While the Red Wings’ signing late this week of 27-year old Luke Glendening to a four-year contract extension is probably worthy of its own analysis, the larger picture of a very “crowded house” of Red Wings forwards for the 2016-17 season is also certainly topical and of considerable interest to many Red Wings fans.
Let’s look at the Glendening signing on the surface as an individual case. The general trend among signing 4th-line players is certainly to keep them quite inexpensive (especially for cap-teams, and the Red Wings still certainly are that — even in the final season of Joe Louis Arena, before the revenue streams expand considerably, if not exponentially, in their new abode in 2017-18), but also to keep the deals short.
The Red Wings may have contravened both principles with this signing of Glendening. No, it hardly breaks the bank to give Glendening the $1.8M AAV, but why the four years? If anything, the concept of a “hometown discount” (a phrase ridiculously misunderstood, most often by sports radio callers, trust me, as to what it is, and who benefits from it) is being utilized in reverse here by Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. If you are a Red Wings player and grew up in Michigan, then it’s YOU who gets rewarded because, yeah, you’d love to stay playing in the state you grew up in, went to high school in, played NCAA hockey in, and friends and family can pack the home games and see you play. Justin Abdelkader’s seven-year deal, and now Glendening’s four-year pact are symptomatic of this.
I’d be hard-pressed to know what Glendening and his representative could have come back with had the Red Wings simply offered Glendening a 2-year deal at $1.4M per season, let’s say. The Red Wings are, by that hypothetical, doubling the money he’ll make this season, and ensuring he doesn’t have to leave his home state. He also gets the security that going to unrestricted free agency next summer doesn’t provide, and if he doesn’t improve on his prior past couple of seasons, he’s likely settling for a deal in the $1-$1.2M neighborhood, anyway. Hey, good for him. I’m not telling you I wouldn’t want him on my hockey team, which I would have told you about prior Red Wings signings the past few summers like Jordin Tootoo, Mikael Samuelsson Mach 2, the final extension for Todd Bertuzzi, or the oft-injured Carlo Colaiacovo. But what I am telling you is it’s an unnecessary term for Glendening that no one else in the NHL would give him via unrestricted free agency, and, for me, it’s about 500 thousand dollars more than a final offer should be to a player who doesn’t light up either conventional or advanced statistical analysis.
All this alone is an issue for any club looking to manage around a hard salary cap, but given the Red Wings will be paying a 5/6 D-man like Jonathan Ericsson north of four million dollars per year (and for three more after this one), and a backup goaltender in Jimmy Howard close to 5.5M this season (and for another after this one), every dollar does indeed count.
Again, this isn’t about not “liking” Glendening. If utilized on a fourth line, say, centering Steve Ott and Drew Miller, and if minutes are sheltered properly, it’s not, by any stretch, a fourth line to be embarrassed about, although at ages 32, and 33, Miller and Ott are longer in the collective teeth than most NHL fourth-liners will be come Opening Night of this season.
If anything though, the glut of NHL-ready forwards and those with one-way deals who can’t be waived back to Grand Rapids for AHL duty suggests to myself, and others, that there’s still a deal or two to be made by the Detroit Red Wings. Even with the educated guessing that neither Johan Franzen nor Joe Vitale (sent back in the Datsyuk/Arizona cap space deal) will play a single NHL game this season, Detroit still have 15 NHL forwards, not even counting the two who could be (against popular sentiment from fans) moved back to Grand Rapids — Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou.
If it’s me, I want to see what I have with those two players, so adding them to the mix, there’s 17 NHL forwards, and if there’s some sort of breakthrough from Tyler Bertuzzi in training camp and the preseason, he’d be an 18th viable forward.
The point is, it’s packed up front. And even more so than last season, when the debate going into Traverse City was whether it was even too crowded for Dylan Larkin to find a spot on the big club. I had several people tell me that Larkin wasn’t in Ken Holland or Jeff Blashill’s plans to take to Detroit to start what would become a stunningly impressive rookie season, until he made it absolutely impossible for the Red Wings not to.
