With the 2014 Stanley Cup Final over and the compliance buyout period starting, it’s time to turn our attention to the NHL Draft and Free Agency. The Detroit Red Wings have a very intriguing offseason coming up, one that I’m particularly excited about. They have a lot of bad contracts expiring and should have somewhere in the range of $12-14 million in cap room once they re-sign their key restricted free agents (Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and Danny DeKeyser) and deal with the $3.2 million bonus overages from last year’s contracts.
The Salary Cap is rumored to be around $70-71 million because of the new TV contract with Rogers and the league revenue. The Red Wings have a payroll of $50.9 million for next season, for 18 players under contract. They’ll have 21 under contract as soon as they sign their restricted free agents, so what does this mean for their offseason plans? This would give them two free roster spots, three if they send Tomas Jurco down to Grand Rapids to start the season. I’m assuming one spot is reserved for Daniel Alfredsson and then another for a right-handed top 4 defenseman. This means that they would have either the last spot for Jurco or another free agent forward to try and bolster their top 6.
However much salary cap increases, DET won’t be able to take full advantage. Wings have more than $3M in bonus overage carrying forward.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) June 16, 2014
Jordin Tootoo was put on unconditional waivers to use up the last compliance buyout and it was also announced that Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson will be allowed to walk as well. So no more Daniel Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson, David Legwand, and Kyle Quincey. Interestingly enough, the Red Wings have been in contract talks with Daniel Cleary (sigh) and just signed Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year deal. I hoped that the Red Wings save the money and roll with a Jimmy Howard-Petr Mrazek tandem next year, and to give Mrazek more NHL playing time but apparently that won’t happen. Thankfully the Red Wings didn’t give Gustavsson the two-year contract that he wanted and so my plan for the future in net is just delayed a year. They also apparently had a verbal agreement to take care of Cleary if he signed with them last year, and I’m hoping they just set him up with a cushy job in the front office and not a roster spot. There’s talk of a two-way contract so that way if Cleary can’t cut it they can send him down, but that’s a waste in my opinion.
So that all being said, this leaves the Red Wings with one forward spot and one defenseman spot. As I said before, the Wings could either sign Alfredsson and keep Jurco up and roll with the same forward group as last year, or do what they normally do and send Jurco to the AHL for another year. Anthony Mantha is close, but I don’t know if there will be room on the roster for him right away. I expect Mantha to be one of, if not the first, player called up from Grand Rapids next year.
It may be in the Red Wings best interest to trade Joakim Andersson, so they can keep Alfredsson and Jurco and still sign another free agent forward. My two forwards that I would prefer to sign would be Thomas Vanek or Marian Gaborik. It’s well-known that Vanek is going to test the market and it would be nice to add another right-handed scoring winger. Gaborik will be more of a wait and see, because if the Los Angeles Kings buy out Mike Richards, the Kings would have enough money to sign Gaborik. Gaborik has had his career revitalized in LA and I think it would be smart for the Kings to keep him.
(Update: Mike Richards won’t be bought out by the Kings)
So if Vanek and Gaborik sign elsewhere, who are the other options? Well you could offer the 33-year-old Dany Heatley a lowball contract and bring him in, but I don’t see him being very effective at this point. If you trade Andersson, you could bring in Paul Stastny as another center, but he will probably want too much money. Mike Cammalleri, Ales Hemsky and Matt Moulson are three other options, and I think far more likely than the previous two. Hemsky and Moulson would be my two players of choice, but Hemsky turned down the Ottawa Senators offer of a three-year, $10 million deal so the Red Wings may not want to pay more than that.
Another option, via trade, is P.A. Paranteau. He’s apparently being shopped by the Colorado Avalanche and he would be another guy that could fit into the Red Wings lineup nicely. At the end of the day though, with Jurco and Mantha almost ready, I don’t see the Red Wings offering a long-term deal to any free agent forwards, which is what all of these guys would want. A final option would be to give a one-year deal to Jarome Iginla, if Vanek and Gaborik aren’t available and if he doesn’t sign with Boston.
