Anyone with a little life experience has had the pleasure of making a budget, which means classifying favorite things as needs, wants or desires. Heading into the offseason, the Detroit Red Wings are no different. The Wings are fortunate because they are projected to boast significant cap space, providing them headroom to solidify their rebuild. Steve Yzerman must be cognizant to target the Red Wings needs – goaltending, signing their young core and strengthening their bottom six forwards – and try not to make the mistake that many of us made in our younger days: choosing wants and desires over needs.
Jimmy Howard, the 36-year-old American netminder has been synonymous with the Winged Wheel for the past 15 years. However, posting a 2-23-2 record last season with a goals-against-average of 4.20 combined with an expiring contract, this looks to be Jimmy Howard’s last season. Not only for the Wings but in the NHL. This leaves Jonothan Bernier as the only NHL netminder on the roster. Bernier has never established himself as true number one and will undoubtedly have competition next year. The Wings are going to have options because the goaltending market looks plentiful.
Predicted goalie budget: $6-7 million
Two plans of attack –
The Wings could enter the bidding war for some Tier 1 goalies. This means keeping Bernier as their backup and establishing a clear 1 and 2. Robin Lehner is going to demand a hefty tag but, at only 29 years old, it could be worth it. Jacob Markstrom is also rumoured to have lost the starting job to Thatcher Demko in Vancouver. Detroit would be Markstrom’s crease to lose. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray is an RFA who will be garnering attention amongst the league. The difficulty with this path – there are numerous teams in the market for a Tier 1 goalie, which will likely drive the price of a goaltender up too high for the Wings.
The second path is to establish a 1A/1B goalie-tandem. Strictly looking at UFAs, Calgary’s Cam Talbot, Edmonton’s Mike Smith and San Jose’s Anton Khudobin could be potential targets as, together, their cap hit would be less than Tier 1 goalies. The problem with this path is that it will be difficult for the team to alternate goalies come playoff time, meaning that a clear number 1 will need to emerge. Having said that, the Wings are still in the process of rebuilding, so having two goalies with the opportunity to play more minutes could help establish a clear number 1 down the road, when needed.
Signing the young core
The rebuild will be worth nothing if the Wings are not able to solidify their young core long-term. The Wings have already announced signing Robby Fabbri to a $5.9 million two-year extension. This is a good step in the right direction. Other notable names include Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Madison Bowey.
Anthony Mantha –
Injury concerns – the reason he has only played 68 games in a single season in his 5-year career – are likely the reason Anthony Mantha has not been inked to a long-term deal. This is cause for concern, however at 25, Mantha is worth the gamble and could be a lynchpin in the top 6 for years to come. There have been no updates on the contract negotiation but we can probably anticipate a long-term deal will be announced near training camp.
Tyler Bertuzzi –
Tyler Bertuzzi must be Yzerman’s primary target to sign. At 25, Bertuzzi has the potential to be a consistent middle-six forward with a tremendous upside: Bertuzzi has a longstanding hockey pedigree, tireless work ethic and a toothless smile that will make him a lifetime fan-favorite. Further, Bertuzzi formed good chemistry with star Dylan Larkin and provided the team with 48 points in 71 games played. If Yzerman can complete this deal, Wings fans could end up watching a Mantha-Bertuzzi-Larkin-line battle their Atlantic Division rivals for years.
Madison Bowey –
This 25 year old defenceman is coming off his best offensive season with 17 points in 53 games. Bowey is a middle-of-the-road defenceman but, lately, has shown offensive improvement. While investing in him may be risky, the risk-to-reward ratio is in the Wings’ favor. Yzerman could likely get Bowey on a 2-year, $2 million AAV deal. If Yzerman is able to complete these three deals, this off-season will be considered a real success as doing so would not only ink the team’s young, core players but also leave enough cap space to hunt for a top 4 defenceman in future years.
The bottom six for Detroit is going to be much different next season. Firstly, we do not expect Sam Gagner to resign, despite his expiring contract. Further, Brendan Perlini is an RFA and, after a disappointing season, has been rumoured to be deprioritized by Yzerman. Also, after the 36-year old Finn- posted a minus-42 rating throughout 70 games last year, the Wings will be hoping to shift Valtteri Filppula to a 3rd or 4th line role. In spite of this shift, Filppula can still be an impactful player, just not in a top six role. While the Wings will look to infuse the bottom six with youth from Grand Rapids, there are some cost-effective names in the free agency market.
Potential Signings –
Jimmy Vesey –
Vesey’s season in Buffalo was less than spectacular, so – after struggling to put points on the board – his future there is uncertain. Shedding the $3.1 million Gagner-hit, the Wings may be able to sign UFA Vesey for a little over $2 million. This change of scenery could be good for both clubs and provide some competition within the bottom six.
Tyler Pitlick –
Pitlick is a classic bottom 6 forward that could flourish within Wings culture. Although Pitlick has only had two 20+ point seasons, which is not stellar, similar to Vesey, a change of scenery could be mutually beneficial for the Wings and Pitlick: the Wings need a plug-and-play-guy with a cap hit around a million and Pitlick can fill that role. Bonus: he may be willing to take a discount after a subpar season in Philadelphia.
Tyler Ennis –
Ennis is coming off a 37 point season in 70 games. This is the type of center the Wings need to challenge Filppula and give Michael Rasmussen, who aims to solidify himself in the top 12 rotation, a run for his money. Also, a cap hit of little over $1 million and his familiarity signing short term deals could prove to be a good stopgap and add a little competition in practices for the Red Wings.
Yzerman will be busy this offseason but don’t anticipate any record signings – the rebuild is their focus, and rightfully so. To successfully do so, Yzerman’s priority list should be: the draft, goaltending, signing their young core and strengthening their bottom six. Wants and desires have to wait. This is no longer Mr. Ken Holland’s Opus. Now is the time for Yzerman to imprint himself on the Wings’ front office just as he has done on the ice.