It’s an understatement to say that the Detroit Red Wings had a rough season.
Finishing the season with 39 points, the Red Wings put up one of the worst seasons in the past 30 years.
The good news is that this is a team that’s set to go into this offseason with $35.2 million in cap space to play with. That being said, they have 15 UFAs and RFAs of their own that will either walk or need new contracts. The other good news here is that a lot of these free agents on Detroit are ageing veterans on massive contracts, including 36-year-old Jonathan Eriksson’s $4.25 million cap hit, 40-year-old Johan Franzen’s $3.954 million cap hit and 36-year-old Jimmy Howard’s $4 million cap hit.
General Manager Steve Yzerman has his work cut out for him, but when it comes to his own roster, there are only a few players that would be worth resigning. Obviously, you have to let the older free agents walk just for the sake of the rebuild and cap space. The only names that should be surefire signings are Madison Bowey and Robby Fabbri.
Even though the prospect pool of the Wings is pretty strong with Filip Zadina, Moritz Seider and Joe Veleno all set to likely grab some roster spots, Detroit needs to make serious changes to the makeup of this team. We could go into the powerplay that was ranked 29th, or the complete lack of depth scoring, but the Wings needs come down to a pretty simple thing: A lack of star power.
There are a couple of big-ticket free agents available this offseason, so Yzerman may look there to make some upgrades to the roster. So here are five UFAs that could step into the lineup and make an impact on opening night.
1. Taylor Hall
The belle of the ball of this offseason’s free agents.
Hall is a great player. He’s got an MVP under his belt and is a consistent top-line scorer.
With the whole Arizona-John Chayka situation, it’s unclear how committed Hall is to stay with the Coyotes. This season, Hall scored 52 points in 64 games. He might also not want to join a Detroit team that is likely to struggle for the next couple of years since Hall’s career has been defined by playing on bad teams.
The only downside to potentially signing Hall is that he’s going to demand a massive cap hit and term that’s going to be in the seven or eight-year range. That’s a tough pill to swallow for a rebuilding team, but if Yzerman can convince Hall to make his way to Michigan, the Red Wings will have another bona fide star to play alongside Dylan Larkin. At 28, Hall’s next contract is going to have some bad years near the end, but he should be operating at full capacity for at least the next three or four seasons.
The Red Wings need to get back on the hockey map, and a massive signing like Hall would do it.
This signing would be like giving Red Wings fans a little cake before dinner, not the most nutritious but holy does it taste good right now.
2. Vladislav Namestnikov
The Wings struggled (understatement) to score this season. Maybe its time Yzerman goes the Ken Holland route and sign a player from an old job.
Yzerman drafted Namestnikov back in 2011, and after a really good year on Ottawa and Colorado, he’s set to be one of the most sought after free agents this offseason.
In 65 games this season, Namestnikov scored 17 goals and 14 assists for 31 points, mostly on an equally bad Senators team.
I’ve written about how Namestnikov would be a solid middle-six fit on most teams, but on an offensively anemic Detroit team that scored a league-worst 142 goals this season, a consistent depth scorer will go a long way.
As long as he isn’t given a bloated contract that places undue pressure for the Russian to be a top-option player, Namestnikov is a really fun player that would mesh well on Detroit’s second line.
Namestnikov also lives in the Detroit area during the offseason, so the fit might be more seamless than other teams.
3. Robin Lehner
We’ve addressed some of the scoring issues, but the other massive area of improvement for the Wings comes in the net.
And this is nothing against Howard or Jonathan Bernier, but those are not two goalies that will carry you into the postseason, especially considering their ages. A stop-gate in net for the next couple of years while Yzerman fishes for the goalie of the future is needed, and the perfect option is Robin Lehner.
This season, Lehner had a 19-10-5 record on a Chicago team with little defensive help, while maintaining a 0.920 SV% and 2.89 GAA.
He obviously didn’t get the massive contract he was hoping for after his 2018-19 Vezina finalist, but Lehner has been phenomenal for Chicago and Vegas this season. He’s currently in the process of backstopping the Golden Knights on what should be a deep playoff run.
The Red Wings gave up a league-worst 265 goals in a shortened 2019-20 season, so finding a reliable goalie will be at the top of Yzerman’s wish list. Lehner’s current $5 million cap hit runs a bit high, but on a short-term deal while Yzerman searches for a younger option either in the prospect pool or in the draft? That’s a good deal right there.
There’s not going to be a shortage of GMs lining up to sign Lehner this offseason, and maybe Vegas will even make a go at him, but Detroit may be in a position to offer him a little more term than other teams. At 29, Lehner isn’t getting younger, but a three or four-year contract would fit the team’s needs.
4. Torey Krug
Objectively the best free-agent defenceman available this offseason, Krug is going to demand a massive contract with a massive term.
And that might be worth it for the Red Wings.
This move is similar to my thought process with Taylor Hall. The Red Wings need game-breaking talent, and Krug fits that description to a tee.
Players like Krug don’t hit free agency often, and teams around the league are hoping his price tag is too high for the Bruins to retain him. It’s smart to try to find value deals, but sometimes you gotta swing.
With 49 points in 61 games, Krug would have been second on Detroit’s scoring chart behind Larkin. Krug is the type of powerplay quarterback that can elevate a special teams unit immediately, and he’s pretty freaking good in his own end too.
5. Ben Hutton
Solid, reliable, defender capable of playing bottom-pairing minutes without hurting his team and a predicted low cap hit? Insert that right into the Red Wings’ veins.
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