Wings' Free Agents: Two Hits, Two Misses

Jim Balint@MrJBalintCorrespondent IDecember 12, 2009

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 5: Todd Bertuzzi #44 of the Detroit Red Wings skates during the first period against the New Jersey Devils on December 5, 2009 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

In this final look at the new additions, I’ll be profiling the free agent signings the Wings made in the offseason to fill the gaps created by players signing elsewhere and lost to injury.

The Wings signed Todd Bertuzzi to a one year, $1.5 million contract this past offseason. The move was made, presumably, to make the Wings tougher up front and give them a pure power forward.

In years past, Bertuzzi has been a terror, both putting pucks in the net and punishing opponents physically. As recently as three years ago, he was putting up 25 goals, 46 assists, and 120 penalty minutes.

That would, however, be the last time he played a full season. After back surgery in 2006 and knee surgery in 2009, both of which effectively ended those seasons, he hasn’t been the same player. His goal totals have dropped each of the past two seasons, but that can be attributed to missing at least 14 games due to injury each year.

This season, Bertuzzi has looked healthy but a bit lost in coach Mike Babcock’s system. Maybe Bertuzzi’s conditioning isn’t up to the demands of this style of play, or perhaps he simply needs a little more time to sort out his role and how to fit in with the rest of the team.

The outlook is good, however. Big Bert currently has 15 points in 31 games. After an early season drought, that saw him score only nine points in 24 games, he now has six in his last seven, including two goals the other night: one that sent the game to overtime and the game winner in overtime to beat the Ducks.

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If this is truly a sign of things to come from Bertuzzi, the Wings will finally be blessed with the depth at forward they so sorely miss this season.

Patrick Eaves enjoyed a very promising first two years in Ottawa. Since then, he has spent a lot of time on the IR. Last year in his first full season in Carolina, he managed to play 74 games, but only muster 14 points.

He signed a one-year deal with the Wings for $500,000. A bargain, most would say, but his production hasn’t been there yet. Eaves has eight points in 21 games. That could be a product of being in a new system and not getting enough playing time to work out the kinks.

He plays with the same style as well-established Wings Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby: a fast-paced, hit-you-first attitude and a willingness to grind along the boards for loose pucks. If only Draper and Maltby would step aside, players like Eaves and Drew Miller could get the chance to show what they’re really capable of.

Until then, Eaves will only be scratching the surface of his potential. Luckily, he’s only 25, and should be a part of the Wings’ newly embraced youth movement.

The signing of Jason Williams was curious. The Wings knew what they had in forwards Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, and yet they decided to sign Williams to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. Despite the obvious upside to the young players in their farm system, GM Ken Holland brought in the 29-year-old for “veteran leadership”, one would guess.

Williams’ point totals have been average at best the past three seasons. In his career, he has only topped the 20 goal mark and 50 point mark once, doing so in the same season, his third with the Wings and first under Babcock.

Maybe Holland and Babcock were hoping Williams could regain that form, being back in a familiar system. Thus far, the experiment has failed. Williams managed just two goals on the season before breaking his fibula.

Even more confounding was the signing of long-time tough guy Brad May. Yes, it’s been years since Bob Probert patrolled the ice, and yes, it was only a one-year, $500,000 contract, but in the new NHL, traditional enforcers have become obsolete. The 38-year-old May is averaging a little over seven minutes of ice time.

Was he only signed as a deterrent to opposing teams picking on Datsyuk and Zetterberg? If so, Bertuzzi would gladly fill that role, but actually be capable of playing in other situations as well. This is another case of an old player eating up minutes that could be doled out to the younger guys wanting to prove their worth.

Overall, the signings do leave a lot to be desired in terms of making up for what was lost via free agency. While it may be impossible to replace the likes of Marian Hossa, if Bertuzzi can find his stride and Eaves can actually get meaningful minutes, when the laundry-list of players return from injury, the Wings should be a formidable team once again.