All the signs would point to a forward or forwards being moved for defensive help, and I’m still of the mind Detroit is one of several teams that’s been in constant contact with the Anaheim Ducks regarding acquiring 24-year old defenceman Cam Fowler.
If the Red Wings are getting extra “snuggly” with Abdelkader and Glendening because of their Michigan heritage, wait until they potentially get Fowler, who grew up in Windsor as a Red Wings fan (they haven’t missed the playoffs since he’s been alive, naturally) and played in Ann Arbor in the U17 National Team program and also for the Windsor Spitfires.
He’s not their only option to radically improve a thin and lacking blueline, but he’s their preferred choice. And a few of the Red Wings young forwards certainly fit the up-tempo, attack first-defend-later brand of hockey new head coach Randy Carlyle would prefer. Anaheim’s also a team that doesn’t exactly have a stream of talented young forwards coming up through their system ready to contribute goals and assists with regularity. The jury is certainly still out on Nick Ritchie, a #10 overall pick from 2014 who scored 4 points in limited ice time in his first 33 NHL games last season, and besides him, the only real “sure thing” among players under age 26 is Jakob Silfverberg, the established NHLer acquired from Ottawa when Bobby Ryan was dealt there. Silfverberg finally busted through with 20 goals in a full 82-game season this past year, but it’s tough to see him doing much more than that. There appears to be great potential with Rickard Rakell, but observers in Anaheim are intrigued to see if a third full NHL season denotes similar improvement as last year’s did. So as Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler all advance into their mid-30’s, the window for the Ducks will begin to close and I’m sure a couple of the Red Wings young forwards would be quite appealing in a package for Fowler, if, indeed, it’s inevitable that he’s dealt with the clock ticking towards his first run at being a UFA, in the summer of 2018.
It’s for another day, but it goes without saying, some Red Wings are going to look more attractive than others to buyers in a trade market. Some of that is age, potential to improve, and some is the friendliness of their current contracts. And let’s face it, any new UFA signings by the Red Wings (Nielsen, Vanek, Ott), or even the re-signed Helm aren’t being moved in deals. Neither is Henrik Zetterberg, who doesn’t have a known no-movement clause, but isn’t looking to leave, nor is the organization willing to downsize either his influence or his on-ice role, though his decline is obvious to all, and his minutes should be far, far better utilized — it isn’t 2009 anymore, but that’s news to some, apparently.
Gustav Nyquist? Sure, the Ducks would be interested and the Red Wings may never have higher value for him — well, except for last summer had they dealt Nyquist after scoring 27 goals, instead of right now after scoring 17, being another year older, and another season closer to being unrestricted. That said, if you haven’t figured out by now that the “Swedish influence” on the Red Wings room is real, you’re simply engaged in a little too much denial in your life — Zetterberg, Kronwall, Ericsson, Nyquist, and Franzen (were he to be healthy) are a gang the Red Wings simply won’t break up or can’t break up, but inevitably, both observations end with the same result — the core is unlikely to change.
So, the Red Wings press on towards training camp with far too many forwards under contract and not enough defencemen, and an inevitable sense that there isn’t room for the Mantha or Athanasiou and maybe even Jurco or Pulkkinen (when he’s healthy and ready to play again). It was an utter inevitability that once Ken Holland moved Datsyuk’s deal to Arizona, that the money was getting spent, and as I wrote here, Steven Stamkos was never really considering Detroit as an option. It was staying in Tampa or coming to Toronto, PERIOD. Now, the Wings are considerably handcuffed next summer during 2017’s Free Agent class, barring the magic trick of moving either Howard or Ericsson’s burdensome contracts.
But I still feel there’s a deal to be made by Holland before the regular season opens — and if there isn’t, it’s more of the same, isn’t it? Good nights mixed with not-so-good nights, playing Game 1 of the playoffs on the road for a sixth straight season, attempting to prevent a fifth first-round exit in the past six seasons, or perhaps, not even making the playoffs out of the Eastern Conference. I think a deal for a player like Fowler is the only chance to do more than the “inevitable” over the next couple seasons and potential playoff campaigns. We’ll see if the Red Wings brass agrees over the next 10-12 weeks.