Detroit Red Wings free agency preview: Steve Yzerman can take advantage of market

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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As much as Steve Yzerman’s grand plan is to nurture the Detroit Red Wings into a Stanley Cup contender via drafting and developing, he does still have to nourish the roster that will compete in 2020-21.

He’s on record saying the Wings will be “relatively conservative,” when free agency begins at noon Friday, but the novel coronavirus pandemic makes this a market like none other — and the Wings stand to benefit. They have money to spend, and there’s a glut of players looking for employment.

[ Red Wings re-sign two RFAs; who’s next on Yzerman’s list? ]

Yzerman needs defensemen, forwards and, most glaringly, a goaltender to replace Jimmy Howard. Free agency is one way to do so, but a more fruitful method is one Yzerman already has used this offseason: Taking advantage of a team in financial distress because of the flat salary cap to acquire a player and a draft pick. Two weeks ago, Yzerman gained a second-round pick in 2021 for taking veteran defenseman Marc Staal and his $5.7 million contact from the New York Rangers. 

[ Grading Red Wings’ 2020 NHL draft class ]

Numerous teams are in salary cap trouble, including Yzerman’s former employer, the Tampa Bay Lightning; there’s also the Edmonton Oilers (helmed by ex-Wings GM Ken Holland), the St. Louis Blues and a handful of others.

In addition to not re-signing Howard, Yzerman has parted ways with free-agent defensemen Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson and Madison Bowey, and forwards Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Perlini and Christoffer Ehn.

[Wings’ costly decision to cut Justin Abdelkader: Who will take his place?]

Yzerman touched on his approach to free agency after Wednesday’s marathon Day 2 of the draft.

“I think overall the cap being flat causes a problem for some of the cap teams,” he said. “Really good teams that have a lot of good players, they all make a lot of money, so I think it limits what they can do. And then the other teams, just the economic climate, I think will be less inclined to be really aggressive. But ultimately we’re all trying to improve our teams and we’re all at different stages. Everybody is generally motivated to do things. We’ll see.”

It appears COVID-19 will heighten Yzerman’s activity, because so many of the Wings’ top prospects have been loaned to teams in Europe. In most cases the Wings can recall the player at will, but the uncertainty over when the NHL will start up, and travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 make it likely those prospects will stay in Europe for the season. Yzerman essentially said so earlier this week when he said he’d “leave our young guys developing for the time being.”

Moritz Seider is the latest player to join the burgeoning contingent in Sweden, one of the few countries where hockey leagues are operational. He has been reassigned from his German club to Rogle in the SHL. Forward Joe Veleno is with Malmo, forward Mathias Brome is with Orebro and defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and goaltender Filip Larsson are with Almtuna in Sweden’s second-tier league. In addition, forward Michael Rasmussen is with Graz (Austria), defenseman Jared McIsaac with HPK (Finland), defenseman Filip Hronek with Mountfield HK (Czech) and forward Filip Zadina with HC Ocelari Trinec (Czech). Hronek and Zadina are expected to return when the NHL signals the start of training camp 

Here is a look at Yzerman’s options to stock his roster via free agency.

Goalie glut

It may be the most remarkable goaltending market ever. Jacob Markstrom, Anton Khudobin, Thomas Greiss and Braden Holtby are among the biggest names headed to market. They are looking for term and money, though, and Yzerman may not want to dole both out yet. That could make a veteran such as Cam Talbot more attractive. Corey Crawford is another option. Yzerman does need to bring in a proven goaltender, because Jonathan Bernier carried too heavy a load last season, what with Howard struggling so much. (He won only two games, none after October.) 

[Wings need a new goaltender. Here are top candidates]

Defensive depth

The Wings could use at least one right-shot defenseman. A superstar that fits that bill, Alex Pietrangelo, appears headed for the market. But there’ll be intense competition for him, and presumably the captain of the 2019 Stanley Cup champions wants to play for a contender. Other right-side D include Justin Schultz and Kevin Shattenkirk. T.J. Brodie shoots left but plays the right side. Livonia’s (and Michigan State’s) Torey Krug, who shoots left, is another big name on the market. He wasn’t willing to give the Boston Bruins, his team of nine seasons, a discount, so it’s unlikely he’d give one to the Wings.

[Wings need to upgrade their defense. Here are options]

Forward finds

Ex-MVP (2018) and former No. 1 overall pick Taylor Hall, late of Arizona, is the pre-eminent name among this group, which includes numerous players who were restricted free agents but didn’t receive qualifying offers, leaving them free to find new employment. (That list includes former Wings forward Andreas Athanasiou, who did nothing to earn a new contract from Edmonton after he was traded there last spring.) Vladimir Namestnikov is an interesting name out there — Yzerman had him in Tampa and he can play wing or center and should provide an offensive boost. Evgenii Dadonov is a 20-goal scorer looking for work. Carl Soderberg (17 goals, 18 assists for the Coyotes) could also be a good fit as someone who could bolster the offense.

[Wings in desperate need of forward with goal-scoring oomph. Here are some options]

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings will be published October 13 by Triumph Books. To order, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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