| The Detroit News
The anticipation is building.
As the NHL crawls to establishing a report date to training camp and a start to the regular season, there is a sense Red Wings fans will actually get to watch some games beginning next month.
Games in which the Wings look to be far more competitive this season.
They upgraded the roster significantly during the start of unrestricted free agency, increasing the overall talent level, along with acquiring defenseman Marc Staal in a salary-dump trade from the New York Rangers.
But is general manager Steve Yzerman done signing free agents?
“There are a lot of players still on the free-agent market,” Yzerman said last month. “We have a lot of bodies right now (but) I do think there’s room potentially to add and I would consider it as we go along, or we get closer to knowing when we’re going to start (the regular season).”
The Wings have approximately $9.5 million cap space, with 22 of 23 roster spots accounted for.
There’s also the trade market, where salary-cap strapped teams (Tampa, Vegas, New York Islanders, among others) are likely to include draft picks or prospects as “sweeteners” to unload a contact.
“Certainly we’d be open to listening,” Yzerman said.
So, who are some of the players available with the season close at hand?
Here are 10 players the Wings could pluck in the days ahead:
►Tyler Johnson, F, Tampa Bay: The top three players on this list will be Lightning property, the three most likely to be dealt, as the Stanley Cup champions need to get rid of two likely to get under the salary cap. And with Yzerman having been GM of the Lightning, and now having some cap flexibility in Detroit, it makes so much sense there could be some sort of trade.
Let’s start with Johnson, who has a $5 million cap hit for four more season. Johnson, 30, has seen his production drop each of the last three seasons, (31 points in 65 games last season, and seven points in 25 playoff games). If the Lightning attach picks or prospects, the Wings could be interested in acquiring Johnson, then exposing the Spokane native in the expansion draft next summer to Seattle.
►Alex Killorn, F, Tampa Bay: Killorn, 31, is an assistant captain, and scored a career-high 26 goals last season. With three more years at a manageable $4.45 million cap hit, Tampa could get decent value for Killorn, though the Wings may not be an ideal fit. A playoff contender might be interested, if it has some cap space. Killorn, with his leadership ability and playoff success, might be a good acquisition for a team closer to the Stanley Cup than the Wings.
►Yanni Gourde, F, Tampa Bay: You might be doing Tampa a big favor taking Gourde’s contract off their books. Gourde, 28, has five more seasons at a $5.166 million cap hit, after falling to 10 goals and 30 points last season (though he did have a good playoffs, with 14 points in 25 games.) The production drop is a concern, but some scouts feel Gourde would be a good addition for many teams. Certainly, the Wings have the cap space to do it.
►Mike Hoffman, F, Florida: A free agent, Hoffman, 31, isn’t likely eyeing the Wings, but rather a contender. But acceptable offers haven’t come Hoffman’s way, despite scoring more than 25 goals five of the last six seasons. Columbus or Boston would be good fits on a short-term deal.
►Anthony Duclair, F, Ottawa: Another free agent who has found the market rough going. Duclair is only 25 and coming off a 23-goal season. He could prove to be a quite a nice gamble for the Wings.
►Max Pacioretty, F, Vegas: In a different era, the Wings would be all over this one. But Pacioretty, 32, has three more seasons at a $7 million cap hit, and so the Wings don’t seem to be a fit. But the former Michigan star is expendable for the cap-strapped Golden Knights, and would strengthen a team’s lineup.
►Mikael Granlund, F, Nashville: Granlund, 28, scored 17 goals but that’s off from his 20-goal seasons in Minnesota, and there are fears this free agent is beginning the downside of his career.
►Andreas Athanasiou, F, Edmonton: The Wings aren’t likely to revisit Athanasiou, who they dealt to Edmonton (one goal in nine games) at the trade deadline. The Oilers didn’t re-sign Athanasiou, 26, who is simply looking to resurrect his career. Some organization could get lucky with a motivated Athanasiou.
►Sami Vatanen, D, Carolina: Vatanen, 29, is still a top-four defenseman for many teams, but being injury-prone is a concern. Again, if you’re the Wings, or a contender, a short-term deal for low money could be an intriguing option.
►Andy Greene, D, N.Y. Islanders: Greene, 38, has only played in New Jersey or New York, but you wonder if the Trenton native would like to come home for a few months, then be flipped to the East Coast at the deadline? Greene also has ties to coach Jeff Blashill from college (Miami of Ohio). Greene could further stabilize the Wings’ defense.