Early Winners and Losers of the Detroit Red Wings' Offseason
Halfway through the opening month of free agency, the Detroit Red Wings don’t look a whole lot different from last season.
After spending last year’s offseason trying to sort out the crowded lineup, Detroit virtually recreated a similar situation this summer.
After being soundly rejected in free agency, the Red Wings chose to re-sign some of its veteran players to fill the void.
While the offseason has not gone according to plan, Detroit still made moves to fill its roster for the upcoming campaign.
Regardless of whether those moves are revered in Hockeytown, the club will be competing for a 24th consecutive postseason appearance. From players who scored nice contracts to front-office personnel who couldn’t attract key targets, this summer has been full of winners and losers.
The following includes the individual members of the Red Wings organization who found themselves among the victors and the disappointments so far this offseason.
Winner: Daniel Cleary
A move that perplexed a lot of the hockey universe, the Detroit Red Wings re-signed veteran winger Dan Cleary.
After a disappointing 2013-14 season in which he totaled four goals and eight points in 52 games, Cleary scored a one-year, $1.5 million deal with another $1 million in performance bonuses.
The decision to sign him was done out of loyalty rather than to stock up on forwards. General manager Ken Holland discussed it, per Ansar Khan of MLive.com:
"He's worked hard in the gym, done things to get himself back, we're hoping Dan Cleary can bounce back. He'll be good insurance. He'll have to beat people out to be in the lineup.”
Knee issues hampered him last season when a reaction to an injection ended his season in January. He hopes to be ready to compete for a roster spot this spring, per Khan:
“It’s a competition. I’m going to go in with an open mind, work hard on and off the ice and see where the chips fall.”
He is an experienced veteran with excellent leadership qualities, but his play on the ice in recent years has been less than impressive. If he can manage to stay healthy, he’ll still have to battle Detroit’s upstart youngsters to crack the lineup.
Loser: Jakub Kindl
He makes $2.4 million against the salary cap in each of the next three seasons, and if Detroit is to pursue an impact defenseman, it’ll need the space on both the roster and under the cap.
There is really no situation in Detroit where Kindl wins. The 27-year-old Czech hasn’t established himself as an NHL regular, and the club will look for improvement either from within or in the trade market.
Detroit is high on three young prospects in its system, with Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko all seeing time in the NHL last season.
Kindl isn’t likely to rise any higher than a bottom pairing in Detroit, and he could be better suited for an opportunity with another club.
Winner: Jonas Gustavsson
In 2013-14, Jimmy Howard fought through injury and inconsistency, while Jonas Gustavsson posted his best season as a professional.
Although he was the backup, Gustavsson finished with a 16-5-4 record, a 2.63 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He started Detroit’s final two postseason games—his first career playoff appearances —finishing with a 2.71 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
It was thought Detroit may promote talented prospect Petr Mrazek for the upcoming season, but it elected to re-sign the Monster for one more year at $1.85 million. He made $1.5 million annually over two seasons under his previous contract.
His play certainly earned the opportunity, and his admirable performance in a last-minute playoff start was clutch. Although Detroit lost in both of his starts, he stopped 66 of 72 shots through 133 minutes against the top-seeded Boston Bruins.
Detroit needs to show improvement on the back end, and having reliable goaltending is part of the equation. Re-upping with Gustavsson should help clean some things up.
Loser: Tomas Jurco
The Detroit Red Wings are high on Tomas Jurco, who continues to show some flash even during the offseason.
Unfortunately, the moves made so far this summer could have cost him a spot on the roster for the start of the regular season.
Signing Dan Cleary adds another forward into the mix for competition, and with multiple players returning from injury, Detroit is once again overloaded.
Jurco scored eight goals and 15 points in 36 games with the Red Wings last season and was hoping to secure his place as a regular in 2013-14. He recorded zero points in the playoffs and was a healthy scratch for the final two postseason games.
The 21-year-old is one of Detroit’s top prospects, but his waiver exemption will likely land him back in Grand Rapids to start the season. It is not expected he’ll spend the entire year in the AHL, as he is too good to remain buried for another season.
He’ll get his opportunity in Detroit soon, but consistent time in the NHL may not be as close as last season indicated.
Winner: Riley Sheahan
One of Detroit’s best moves this offseason, the re-signing of Riley Sheahan, was a no-brainer.
The 22-year-old center was recalled from Grand Rapids last season as a spot-filler and wound up becoming one of the team’s best contributors in multiple facets.
In 42 games, he totaled nine goals and 24 points while centering the “Kid line” with fellow prospects Tomas Tatar and Tomas Jurco.
Sheahan inked a one-way, two-year deal for $1.9 million. Ken Holland discussed the transaction, per Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press:
“We gave Riley the same deal Gustav Nyquist signed his last time. It’s a one-way deal for two years, gives Riley an opportunity to establish himself as an NHL player.”
Detroit’s lack of depth at the center position makes Sheahan’s spot on the NHL roster almost a certainty. He is no longer waiver exempt, and a spot on the fourth line should not be too difficult to lock down.
