The theme of Steve Yzerman‘s Friday morning press conference was patience. Maybe four or five times throughout the hour-long event at Little Caesars Arena, Yzerman tempered expectations by saying that this is going to take time. And he has all the time in the world. Not only is he a new general manager in Detroit, he’s a cherished icon who brought championships to the city once before. So he has plenty of slack on the leash of patience that fans tie around a manager’s neck.
But now it’s Monday and, after a weekend of celebration, it’s time to get to work. The Detroit Red Wings are in an interesting spot right now. They haven’t hit rock bottom, but they’ve got some pieces in place that will perhaps help them avoid that. The flip side to that coin is that there are also pieces in place that hurt the team’s ability to reach the ceiling in the NHL either in the short-term or the long-term.
So despite Yzerman saying this whole rebuild is going to take time, there are some big moves that need to be made immediately – like, this offseason – that will set the team up for success down the road. This starts with free agency and, more specifically, the team’s pending UFAs.
Yzerman has three NHL roster contracts ending at the end of this season. Thomas Vanek and Luke Witkowski should be easy to let go and likely wouldn’t have been re-signed even if Ken Holland was still running the team. It’s Niklas Kronwall that’s going to be the tough one because of his history with the team and the respect he commands on the ice and off of it. At his year-end presser, Holland told us that if Kronwall wanted to come back, he would be welcomed back, but is that what’s right for the team?
Veteran presence is important, but the Wings have too much of it and not re-signing Kronwall is the easiest way to address that. I do wonder if Holland’s open door for Kronwall was OK’d by Yzerman. They’ve been negotiating Yzerman’s appointment since March, so it stands to reason that anything Holland has done or said over the last four weeks has received the Yzerman stamp of approval. But based on how Yzerman has managed in the past, extending Kronwall doesn’t feel like something he would action, especially when you look at this roster as a whole. It would be a hard move, but Stevie is no stranger to those (see: Vincent Lecavalier & Martin St. Louis).
Making a decision on Kronwall directly affects the next big thing Yzerman needs to address this offseason: the blue line. The Red Wings have arguably the worst defense in the league and it’s because they have a lot of money tied up in 35+ year old players who are frequently injured. Add to that the budding prospects who are ready to make a jump and you’ve got a shapeless, cluttered D-corps.
This is going to be a tough one because the easy solution is to just ride out the last year on Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley‘s contracts, but banishing Filip Hronek and Dennis Cholowski to the AHL for another year could be detrimental to their development. At 22-years-old, they’ll both be ready for full-time NHL roles and Yzerman has to get them in the lineup. That means moving one or two of Ericsson, Daley, or even Mike Green. These will not be easy contracts to move, though, and if nothing comes to fruiting, a buyout should be looked at very closely.
Speaking of buyouts, should we talk about Justin Abdelkader? What about Darren Helm? What’s going to make all of these moves difficult for Yzerman is that all of these names I’m throwing out are long-term, career Red Wings. The culture in Detroit has always been about working hard and grinding it out. Then, you’re rewarded with the organization’s loyalty. A buyout on Abdelkader would certainly go counter to this culture that Yzerman helped establish as a player.
But the times have changed and it takes a different kind of culture to win in today’s NHL. Yzerman knows this. He created one in Tampa. That’s why he’s equipped to rebuild this fractured Red Wings team.
Yes, it’s going to take time to get back to contention, but the work starts now. When Yzerman was hired in Tampa, he made four big moves before the start of the season. He’s no stranger to tough decisions and they have to start right now. So I’ll wait patiently for a Stanley Cup, but I’m certainly impatient to see what this offseason brings for the Detroit Red Wings.