With the Pittsburgh Penguins having recently been thrown into the same boat as the Detroit Red Wings—that being a team that's been eliminated from the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs—they too will be left facing a bevy of questions this offseason.
Indeed, Adam Gretz at SB Nation offers a terrific breakdown of the questions that will need answering in Pittsburgh this offseason, including those surrounding head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero.
Added to what will likely be an uncomfortable offseason in Pittsburgh is the fact that, per Cap Geek, the team will have just shy of $16 million in cap space to fill out a roster that only has 14 players under contract for next season. Given this imbalance, Pittsburgh is sure to sustain some losses via free agency this summer.
[sarcastic] Dear Dan Bylsma: Matt Niskanen is totally dead weight. Let him go. To Detroit :P [/sarcastic]— George Malik (@georgemalik) May 14, 2014
The largest potential loss could very well be 27-year-old defenseman Matt Niskanen.
Niskanen figures to be the most sought-after free-agent defender this summer, as he enjoyed a breakout year in the Steel City this season, posting 46 points (10 goals, 36 assists) and a team-best plus-33 rating.
Additionally, Niskanen is a right-handed shooter, which is particularly attractive to Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Both Mike Babcock and Ken Holland talked about their desire to have a right-handed shot on the blue line next season. #RedWings— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 29, 2014
All things considered, it seems quite reasonable to assume that the Red Wings will—and more to the point, should—pursue Niskanen as a free agent this summer. The question is, how hard should they pursue him?
Answering that question will likely come down to how much Detroit would be willing to offer Niskanen and for how long.
Given his performance this season, Niskanen will most definitely be seeking a significant raise from is 2013-14 salary of $2.3 million. Additionally, given his age, Niskanen could conceivably demand a long-term contract, perhaps up to the maximum length of seven years currently allowed under the CBA.
So, if Niskanen can be had, but only for big money and a long-term deal, how much would he actually be worth to the Detroit Red Wings?
Establishing value for a player who has but one stellar year on his resume is tough, but looking at the year in context can help.
Niskanen ranked 12th among defenseman in scoring this season, with the top three point-getters being the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Duncan Keith and the Nashville Predators' Shea Weber.
All three players are inked to long-term, lucrative contracts yielding cap hits of $5.3 million (Keith), $6.5 million (Karlsson) and $7.8 million (Weber). They are bona fide franchise players in the prime of their careers.
Detroit’s current top defenseman, Niklas Kronwall, turned in an impressive season of his own, ranking 10th among rearguards with 49 points (eight goals, 41 assists). Kronwall’s value to the team is evidenced by a $4.75 million annual cap hit through the 2018-19 season. Given Kronwall’s offensive prowess and leadership, the Red Wings are getting more than a positive return on their investment.
Looking at Niskanen once again, though he turned in an impressive performance this season that he can parlay into a lucrative deal, he’s clearly not among the upper echelon of NHL defenders.
Nevertheless, he presents a particularly attractive and much-needed package on Detroit’s blue line and, as such, should be pursued accordingly.
How hard should Ken Holland push to make Niskanen a Detroit Red Wing?
Referencing the dollars and term doled out to the very best of his peers, and based on Detroit’s current commitment to Kronwall, courting Niskanen with a five-year contract that would yield an annual cap hit of $4 million should be Holland’s strategy.
Given Niskanen’s numbers and the established market value of top defensemen, pursuing Niskanen via any offer beyond this kind of money and term would simply be pushing too hard.
All data courtesy of NHL.com and CapGeek.com unless otherwise noted.