On Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings put 37-year-old forward Mikael Samuelsson on waivers.
While he is the third veteran Detroit Red Wing to be waived this season (forwards Jordin Tootoo and Patrick Eaves were waived earlier this year), Samuelsson’s movement is notable inasmuch as it has nothing to do with clearing salary cap space and everything to do with clearing a roster spot.
As the Red Wings slowly return to health, those currently occupying place-holder spots on Detroit’s roster will need to be shuffled off to make room for returning players.
However, the fact that Samuelsson, and not rookies like Luke Glendening or Riley Sheahan, is now in Grand Rapids indicates that Detroit general manager Ken Holland is willing to eat what's left of Samuelsson's $3 million cap hit simply to clear him from the Red Wings’ plate.
Does this mean that Holland will finally shake loose his notorious bias towards signing over-the-hill players to fill out his team’s roster?
Not to say this strategy has not yielded some amazing results in the past.
Holland has made some significant hay by employing a decidedly geezer-friendly bias when signing free agents. For example, Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille in 2001, Brian Rafalski and Dallas Drake in 2007 and Daniel Alfredsson last summer.
However, Samuelsson and the aforementioned Tootoo, both brought in during the summer of 2012, now seem to represent that this way of doing business is over—or perhaps should be—in Detroit.
Samuelsson was acquired via a two-year, $6 million contract, and Tootoo landed a three-year deal worth $5.7 million to come to Detroit.
That's an $11.7 million investment in two players that have collectively contributed 13 points and a minus-10 rating in 82 games played over two seasons.
While Samuelsson's 2012-13 season was essentially wiped out due to multiple injuries and Tootoo was acquired for his bellicosity rather than his (minimal) offensive skills, these numbers might appear to paint an unfair picture of the true return they've brought on Ken Holland’s investment.
However, the fact that both of these players have now been tucked away in the minors, not likely to be seen again in Detroit, says everything about just how necessary these signings were in the first place.
Holland has essentially taken a mulligan on Samuelsson and Tootoo. The GM would be hard-pressed to profess that he'd make these deals if he was able to go back and do it again.
But does this have any bearing on how Holland will make his roster decisions over the summer?
This year’s free-agent crop figures to offer a mixed bag of overpriced and declining players, like Dany Heatley and Marian Gaborik, and former stars, like Jarome Iginla, Dan Boyle and Kimmo Timonen.
Just looking at those names, it is not hard to imagine Ken Holland getting a little excited about the prospect of adding one or two of them over the summer, given his established proclivity towards signing just these kinds of players.
Still, Samuelsson’s departure might be indicative of a bit of a sea change in Detroit. That the team is willing to keep Glendening, Sheahan or Tomas Jurco on the roster—along with their relative ignorance and inexperience—in order to benefit from their youth and tenacity reveals that Mr. Holland’s Home for the Elderly may just be closing its doors.
As this observer has noted previously, Ken Holland has demonstrated a near-erotic attraction to signing veteran free agents over the years. But, like all fetishes, the associated thrill has a shelf life, and we may have just seen this particular one reach its expiration date.
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