5 Free Agents Detroit Red Wings Have a Realistic Chance to Sign
Of Detroit’s seven unrestricted free agents, Helene St. James of USA Today suggests Todd Bertuzzi, Daniel Cleary, David Legwand, Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Quincey and Jonas Gustavsson are unlikely to return next season.
That leaves Detroit in the market for at least one player at each position, with a particularly shallow pool of talent that can provide immediate impact.
The league’s worst-kept secret is Detroit’s need for an impact right-handed defenseman. Up front, it may make a push for a top-six forward, but that’s not a dire need with the emergence of young talent within its farm system.
Looking up and down the list of free-agent players on the market, there are a few that fit the Red Wings' wants and could be had for a decent price.
With July 1 on the horizon, these are five free agents with a realistic chance of signing on Detroit’s dotted line.
Matt Niskanen, D
During the pre-salary-cap days of the NHL, Matt Niskanen to the Detroit Red Wings would be a near guarantee.
Detroit has almost $20 million in cap space this offseason, and the 27-year-old’s skill set and right-handed shot make him the ideal candidate to fill Detroit’s blue-line vacancy.
He finished the 2013-14 season with career highs in nearly every category (10 goals, 46 points, plus-33) and will likely fetch a healthy income over the course of a long-term deal this summer.
Detroit isn’t likely to overspend on Niskanen, who, as the top free-agent defenseman, is likely to rake in some serious cash.
Is he worth it for Detroit? That remains to be seen. As really the only healthy player on Pittsburgh’s blue line this season, he was outstanding. He fits Detroit’s need better than any other player on the market.
Niskanen showcased his ability on the man advantage, totaling 15 power-play points. After Niklas Kronwall (25), Detroit had three defensemen combine for just 12 power-play points.
There is no doubt he’d get an excellent opportunity in Detroit, but if caught in a bidding war, he simply could be too expensive for the Red Wings.
Dan Boyle, D
After six seasons with the San Jose Sharks, Dan Boyle will find himself wearing a new uniform for the 2014-15 season.
At 37 years old, Boyle was looking for more than a one-year deal and San Jose wasn’t willing to make that commitment. He made $6.67 million annually over the course of his time in San Jose and isn’t likely to reach a deal anywhere near that this summer.
Boyle spoke with Kevin Kurz of CSNBayArea.com about the situation:
It’s definitely tough, but it’s exciting at the same time, it’s a confusing time, but it is what it is. It’s a business, and at the end of the day, things happen. I’m obviously crushed and hurt with what’s happened, but I’m a competitor. I want to win the Stanley Cup. That’s what I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to the next opportunity.
That opportunity could come as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
Ansar Khan of MLive.com has linked Boyle to Detroit, should Niskanen’s cost be too high. He would fill the void, and Detroit has a penchant for seeking veteran blueliners.
He is a right-handed, offensive-minded defenseman that Detroit could utilize for a lesser price. At most, he would require a two-year deal and would help buy some time for Detroit’s young defensive prospects to bloom in the AHL.
While it wouldn’t be the big splash or long-term solution Red Wings fans may want, Boyle fits the profile and the lower price would make sense.
Tom Gilbert, D
Tom Gilbert is an interesting possibility if Detroit chooses to balk at spending high on defense this summer.
The 31-year-old former Florida Panther played on a one-year contract worth $900,000 last season after receiving a buyout from the Minnesota Wild the year before. Playing alongside Brian Campbell for the majority of the campaign, he posted three goals and 28 points in 73 games.
He was a good complement to Campbell, which bodes well should he pair up with Niklas Kronwall on the top pairing. Gilbert underwent core-muscle surgery in March and is expected to make a full recovery in time for the season.
Gilbert—like Boyle and Niskanen—brings a right-handed shot, but also stands 6’2” and 206 pounds. His size could be an added benefit to Detroit’s back end, helping compensate for its smaller size up front.
According to Extra Skater, Kronwall (51.9) and Brendan Smith (53.9) were the only Red Wings to finish with a higher five-on-five Corsi percentage than Gilbert (51.7) in 2013-14.
He isn’t the ideal candidate, as he doesn’t have the same offensive prowess as Boyle and Niskanen, but Gilbert could be a significant bargain. The extra money saved could help Detroit re-sign restricted free agents Tomas Tatar, Dan DeKeyser and Riley Sheahan, and perhaps make a run at a high-end, free-agent forward.
Detroit will get what it pays for from Gilbert. He is not an elite talent, but can be a healthy complement to a blue line that needs stability as much as it does production.
Mike Cammalleri, C
Detroit likes versatile talent up front, and a guy like Mike Cammalleri could certainly fit alongside its top-six forwards.
Capable of playing at both center and wing, Cammalleri would add a nice scoring touch to a team that had just one 20-goal scorer in 2013-14. He has cracked the 20-goal plateau four times in the last six seasons between Calgary and Montreal.
The former University of Michigan standout has scored 502 points in his 11-year career, including 39 goals and 82 points with Calgary in 2008-09. He isn’t at that same scoring level anymore, but could still be a bargain scorer in this summer’s market.
Detroit is a team designed to succeed using speed and skill. Therefore, size is not a priority. Cammalleri’s 5’9” frame is by no means imposing, but he’s still a quality asset.
Calgary refrained from making a trade at the deadline, likely in hopes that the veteran would re-sign with the club. New Flames general manager Brad Treliving has his hands full this offseason and could try to keep him in a veteran leadership role.
At 31 years old, though, joining a contender could be in Cammalleri’s mind. He has only played in the postseason three times—Calgary once and twice with Montreal—but hasn’t made an appearance since 2011.
Detroit has the cap space to accommodate his wishes, only he won’t receive the $6 million he made on average over the last five seasons.
He hasn’t put up the numbers to demand such a deal, and Detroit could make for a mutual fit.
Joey MacDonald, G
There are a couple of stipulations before this could happen, but a return to Detroit for Joey MacDonald is not out of the question.
After spending the last two seasons with the Calgary Flames, the 34-year-old veteran is an unrestricted free agent and made just $925,000 last season.
Before it could happen, the Red Wings must decide the immediate future of goaltending prospect Petr Mrazek. The youngster put together another fine season in Grand Rapids of the AHL, while also registering a 1.74 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts with Detroit in the NHL.
It is possible that Mrazek would require another year to hone his skills before given a full NHL opportunity.
If the Red Wings choose to go that route, they could consider re-signing Jonas Gustavsson. Over the course of his career, Gustavsson has been quite injury-prone, with last season being no different. The constant ailments could be why Detroit shies away from the 29-year-old.
This brings us back to MacDonald.
Although he is closer to the end of his career than the beginning, he’s a capable backup who is familiar with the club as well as starter Jimmy Howard. The transition with a new backup wouldn’t be an issue, and MacDonald could help relieve Howard's workload.
Bringing familiarity and a cheap price tag, he could prove to be the most prudent decision for the Wings this offseason.