The top defenseman is such a coveted asset in today’s NHL that when teams land one, they usually lock them up early or oversell them on the trade market. This year’s crop of UFA defensemen was supposed to be much more exciting, but Drew Doughty signed his extension last July and Erik Karlsson just locked in with San Jose last week. That leaves a second tier class of older and slower defensemen.
Don’t get me wrong – there are a couple of good options that would immediately make the Red Wings better. But as with the forward UFAs, Steve Yzerman is going to have to weigh the benefit of improving the team short-term vs. being weighed down with a contract long-term. Likely none of these players will be worth the pain later on of having to creatively get them off your books, but there are some older options that wouldn’t require long deals. Anyways, let’s get into it and discuss further. Here at the top 5 UFA defensemen the Red Wings could target.
The eventual Tyler Myers contract will probably be a little too rich for the Red Wings, but as one of the best defensemen to hit the market this year, you’ve gotta think they’ve at least called. Unfortunately for them, it sounds like Myers is going to land with the Vancouver Canucks.
The 6’8″, right-handed defensemen spent the last four seasons in Winnipeg. Last year, he scored 9 goals and 31 points, good for 2nd among team defensemen behind Jacob Trouba. He’s a good player who’s been connected to Detroit before, but at 29-years-old, the Red Wings should probably look for other options. Myers is in his prime now and the Wings know they are still a few years away. The Canucks, on the other hand, are ready to make their playoff push. It’s a much better fit.
Honestly… Jake Gardiner to Detroit probably isn’t a bad idea. Gardiner could probably be landed on a 5-year, $6(ish)-million contract and he’d immediately be Detroit’s best defenseman. I know Yzerman likes handing out NTCs, but if he can avoid it on a Gardiner deal, then he’d be a very moveable asset when the Wings’ top defensive prospects start pushing the vets out. The problem is that nobody knows how long that’s going to take.
Gardiner is 28-years-old and has spent his entire career so far with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs are running out of cap space fast, otherwise they’d probably be trying to retain them. Gardiner played a consistent top-4 role for them, putting up 30-points last year and a career-high 52-points the year before. The few mistakes he makes are very blatant and very visible, but Gardiner is mostly a quiet, smooth defenseman. He’s left-handed, but he skates well and can move the puck.
It’s one of the few free agent acquisitions I’d be okay with, but only if the price is right.
Yzerman signed Anton Stralman to a five-year deal in Tampa Bay, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he circled back on him. The thing is… Stralman’s not that good and he’s coming off a season that he missed a huge chunk of because of an injury.
In his first year with Tampa, Stralman recorded a career-high 39 points, but he’s been on the decline since then. At 32-years-old, there’s no reason to believe he’ll add much value to an already aged blueline. At best, he’s a bottom-2 guy, but Detroit already has four of those on this team. So avoid. Please avoid.
Okay, hear me out. The worst part about Dion Phaneuf was his cap hit. Two-years, $2-million cap hit. Would you do it?
As soon as 2017-18, Phaneuf had a 26-point season. He’s not meant to be an offensive machine by any means, but he’s got good defensive instincts, a big body to throw around, and leadership to lend to the group. Yes, there is a lot of veteran leadership going around, but throwing Phaneuf on a line with a Dennis Cholowski or Filip Hronek may be a good way to mold them into solid top-4 defensemen. At the very least, he brings an insane talent of not being able to hit the net, which the Wings will now be missing with Martin Frk out of the lineup.
Did I convince you? Yeah, me neither.
(Please stay away, Stevie.)
I think the general consensus is that Niklas Kronwall is the most likely option of the five listed in this blog post. Yzerman has said publicly that if Kronwall wants to play again, he has a spot on the Red Wings roster. Stevie has been in touch with Kronner, but has refused to share any updates with the media.
Several reports last season by Red Wings beat writers indicated that Kronwall would likely be back. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. That veteran leadership that I mentioned above? Kronwall has it. And the ability to mentor young defensemen? He has that too.
Kronwall may not be the effective player that he was in his prime, but he is a very smart hockey player. He doesn’t need to work that hard to be effective on the ice. He certainly wasn’t the worst defensemen on the Wings last year. If Jeff Blashill can manage his ice time a little better and give him more time off, I’m totally fine with Yzerman bringing him back on a year-by-year basis.
Kronwall has been a Red Wing his entire career. It’s either Detroit or retirement for him and I don’t think he’s ready to retire.
The D-market isn’t that deep this year, especially with Myers pretty much going to Vancouver. I’d be okay with a Gardiner deal for the right price, but I believe the most likely option is Kronwall suiting up again for a victory lap. It’s not a bad thing. There are far worse options out there.
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