The Detroit Red Wings pulled off a shocker in free agency when they signed Daniel Alfredsson. Alfredsson had been the long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators and it was assumed that he would either re-sign with them or retire.
Instead, he decided to come to Detroit in hopes of winning his first Stanley Cup.
This is a big gamble for both sides. With the addition of Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss, the Red Wings have certainly moved up in the pecking order. However, they still will not be considered any type of favorite to win the Cup. The moves have put them into the bottom of the second level of teams that are chasing the favorites Pittsburgh, Chicago and Boston.
Detroit and Ottawa both finished with 56 points. Detroit did so while playing many younger players. It stands to reason that, with their improvement and the experience that they have gained with the addition of Alfredsson and Weiss, the team will be even better. Perhaps not good enough to risk what could be your final season. But, he saw something in Detroit that he liked and felt that he could make a difference.
For the Red Wings, this signing is a long-term vs short-term battle. With Damien Brunner hitting the open market, Alfredsson has essentially taken his place. Obviously, Alfredsson has a much longer history of success. However, at 40-years-old, how much longer can he hold up? With Brunner, the team would be signing a 27-year-old who has only played one season in the NHL.
With such a short resume, it is hard to determine what Brunner can be. He started off hot, with 10 goals in his first 19 games. He then cooled off as he only managed to score twice over the final 25 games. He then got hot in the playoffs as he led the team with five goals over 14 games.
With such a limited NHL-level career, it is difficult to determine a safe value for Brunner. A two- or three-year deal for up to $3 million per year seemed reasonable. The team has been tight lipped on what they did offer him. Brunner decided to test the market in search of a long-term, bigger payday.
In Brunner, they had a player with tremendous upside who, if signed for several years, should only get better. With Alfredsson, they get a proven player but one at the end of his career. Just looking at last year’s stats gives the slight nod to Alfredsson. He has long been known as a good two-way player and his point per game average outpaced Brunner's .59 to .55.
What would have been the better move?
So this comes down to a one-year gamble. Can Alfredsson continue his strong play and bring experience and leadership to the team? Will that be enough to push the team to the top, or would having Brunner for the long haul have been a better option? Of course, no move happens in a vacuum and it was not a simple one-for-one swap. The organization has several young players in Grand Rapids who over the next two seasons will be pushing for playing time.
In a perfect world, the team would be able to move some players which would allow them to re-sign Brunner. However, that seems unlikely. The bigger question is how this roster rounds out, as GM Ken Holland will need to ease the crowded forward situation. Another major issue is if they will bring up players from Grand Rapids or stick with aging, ineffective players like Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson. After the surprising success that the team had in the playoffs this season, a few smart moves could get them closer to contention as the season rolls on.
For Ken Holland, the Alfredsson gamble could end up one being one of the best, or worst, moves of his career.