The Detroit Red Wings were not quiet on the free-agency front.
Granted there was no big John Tavares-esque signing, but the Red Wings added a few pieces that could affect younger players.
First, they brought back winger Thomas Vanek with a one-year, $3-million deal. Vanek had 17 goals and 24 assists in 61 games for the Vancouver Canucks before being dealt at the trade deadline and notching seven goals and eight assists in 19 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets, including one goal and one assist in six games during the playoffs. He had 15 goals and 23 assists in 48 games with the Red Wings in 2016-17 before being traded to Florida at the deadline.
Lastly, although this move doesn’t affect the youth movement, Detroit signed goalie Jonathan Bernier to a three-year, $3-million deal. Bernier had a 2.85 GAA, .913 save percentage and a .529 quality start percentage, which is about league average.
Aside from trades, I don’t see the Red Wings making any more moves this offseason, so let’s look at the good and bad of these signings.
The Vanek and Green deals are short-term deals and relatively inexpensive. The biggest knock against Ken Holland the past decade or so has been handing out long-term, expensive contracts to mediocre/bad players.
He didn’t do that this offseason, which is a plus.
Vanek’s deal does include a no-trade clause, which seems like a bad move on Holland’s part, as Vanek is not part of the rebuild solution. But Vanek could waive that NTC and the Red Wings could be getting a second- or third-round pick back, depending on how well he performs. Vanek’s agent, Scott Bartlett, tweeted the NTC.
A lot of twitter-commentary out there that Vanek will be dealt again at the trade deadline in 2019. His new deal w/@DetroitRedWings contains a full NTC as protection, so that won't be happening unless Van chooses to waive.
— Scott Bartlett (@SCGscott) July 1, 2018
So if the Red Wings aren’t able to move Vanek at the deadline, this deal seems like a mistake, but if teams are interested in acquiring Vanek at the deadline, he’ll most likely entertain offers before he decides whether to waive his NTC.
From Holland’s perspective, these signings make the Red Wings somewhat competitive. As Craig Custance pointed out in his latest piece for The Athletic (paywall), the Red Wings believe a competitive environment is a key part of development for the younger players. As much as fans might want the team to tank and get the best odds for projected first overall pick Jack Hughes during next summer’s draft, the Red Wings aren’t willing to go into full-on tank mode, at least not intentionally.
As mentioned earlier, there also is the possibility of a trade to free up a roster spot. Custance noted teams have been interested in Gustav Nyquist and Andreas Athanasiou. Should the Red Wings not be able to move Vanek at the deadline, they also have the option of moving Nyquist, who will be a UFA after this season, or Athanasiou, who has sparred with Red Wings management in the past in regards to ice time.
As for Green, his contract also features a no-trade clause, but with Nick Jensen‘s and Niklas Kronwall‘s contracts expiring after this upcoming season, that’ll open up a few more spots to compete for. And of course, there always is the possibility Green waives his NTC for a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.
Both of these signings take up a roster spot that could be filled by a younger, cheaper player. With the Vanek signing, the Red Wings have 10 forwards under contract with Dylan Larkin, Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha still to be re-signed.
With the salary cap moving to $79.5 million, the Red Wings will have a little more than $13 million to spend on these three. So, something like $6 million for Larkin, $4.5 million for Mantha and $2 million for Athanasiou seems reasonable.
However, those 10 forwards under contract don’t include Evgeny Svechnikov, who appears more than destined to start the season in Grand Rapids unless he absolutely wows Holland and Co.
And of course, recent draft picks Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina still are in the mix. Holland said both will have a chance to compete for a roster spot during training camp, and as Custance noted, the Red Wings wouldn’t be against sending Martin Frk or Luke Witkowski to Grand Rapids to make room for them. If the Red Wings are serious about this, the Vanek signing is irrelevant.
On the defense side, with the Green signing and the buyout of Xavier Ouellet, there is one spot open for Filip Hronek (who appears to be the front-runner), Joe Hicketts or Libor Sulak. Without the Green signing, two of those three could have made the team.
So, there might be a slight improvement in adding Hronek for Ouellet, but Green’s signing could mean Hicketts and Sulak go back to Grand Rapids. Green is great for offensive production, but he isn’t great in his defensive zone, so adding him doesn’t improve the defense that allowed 3.1 goals per game (23rd in the league).
What could opening night roster look like?
So, there are pros and cons to both signings. Many fans want an all-out youth movement, but management wants to keep the team competitive so players have something to compete for and fans will continue to come to the newly built arena.
Assuming no more trades are made and Larkin, Mantha and Athanasiou are re-signed, here’s what we could see Oct. 4 against the Blue Jackets.
|Gustav Nyquist||Dylan Larkin||Anthony Mantha|
|Michael Rasmussen||Henrik Zetterberg||Filip Zadina|
|Andreas Athanasiou||Frans Nielsen||Thomas Vanek|
|Tyler Bertuzzi||Luke Glendening||Justin Abdelkader|
Extras: Darren Helm, Luke Witkowski, Martin Frk
|Danny DeKeyser||Mike Green|
|Jonathan Ericsson||Trevor Daley|
|Niklas Kronwall||Filip Hronek|
Extras: Nick Jensen
There are likely injuries that will happen between now and the start of the regular season, and of course, a trade/waive could be happening.
The key is if Holland is serious about sending weaker veterans to Grand Rapids in exchange for younger, better players. In the past, the veteran generally got the benefit of the doubt, while the rookie or younger player had to more than prove himself for a roster spot and continue to be seasoned in Grand Rapids.
The Red Wings no longer have the luxury of “over-ripening” their players. If Frk or Witkowski have to go to Grand Rapids to make room for Rasmussen and Zadina, I’m all for it, and Holland would be keeping his promise of 2-4 new players making the team.