NHL Free Agency: Detroit Red Wings Miss out on Big Names, but Save Big Money

Matt Hutter@mahutter12Analyst IJuly 2, 2011

Did you ever score a nice wad of cash for a birthday when you were a kid?

Maybe you banked 100, even 150 bucks from caring but unimaginative aunts, uncles, grandmas and grandpas who thought a 10-year-old would make a better financial decision with their money than they could.

You get your mom to take you to the mall where visions of new hockey sticks, video games and the hottest new toys dance through your head.

As you survey the options, you realize most of what you wanted to get simply isn't available.

You might fork over $10 or so on some hockey cards and candy, just to whet your appetite for the spending spree you had your heart set on, but ultimately go home still up 140 clams, and without any major goodies to show for it.

This is essentially what happened to the Detroit Red Wings yesterday.

As July 1st approached, all in Hockeytown, including Ken Holland, expected the Wings to be quite active and ready to make a serious dent in the $16 million of cap space they had to replace retired defender Brian Rafalski, shore up the rest of the defense, and add a secondary scorer or two.

But, when the day came, those big ticket items the Wings and Wings fans were so eager to get their hands on simply weren't available.

Kevin Bieksa?

Long since locked up by the Cancucks.

Christian Ehrhoff?

Nope, looks like he's a Sabre for life.

James Wisniewski?

Fresh out (though how he swung that kind of money I have no idea).

Three of the players the Wings could have made a serious pitch for to replace Rafalski were gone before the doors of the 2011 Free Agency store even opened.

What they were left with was older models like Ed Jovonaski and Sean O'Donnell to pick through.

Calls were made, offers were tendered, but ultimately, the asking price for these players was simply too high on a day that is destined to go down as a drunken spend fest that some GM's will surely regret as they sober up and realize what they've done.

The Wings weren't exactly inactive on this day.

They did lock up valuable depth players like Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller.

This after securing defenseman Jonathan Ericsson for three-years at a price tag of $3.25 per year.

Relative to his actual value, the price is clearly inflated.

However, with the way the spending trended on July 1st, it would be conceivable that some desperate GM would have thrown a five-year, $25 million deal at the young Swede, just to say they spent all they could on improving their team.

Ericsson is going to be a controversial cap hit if and until he rounds out into the legitimate top-four defender his skills and size suggest he can be, but his head has so far kept him from becoming.

In the end, $3.25 million per year could be a steal or an albatross, only time will tell.

The one non-home town signing was, at least to my mind, an absolute wild card—Mike Commodore.

Commodore has at various times in his career been a legitimate top-four defenseman, an overpaid No. 5 blueliner and a Stanley Cup champion.

His 6' 5" frame is certainly welcome size to a relatively undersized defense, and his penchant for goonery and fisticuffs may actually turn out to be uniquely valuable in Detroit.

At one year and $1 million, he's essentially a no-risk signing.

If he bombs, well, so what, he didn't cost hardly anything at all.

If he excels, well, Holland will again look like a front office genius.

The history between Commodore and head coach Mike Babcock is an interesting sub-plot to his signing as Commodore had publicly expressed his belief that Babcock had been an "obstacle" in his career.

Upon his becoming a Red Wing however, the two have apparently spoken and have agreed to let bygones be themselves.

So, the first day of free-agency in Detroit has left the team with no major additions, a few minor retentions and a heap of cash on which to sit.

If, as a fan, you're disappointed by all this, well, I can understand that, but consider this—what choice did Ken Holland have but to spend way too much on a guy like Ed Jovonaski or get into a bidding war for a money-hungry Jaromir Jagr?

As unsatisfying as it is, Ken Holland has done the right thing by his team and his cap space to simply play it cool and let others overpay for diminishing talent.

Had Bieksa, Ehrhoff or Wisniewski hit the open market and one of them had not become a Red Wing, then I'd have been quite puzzled and disappointed in Holland's ineptitude.

But none of these guys were options, and rather than spend for spending's sake, Holland made a few small purchases and saved his cash for a rainy day.

Now, there are still options out there.

I have mixed emotions on Tomas Kaberle coming to Detroit, but, for the right price, he could be a good get and add some of the offense that left with Rafalski's retirement.

Additionally, with over $9 million in cap space, the Wings could simply wait until September, or hell, wait until the season starts to see exactly what they have on the ice with the roster as is—and then make a trade to fill what needs they may have.

With that much cap room and salary going the other way, the Wings will have multiple options via the trade route should such a scenario materialize.

Hey, I know it's tough to see your team stand pat on a day you really wanted to see them make a splash, but considering the options, it really is the smartest move to make.

Because just like the birthday money that was burning a hole in your pocket, holding on to it a little longer than you would have liked eventually gave you the opportunity to pick up a brand new toy down the road that you would have otherwise missed out on.

Note:  This article was posted several hours prior to the Red Wings signing of Ian White.  For the record, as signings go, I think it was another smart-money decision on Holland's part and will make White either a solid contribution, or a relatively tradeable asset should the need arise.

Follow Matt on Twitter: http://twitter.com/MAhutter12


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