With teams across the league still attempting to finalize their rosters for the upcoming season, which remains without a starting date, it seems there are a few organizations that’ll need to reduce their payrolls in the near future and the Detroit Red Wings could serve as a perfect trading partner to help someone accomplish that feat.
Considering the Red Wings own approximately $9.5 million in cap space (fifth-most in the league), according to CapFriendly.com, they definitely have the ability to utilize that figure to their advantage against a championship contender, which should allow them to acquire future assets in exchange for some much-needed cap relief. Since general manager Steve Yzerman has already teased the idea of making another salary-dump style trade, this could open the door for the team to negotiate with his former organization, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Since Yzerman served as Tampa Bay’s general manager for seven seasons, there’s a strong chance he knows their lineup better than almost anyone else and could easily identify which pieces he’d want to receive in return. Though the front office probably doesn’t want to chew up all of their remaining cap space, it seems they could certainly absorb a significant contract while also staying far below the $81.5 million salary cap at the same time.
Needing to clear some salary to re-sign key restricted free agents Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli, the Lightning are currently $1.9 million over the salary cap and will likely need to subtract a high-profiled skater from their roster to retain both of these top young players. Looking to ensure they’ll have enough cap space for next season, it’d also be wise for them to acquire a permanent long-term injured reserve contract in return, which makes the Red Wings an even more obvious partner as one of their most iconic players’ salary is still on the books.
Despite spending 15 memorable seasons in Detroit, forward Henrik Zetterberg decided to hang up his skates prematurely due to a serious back injury but was still owed just over $18.2 million during the final three seasons of his original 12-year, $73 million contract that was signed back in 2009. Fast-forward to 2020, there’s still one season remaining on his deal, which comes with a cap hit of $6.083 million.
Since Zetterberg’s entire salary can be placed on LTIR closer to the start of the season, he’d be a clear target for the Lightning, as he could help them re-sign both Cernak and Cirelli while also remaining under the salary cap. Though this would only be a short-term solution, it’s one option their front office would certainly entertain depending on which pieces they’d be forced to send the other way.
So which players could be leaving the Sunshine State? Well, it seems skaters like Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson are each potential trade candidates, as all three of them carry cap hits of at least $4.45 million next season and are signed through at least 2021-22. That being said, each of their deals includes some form of a trade clause and there’s a strong chance they all have Detroit as one of the locations they can’t be traded to without receiving their consent.
While it’d definitely be difficult to pull off this type of trade, Tampa Bay’s front office is desperate to clear some cap space and acquiring Zetterberg might be the best way to keep their young core together. If management can convince one of these expensive skaters to waive their no-trade clause, then Detroit would receive a top-six forward and might be able to land a draft pick or two in return as well.
Looking to fast-track their rebuilding process, this deal would certainly help the Red Wings move one step closer to achieving that goal and there’s a chance it’d also provide the team’s top young players someone who they could each lean on for advice moving forward.
Even though it’s a long shot to happen, Yzerman’s prior connections seem to make him the best-qualified person to execute this deal and it wouldn’t be shocking to watch him pull off the impossible before the 2020-21 campaign opens, whenever that actually happens.