team managed to pass on Player X. This year is quite simply not the one to go out and take that chance. There is a stockpile of over-the-hill and overvalued names out there looking to burn the first team to offer up a desperation deal. It’s no accident that Yandle and Goligoski were snatched up the way they were. The market is weak and those teams weren’t ready to risk missing out on their guy with so few viable options out there. 

By showcasing five of the best UFAs on the market, we can really get a sense of why looking for a quick defence fix this year is a big mistake. 

5. BRIAN CAMPBELL

Campbell hasn’t missed a game in the last three years. That’s a huge plus for a team like the Wings who are often subject to multiple injuries to key players every year. But Campbell, who recently turned 37, isn’t exactly in his prime any longer. Statistically speaking, it’s insane that he’s even still able to play in the NHL let alone clock top minutes for his club and really make an impact when he’s on the ice like he has. He still put up possession numbers north of 52% last season on the Atlantic division champion Florida Panthers. While his stats are still pretty good, this is about as short-term a plan as it gets on the UFA market. The reality is he likely takes a cheap one year deal to play on a real contender like the Blackhawks, a team he spent three years with already. There’s no point in spending the dollars it would take to lure him to a middle-of-the-road team like Detroit and there certainly isn’t any sense in handing out term to a 37 year old. While he’d be a good depth addition somewhere, it hopefully won’t be in Detroit. 

4. KRIS RUSSELL

A 29-year-old defenceman who has hit 30 points once in his career and almost cost the Stars a first round pick on top of a roster defenceman, a forward prospect and a second round pick. Now, point totals aren’t everything, so why did the Stars go out of their way for his services? Good question. He had an abysmal 44% CORSI rating last season and that was no anomaly, it is actually right in line with his average since 2012. Sure, the guy blocks shots at an incredible rate but let’s ask the Rangers how giving Girardi $5.5M until 2020 to block shots is working out for them. What’s crazy is he’s likely going to cash in this summer and ruin someones cap for years to come. Of everyone on this list he is the most terrifying one for me. Nothing good can come from a Russell contract in Detroit.

This is exactly what Detroit doesn’t need right now:

3. JOHN-MICHAEL LILES

Once a consistent 25 to 40 point guy in six seasons with the Avalanche we watched his career, like most players who get sent there, crash and burn in Toronto. I’ll be the first to admit, I laughed when the Bruins picked him up at the trade deadline last season but during those brief 17 games, we saw some flashes of the stable, puck moving defenceman he once was. The problem is again we’re talking about a guy who has put some miles on his body in the NHL. Liles is 35 years-old and not getting any younger. He makes the list because the dollar to production value ratio on this guy is probably the highest of anyone out there. He’ll be fairly cheap, he won’t require big term and he tightens up any bottom pair. The problem is that’s exactly what the Wings don’t need as Smith and Marchenko do an excellent job of that already (for cheap). If Holland is going to go out there and make a mistake on a UFA defender though, I would hope it’s Liles, as he’s the cheapest, shortest mistake that can be made out there. 

I do feel bad for the guy though, it’s so tough to shake people’s perceptions of you when Toronto media spends its days ripping you to shreds for multiple years and the team disrespects you so openly:

2. JASON DEMERS

The 28-year-old is looking like he’s set for free agency after a brief stint in Dallas. As a perennial twenty-point guy some teams might be ready to drop a little bit of coin on a potential advanced stat asset. Since the 2011 season, Demers is averaging about a 54% CORSI rating at 5v5. Now, that’s split between a decent Sharks squad and a phenomenal Stars team on top of being relatively sheltered player. There is some risk there though that should that number fall, there’s not much else going on. He already makes $3.4M a season and is likely due for a raise. I just don’t see a 4.5×5 contract for this guy as a smart move for the Wings. Is he bad? No, to the contrary actually but he certainly isn’t the significant fix for the team at this time. He will be a great addition somewhere, it’s just a matter of who is willing to drop the money. Not worth it for a cap team like Detroit. 

*When you search Twitter and there’s a chance his asking price is $1M more than the already ‘too-high’ price you put in your article*: 

1. DAN HAMHUIS

When the best option on the market is a 33-year-old whose best point total was 38 in 2005 you know you’re in trouble. He sits right around a 50% CORSI over the last few years, he can run a power play but only with mild success and for a guy touted for having some offensive ability, he really doesn’t actually put up many points. He already makes $4.5M and if he expects a raise the team should break off any talks immediately. Again, The Wings can’t afford to take on another aging blue liner as the game gets faster and the teams get younger. He would be more of the mediocrity that’s already clogging up this blue line and he could potentially have the Wings bleeding dollars in a few years. I’m sure there’s a young core out there that could use the veteran presence of Hamhuis for a few seasons but it isn’t Detroit. This isn’t even a fix for the short-term. Adding Hamhuis to the Wings would be at best a sideways move and at worst take away ice time from a guy who deserves it like Brendan Smith. 


As we can see quite clearly, there is nothing out there that will help this team be competitive- at least in the long run. The risks are way too high, the prices are far too inflated as teams scramble with the loss of Goligoski and Yandle in the pool, and there are enough statistics to show many of these guys are declining quickly or weren’t even that good to begin with. They might get a good year or two, but signing a long-term deal with any of the aforementioned players is a mistake.

If Detroit is desperate for help on the backend, the trade market is really the only place they’re going to find any value. The price for Shattenkirk is absolutely unreasonable at this point but the Blues seem to have been rejected by every team that has shown any interest thus far. Either the price drops or he walks next season and they get nothing for him. At the same time, Cam Fowler needs to move out of Anaheim for them to make room for future stud Hampus Lindholm’s new contract. Fowler is still only 24 and does a little bit of everything for that talented Ducks squad. If Holland feels he absolutely needs a defenceman this year (he’s at least three years late) then I’d prefer he takes a shot at one of the two proven assets instead of dropping cash on a maybe or a too-old

Detroit needs to fill that 1C role more than anything right now and get some RFAs signed to cap friendly deals. Wasting time chasing down UFA defencemen is the worst thing this organization could be doing at this point. I pray none of these players don the winged wheel in 2016.