Moves That Would Make Detroit Red Wings Instant Contenders
However, Detroit has finished no higher than fifth in its conference over the last three seasons and could be primed to turn it around this summer.
Before re-signing any of its own free agents, Detroit has approximately $20 million in cap space to obtain the services of some key unemployed talents.
The Red Wings could use a little bit of everything, but possibly re-signing backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson could help bring a little more clarity to the big picture.
There are a few big-name free agents that would fit both want and need, but there may be a couple bold and cold decisions that could make for a “perfect” summer for the Red and White.
These are the moves that would make the Red Wings instant Stanley Cup contenders in 2014-15.
Let Every Veteran Free Agent Go
Before any other decision can be made, Detroit will need to clean the expired products out of the cupboard.
Veteran skaters Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary, David Legwand, Kyle Quincey and Mikael Samuelsson are all unrestricted free agents and aren’t likely to be back. A compliance buyout for Jordin Tootoo may be on the horizon as well.
This leaves Daniel Alfredsson the only question mark.
The 41-year-old has certainly earned the right to take his time deciding on his hockey future, but for Detroit’s sake, his return should come at a price significantly lower than last season’s $5.5 million.
Yes, only $3.5 million counted against the salary cap with $2 million in bonuses, but more bang for Detroit's buck could be found elsewhere. Another contract of that size for a declining veteran would handicap the team when free agency opens July 1.
His 49 points tied for the team lead last season, but he wasn’t in the lineup consistently down the stretch with chronic back ailments and only played in three of the team’s five postseason games. It may be in the Wings' best interest to find that production on the open market.
A one-year deal with Jonas Gustavsson would make sense even with his penchant for injury. He was solid in the backup role and would be a bargain for the same $1.5 million he made over the last two seasons.
If Holland can enter free agency with the approximate $19 million in space implied by these decisions, the financial flexibility could allow for some creativity.
Sign Matt Niskanen
As someone who has been clamoring for Matt Niskanen, this writer was ready to admit that signing Dan Boyle would be the best decision Detroit could make.
Thursday afternoon, the New York Islanders traded a conditional 2015 fifth-round pick to San Jose for the rights to Boyle, per NHL.com. Should he sign with New York before the start of the season, it will become a fourth-round pick.
That changes things.
With Boyle possibly off the market, Niskanen becomes significantly more valuable and likely more expensive. Only Boyle's negotiating rights were dealt, so it is possible he balks at an offer and still hits free agency.
Niskanen had a breakout year, and at 27 years old, he's likely looking for a lucrative, long-term deal. Detroit was willing to offer Ryan Suter $90 million over 13 years a few summers ago; however, Niskanen won't draw elite-level money.
Detroit hasn’t had a right-handed, puck-moving defenseman since Brian Rafalski retired in 2011. It is very high on prospects Ryan Sproul and Alexei Marchenko, but a deal with Niskanen would have more of an immediate impact.
He made $2.3 million annually over the last two years but will seek a significant pay increase wherever he signs.
It's possible because of such a small sample size that he won't warrant much over $5 million per season. Detroit is only paying its top defenseman, Niklas Kronwall, $4.75 per season.
After Kronwall’s 49 points, Detroit is starved for production from its blue line, with only Dan DeKeyser totaling more than 20 points (23) this past season.
Niskanen is the top free-agent defenseman and is likely to lure multiple teams into a bidding war. Detroit would be wise to remove itself from the situation, but its hand may be forced at this point.
Free agency is a new animal, and Detroit has remained quite frugal in recent years, but perhaps this is the time the team goes all in.
Sign Marian Gaborik
Detroit is in need of a guy who can put the puck in the net in any situation. Marian Gaborik is that kind of sniper who seems to have rediscovered his rhythm.
Just a few summers ago, Detroit put all of its eggs in the Ryan Suter-Zach Parise basket and came up empty.
There is no evidence that says Detroit could spend this kind of money, but it also hasn’t had this much financial flexibility in the salary-cap era. Making a run at Gaborik and Matt Niskanen would immediately put the Wings in the Stanley Cup conversation.
With a significant amount still in hand after the hypothetical signings of Jonas Gustavsson and Niskanen, Gaborik could receive an offer hovering around $6 million annually while still leaving ample room to sign the team’s restricted free agents.
As a member of the Kings, Gaborik posted five goals and 16 points in 19 regular-season games. He has elevated his game with 12 goals and 19 points in 22 playoff games.
The 13-year veteran has amassed seven 30-goal seasons, including three 40-goal campaigns since 2008. Detroit last enjoyed an individual with 30 goals in 2009 when Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each eclipsed the mark.
Although Gaborik made $7.5 million annually over the last five seasons, $6 million per year is nothing to shake a stick at. That price over a long-term deal could make it easier for him to settle. Holland isn’t likely to go any higher, seeing as team captain Henrik Zetterberg makes $6.08 million.
Detroit failed to re-sign Hossa after the 2009 season, and this writer thinks Gaborik could be the move that finally picks up that dropped ball.
Secure Upcoming Restricted Free Agents
This part is the trickiest—and possibly the most unrealistic.
Detroit's disappointment in Jakub Kindl is evident, and perhaps a trade leading up to or during the draft could free up an extra $2.4 million to secure players integral to the team’s future.
On the blue line, Detroit will replace Kyle Quincey with Matt Niskanen (hypothetically), and inking restricted free agent Dan DeKeyser is a must.
Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan are the other RFAs who will both receive multiyear contracts and suitable raises.
The toughest part following these moves is keeping an eye on Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco and Petr Mrazek. They’re all entering contract years and will be RFAs in 2015.
The Red Wings front office has a lot to discuss regarding the immediate direction of the club, but securing the future of the franchise is paramount.
The young core of players working their way into the NHL ranks will help transition the team from one era to the next, as Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen are all over the age of 33.
While Detroit certainly enjoyed the efforts of those prospects who filled the voids left by injury last season, players like Sheahan and Jurco could still begin next season in the AHL. Rather than consider it a demotion, it could provide motivation to continue to improve.
Projected 2014-15 Lineup
- Henrik Zetterberg—Pavel Datsyuk—Marian Gaborik
- Johan Franzen—Stephen Weiss—Gustav Nyquist
- Tomas Tatar—Darren Helm—Justin Abdelkader
- Drew Miller—Luke Glendening—Tomas Jurco
- Extras: Riley Sheahan, Mitch Callahan
- Niklas Kronwall—Matt Niskanen
- Dan DeKeyser—Jonathan Ericsson
- Brendan Smith—Brian Lashoff
- Extra: Xavier Ouellet
- Jimmy Howard
- Jonas Gustavsson
- Henrik Zetterberg—Pavel Datsyuk—Marian Gaborik
- Matt Niskanen—Niklas Kronwall
- Tomas Tatar—Johan Franzen—Gustav Nyquist
- Brendan Smith—Dan DeKeyser