Defensively it’s pretty simple.
Dan Boyle’s rights just got traded to the New York Islanders and Boyle said he won’t sign with them, but he has to be a backup option at this point. Matt Niskanen has to be the Red Wings number one target and he’ll be the number one target for a lot of teams. The Red Wings may end up having to overpay for him, but he’d be worth it. He’s a top 4 defenseman that is right-handed and can run the powerplay. On top of that, he’s a great puck mover and very sturdy in the d-zone. Boyle, meanwhile, would do a great job of filling in for a year or two, but he doesn’t solve the long-term need for another top 4 defenseman on the roster.
Quite frankly, if they miss on Niskanen, they might end up making a trade. I would love for them to sign P.K. Subban to an offer sheet, but that’s not Ken Holland’s style. I think if they don’t want to pay for Niskanen that trading for Alex Edler is the most likely option. He’s not right-handed, but the Red Wings always seem to be inquiring with the Canucks about Edler. I’m not sure that the Canucks would part with Edler, but the Wings will probably make an offer. Another option, one that I don’t want to happen, would be trading for Mike Green. He fits what the Red Wings are looking for a to a T, save for the fact that he’s not that reliable in the defensive zone.
In all honesty, the free agency pool is quite shallow at every position, but more so on the back-end. I’m not even sure there are many options better than Quincey on the open market and I dislike Quincey more than most. I’d say there are a fair amount of trade candidates for the blue line, and with a plethora of young prospects, I think a trade is most likely if they can’t get Niskanen or Boyle. Trading a guy like Tatar or Teemu Pulkinnen would be tough to do, but with Anthony Mantha on the way, the rise of Tomas Jurco and holes on the blue line, they may have to do it. Keith Yandle would be a fantastic option for the Wings and a guy like Dustin Byfuglien or Zach Bogosian could be discussed as well. The bottom line is, the Red Wings have a lot of good young prospects and they aren’t all going to be able to play at once and they won’t be able to pay them all if they pan out. That’s a key reason why the Red Wings will be hesitant to sign a free agent forward to any sort of deal that’s longer than a year or two, even if it is a guy like Gaborik or Vanek.
So after listing all of these possibilities, what would I do you ask?
Plan a) for me is to re-sign Daniel Alfredsson, offer a fat contract to Matt Niskanen and then I trade Joakim Andersson so I can go pickup Marian Gaborik or Thomas Vanek. This is literally best case scenario and probably the least likely one.
Plan b) is to re-sign Alfredsson, sign Niskanen and then roll with the current roster that they have. This is the most realistic option, in my opinion and not a bad one. Let the kids continue to get more playing time and see them develop. Then make a move at the trade deadline if you need too. Don’t panic and overpay in free agency.
Plan c/d) are to re-sign Alfredsson, sign Niskanen or Dan Boyle and then dump Andersson to keep Jurco up and then sign a secondary forward, like Ales Hemsky.
I’d really like to see them get rid of Joakim Andersson to free up a roster spot, but I’m not going to get my hopes up. I don’t see the Red Wings trying to overspend on players, especially since they don’t have any unrestricted free agents next summer and they will have to find money to sign Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Brendan Smith.
As much as it pains me to say it, because he’s one of my favorite players, it is probably time to trade Johan Franzen. Ken Holland has said that he’s not buying out Franzen and likely won’t trade him, but I think it’s time. If you miss on Niskanen, but can put together a package of Franzen, Tatar and Kindl for Keith Yandle, then you probably have to do it. It frees up roster space for younger guys coming up and will help their development.
As I said, this is a very interesting offseason and there are more possibilities than ever for the Red Wings. Hopefully they spend their money wisely and most importantly, sign Matt Niskanen. This team isn’t getting any younger and Mike Babcock isn’t going to be the Red Wings Head Coach forever, it’s time to utilize the assets you have now and try to go and get a Stanley Cup before Babcock goes back to Canada to coach and before Pavel Datsyuk goes back to Russia.