This is Steve Yzerman’s most important recent addition to Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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At Thanksgiving last year, it already was agonizingly clear just how much the Detroit Red Wings lacked depth. They were at the bottom of the standings, unable to field more than one line, one solid defensive pairing, and one goaltender.

General manager Steve Yzerman addressed the dearth of depth in the offseason, using the free agent market to sign forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov, defensemen Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill, and goaltender Thomas Greiss, and trading for defenseman Marc Staal. That prompted a reader, Jayden W., to contribute to this mailbag edition by asking, “Which of Stevie Y’s signings do you like best?”

My answer is threefold.

The most important signing was Greiss. Jimmy Howard won two games last season: The opener at Nashville, and the Oct. 29 at home against Edmonton. He ended up starting the Thanksgiving Eve game against the Toronto Maple Leafs because Jonathan Bernier was sick, but Howard left with an injury after giving up three goals on 14 shots in less than 10 minutes, forcing Bernier to play. The Wings wound up losing, 6-0, dropping their record to 7-17-3.

[ Three years in, the Wings haven’t gotten much from 2017 draft ]

When the season was paused March 12 because of COVID-19, Howard had a .882 save percentage and 4.20 goals-against average in 27 starts.

The Wings tried using Calvin Rickard, a free-agent signing from 2019, and Eric Comrie, a trade acquisition, as a backup, but neither performed well. Coach Jeff Blashill relied on Bernier as much as possible, but it was challenging to give him a rest because Howard struggled so much he didn’t even finish his last two starts. Greiss, signed for two years, $7.2 million, at least on paper appears to give the Wings stability in goal.

PHILOSPHY: Yzerman explains approach to contracts, leaves door open for more deals

The best signing was Namestnikov. The Wings landed a skilled forward in his prime (28 years) who is adept at center or wing, and is both a scorer and playmaker, for the low-risk price of two years, $4 million. Namestnikov can fit on any line, and help on special teams. As an added bonus, Namestnikov already calls the area home and was a fan of the Wings growing up (his uncle is former Wings forward Slava Kozlov). Yzerman clearly really likes Namestnikov (he drafted him while GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning) and this could turn into one of those situations where a player is a perfect fit for a team.

[Vladislav Namestnikov and Wings’ Stanley Cup dynasty are family ]

The most underrated signing was Ryan. For one year, $1 million, the Wings got a 33-year-old former 30-goal scorer motivated to reboot his career after a rough 2019-20 (Ryan missed three months dealing with substance abuse issues, and, after playing in just 24 games, was bought out by the Ottawa Senators). It speaks to Yzerman’s thoroughness that even for a one-year contract, he did a lot of research on Ryan, partly to make sure he’d be a good fit in a mostly young locker room. It speaks volumes about Ryan, who wasn’t exactly kicking away suitors, that he did his own research, reaching out to Dylan Larkin to get a feel for the culture and character in the Wings’ locker room.

Ryan could find a longer-term home with the Wings — or he could appeal at the trade deadline to a contender looking for scoring help, and be flipped for a draft pick. There’s no risk, just potential reward with this signing.

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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