He became a go-to player for Detroit when injuries decimated the lineup. He carried the weight at both ends of the ice and was often paired against the opposition's top lines.
If he can continue to improve in the upcoming season, Detroit will be able to run four lines with confidence.
Loser: Anthony Mantha
It’s hard to find anything about Anthony Mantha that can deem him a loser, but Detroit’s offseason found a way to do so.
With the likelihood of Tomas Jurco beginning his season in the AHL, Mantha’s place in Grand Rapids is close to a mathematical certainty.
The QMJHL’s reigning scoring champion will get every opportunity to make the NHL roster out of camp, but there are a few players who may get the nod before him. Mantha discussed the road ahead, per Brendan Savage of MLive.com:
I need to keep working, keep getting stronger – on the ice, off the ice. At main camp, I need to be ready mentally so if they give me a chance I need to take it right away. I'll come over here with the best thinking and we'll build off that…The skill level is there.
It isn’t too sad of a story, seeing as he’s just 19 years old and has an incredibly high ceiling. Should he show his scoring prowess consistently in the AHL, then the NHL will come calling soon after.
Red Wings Central has him listed as the club’s top prospect, and he could be on the fast track to the big league.
Winner: Kyle Quincey
After it seemed Detroit would part ways with Kyle Quincey, the unfortunate trip to the free-agent market was cause for the two sides to reunite.
Quincey inked a two-year, $8.5 million contract, a $475,000 annual raise from his previous deal. Detroit was unable to sign any of its free-agent targets, and Quincey quickly re-entered the fold.
He struggled at the beginning of the 2013-14 season but rebounded nicely in the second half with a plus-11 rating after the New Year. He was one of just two players on the roster to play in all 82 games (Drew Miller the other).
The 28-year-old is entering his seventh NHL season, but he's totaled just eight goals and 20 points in 149 games over two stints with the Red Wings.
He posted four goals, 13 points and a minus-five rating in 2013-14. Given that he isn’t relied on to score, his $4.25 million annual cap hit is a lot for a second-pair blueliner.
Quincey may be the club’s biggest winner this offseason, going from presumably expendable to a near half-million-dollar raise. Detroit still has just over $8 million in cap space, but better (and cheaper) options may have been available.
Loser: Mike Babcock
One of the best coaches in the NHL, Mike Babcock has a few things to consider heading into next season.
Babcock finished 2013-14 as a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy and was a compelling candidate after leading Detroit to its 23rd consecutive playoff appearance despite suffering 421 man-games lost to injury.
He is entering the final year of his contract and has declared, per St. James, he will not discuss an extension once the season begins.
Above all, he probably had hoped Ken Holland would acquire a right-handed defenseman to add balance to his lineup, but the general manager was unable to reel one in from the free-agent pool.
Babcock will head into the 2013-14 season with his work cut out for him. Detroit could make a deal between now and then, but the lineup appears nearly identical to last year’s.
There is no doubt that he’ll continue to preach his competitive spirit and draw the best out of his players, but without improvement, the team may once again have to battle for each and every point.
Winner: Stephen Weiss
Stephen Weiss could wind up being Detroit’s biggest addition this upcoming season.
Hindered by the same nagging groin injury all season, Weiss was unable to make any sort of impact in 2013-14 and missed a chunk of the season following sports hernia surgery.
Weiss signed a five-year, $24.5 million deal last summer and was expected to center Detroit’s second line. In 2014-15, he’ll look to do the same and actually appears to be healthy and ready.
Ken Holland stated, “So far all reports are he’s healed and ready to roll in September,” per Ansar Khan of MLive.com.
Having Weiss healthy gives Detroit the depth at center it lacked last season and also allows Babcock to pair up Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Detroit did not give up on Weiss after a disappointing first year with the team. He has a lot of work ahead of him to earn his place, but it appears he’ll finally be 100 percent.
The time the summer gave him to heal and rehabilitate is invaluable. Having him in shape and ready can be the biggest boost Detroit could get up front.
He’ll need to perform above expectations to appease critics after last season, but a bounce-back season appears to be on the horizon.
Loser: Ken Holland
Ken Holland has been among the league’s top general managers for some time, but he is certainly one of Detroit’s biggest disappointments this offseason.
It is not for a lack of effort, as he offered both Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle more money than they ultimately settled for with their respective teams.
Holland had the money to make a splash, and he intended to spend it appropriately to improve his club. When it didn’t work out, his secondary decisions were puzzling and underwhelming.
Re-signing Kyle Quincey for more than $4 million annually was questionable, but to retain the services of 35-year-old Dan Cleary was confounding.
He has still assembled a club that will compete for a playoff spot, as it has each of the past 23 seasons. While fans were hoping for a bigger splash, having this current team healthy and ready for the start of the season is still something to get excited about.
Detroit will have depth and reliability at the important positions up front, but something should still be done to improve the defense. Detroit has multiple viable options before the season starts, and a deal could be swung to upgrade the current roster.
The pressure is on Holland moving forward, but if he’s proven anything since taking over as general manager, it is that the Red Wings are always in contention.