Detroit Red Wings Are Free-Agency Losers, but How Big Are the Losses?

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Detroit Red Wings Are Free-Agency Losers, but How Big Are the Losses?
Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

Though 2014 NHL free agency is still just hours old, the winners and losers among the league’s 30 teams have already emerged—the Detroit Red Wings find themselves among the latter group.

Despite intense interest and pursuit of top free-agent defenders in Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Boyle and Matt Niskanen, the Red Wings remain flush with cash but not blue-line talent.

Make no mistake about it—the Detroit Red Wings at present are a weaker team than they would have been with one of those three players on the back end. However, regarding how big the Red Wings lost today, history may look more favorably upon them than currently seems possible.

The two-year gap that reportedly existed between the three-year contract Detroit preferred and the five-year deal Ehrhoff was seeking apparently wasn’t an issue for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Ehrhoff signed a ridiculously reasonable one-year, $4 million deal to play for the Penguins—and that within the first hour of free agency.

Clearly, Detroit—nor any other team—was not an option for Ehrhoff. He quite apparently left Buffalo with clear intentions of continuing his career in the Steel City and simply made it happen.

Additionally, Ehrhoff wasn’t even considered an option until mere days ago, when the Sabres used their compliance buyout on the Swede. Even then, he did not possess the right-handed shot the team has so vocally coveted in a free-agent acquisition.

Chalking up Ehrhoff as a swing and a miss for Detroit only makes sense if they in fact got a swing at bat in the first place—which doesn’t look to be the case here.

Boyle was a long-coveted free-agent defender in Detroit and, though in the twilight of his career at 38 years old, represented a very real potential upgrade on Detroit’s blue line.

However, Boyle will now be suiting up for the New York Rangers for the next two seasons at $4.5 million per season.

Unlike Ehrhoff, Boyle represents a very clear miss inasmuch as the price and terms of the deal that got him to New York were easily within Detroit’s ability to offer. For whatever reason, Boyle saw signing on with the 2013-14 Eastern Conference champions as a more attractive option than coming to a team that finished as the eighth seed in the same conference.

If one wants to lament the fact that the Red Wings missed out on Boyle, that’s understandable. However, aside from his right-handed shot and veteran experience, Boyle’s value in Detroit would have been an evolving calculation in 2014-15.

The top free-agent prize of the summer, Matt Niskanen, was looked upon with envious eyes by most of the league even before the season ended, and Detroit was no exception. Given his age (27) and career year in Pittsburgh, the hockey world knew Niskanen was set to cash in big as a free agent this summer.

Cash in, he did.

Niskanen will know be anchoring the blue line in Washington by virtue of a seven-year, $40.25 million contract. Should the 46 points he scored during the regular season in 2013-14 prove to be his floor over the next several years, the deal will go down as a bargain. However, if his career year more closely resembles his ceiling, his cost may quickly outpace his value.

The point is, even if Detroit was willing to pay Niskanen $1 million more than their current No. 1 defender Niklas Kronwall (who racked up 49 points of his own last season), and that for the next seven years, it would have been a big bet to place on a player with exactly one outstanding season in his seven-year NHL career.

While it’s safe to say the Red Wings lost out on Ehrhoff, Boyle and Niskanen today, the size of these losses may not be as large as they appear at the moment.

*All stats courtesy of NHL.com and CapGeek.com unless otherwise noted.

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