Detroit Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman explains approach to contracts, leaves door open for more deals

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Steve Yzerman is trying to balance negotiating smart contracts with stoking the Detroit Red Wings rebuild in both the present and the future. He has more than enough bodies to fill an NHL roster at this point, but might yet dip into the free agent market or make a trade.

Yzerman has been busy over the past few weeks participating in the draft, signing fresh faces and re-upping a couple of his own players. His latest deal — a four-year, $22.8 million contract for Anthony Mantha — fit the framework of locking up a key player without risking future growth. 

[ Yzerman: We need Anthony Mantha to play, not fight so much ]

“With all of our younger players, and I would consider Anthony one of our younger players, we’re trying to build around this,” Yzerman said Wednesday. “Each contract that we do, we try to make it work within what we’re trying to do. We have a salary cap that we have to deal with, not that that is an issue for us today, but it potentially could be in the future, you just don’t know. So we’re careful in what we do. But our intention is to keep these young players around.

“Contracts can turn out to be really good contracts for a player, for management. You just don’t know how it plays out. But I think it’s important, because things can change from year to year, with the salary cap, with your own team and structure and what you want to do, what you’re trying to accomplish. Right now, when you see around the league, a lot of the long-term contracts cannot work out — there’s just so much uncertainty. So be careful in the length of the term of the contract.”

Mantha is signed through 2023-24, one year past Dylan Larkin. That means Yzerman won’t have to deal with two of his biggest stars potentially entering unrestricted free agency at the same time.

Yzerman was willing to give Tyler Bertuzzi a deal , too, but when the sides weren’t able to agree, an arbitrator settled the matter at one year, $3.5 million. 

The team’s last remaining restricted free agent, forward Dmytro Timashov, is exploring options, but Yzerman didn’t rule out signing the late-season waiver-wire pickup. 

Nor did Yzerman rule out being a little more active in free agency, since he has roughly $9.5 million in salary cap space. 

“There are still a lot of players on the market,” he said. “I would consider it as we get closer to knowing when we’re going to start. As far as the trade market, I’m not really active in that right now. Certainly, we’d be open to listening. But things are quiet right now.”

The NHL’s latest target date to start the 2021 season is Jan. 1, but that grows more and more unlikely as COVID-19 cases spike across North America. The American Hockey League has already moved its target date till Feb. 5. 

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That gives Yzerman time to tinker. He’s already made numerous changes, including bringing in forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Marc Staal, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher and goaltender Thomas Greiss. They’re more like patches than rebuilding blocks, but as someone who had to wait 14 years between being drafted and winning his first Stanley Cup as a player, Yzerman knows it takes patience to build a contender.

“I’m not going to set a timeline or a date or a number of years,” he said. “We’re just going to continue to do what we are doing and we’ll look for ways to improve the team. The plan isn’t just to not try to improve and get better from year to year. We’re going to try to get better from year to year, but the reality is you’re limited to what you can do, or you’re restricted by the time it takes for each young prospect to develop. It’s just not as simple as going out and making a bunch of trades and getting really good players and signing a bunch of free agents.”

Contact Helene St. James at 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 is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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