0Filip-Zadina
Photo Credit: Jenae Anderson - Access Hockey MI

Why the Red Wings should play Filip Zadina in at least 10 NHL games this season

The jubilation shared by many Red Wings on draft day, when QMJHL star Filip Zadina slipped to sixth overall, has faded since that warm summer day in Dallas. Zadina, whose dazzling puck skills and lethal shot were marveled at by NHL scouts and alike, have not translated to the pro game as fast as many would have hoped. Skeptics criticized Zadina’s draft day comments when he was assigned to the AHL, all the while, 2018 draft counterparts Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Tkachuk were enjoying Calder consideration type rookie seasons.

Should those circumstances alter Zadina’s perceived potential? Absolutely not.

The Czech sniper still boasts loads of potential, and could very well develop into an impact talent, one the Red Wings are mightily desperate for. Patience is key. Playing pro hockey as a teenager is no easy task. Its all about adjusting the faster pace of the game, while still being able to manage the little things that make up a shift. Zadina is still learning, and with that will be a lot more goose eggs then he would like. Being the hungry goal scorer he is, you can just see the anger put behind this shot after a slow start for his first goal of the season.

None of this is breaking news. Anyone whose knows anything about player development knows that young players don’t just become into NHL stars over night. Zadina is taking all the correct steps, and leaves little-to-no reason for concern.

But if you’re the Red Wings, there might be some benefit to Zadina taking his time. Last year the club called him for a short NHL stint, and after nine games returned him back to Grand Rapids. Playing Zadina exactly nine NHL games was no accident. Under the collective bargaining agreement, certain players can have their entry-level contract “slide” by two years, if said player does not play 10 NHL games in either of those seasons.

For the full breakdown, as described by the incredibly smart people at Cap Friendly:

If a player who is signed to an entry-level contract and is 18 or 19 years of age (as of September 15 of the signing year), does not play in a minimum of 10 NHL games (including both regular season and playoffs; AHL games do not count), their contract is considered to ‘slide’, or extend, by one year. For example, if a player signed an ELC for three seasons from 2015-16 to 2017-2018, and their contract slides, their contract is now effective from 2016-17 to 2018-19. An exception to this rule is that if the player is 19 on September 15 of the first year of their contract, and turns 20 between September 16 and December 31, their contract does not slide.

Players who sign at 18 years old are eligible to have their contracted extended for 2 seasons. This extension does not apply if the player turns 20 between September 16 and December 31 in his signing year. Signing bonuses do not slide, and are paid to the player regardless of a slide, this causes the annual average of the players contract to change, and therefore the cap hit decreases for this player.

Zadina falls under this category of players eligible to have their ELC slide a year. The maximum amount of slides permitted is two years, one of which Zadina has already used. That is why he only played 9 NHL games 2018-19, so Detroit could squeeze out an additional season of him under contract. Management has a choice this season when dealing with Zadina’s midseason call-up:

  1. Limit Zadina to 9 NHL games, allowing his ELC to slide one more season
  2. Play Zadina in at least 10 NHL games, leaving him with two seasons remaining on his contract after this season

Before I dissect which is the better route to go, I should clarify: This is all a moot point if Zadina proves to be NHL ready later on this season. If he is capable of playing 40 or 50 plus games, by all means, let the kid play. This is all in assumption he actually needs the time in the AHL for the entirety of the season.

With that out of the way, I believe option two is the way to go. Wheather they want to play him 10 games or 12 games or whatever it is, 10 should be the minimum. That would kick start Zadina’s ELC to burn the first year for the 2019-20 season. Optics might say this is counterintuitive, alas, there is a method to my madness.

Due to Zadina’s ongoing natural progression, Detroit could be positioning themselves to extend Zadina before he breaks out. Give him an extra year, and by the time they meet at the negotiating table, there could be a lot more leverage for the player’s camp to argue. Short term or long term, both options can reap in the benefits of signing the 2018 first rounder early. At the end of the day, they are going to have to sign him at some point. This way, at least, management is setting themselves up to have more leverage, and potentially inking a great value deal. But give Zadina an extra year to break out and that could be a very different story.

Its an interesting concept to ponder. One that I think Yzerman & co. should consider when calling up their top prospect up down the road. Its a slight strategic move, but one that can have a major impact on both the immediate and distant future.