If I Was Steve Yzerman…My Approach To The 2021 Offseason (Part 3)

Winging It In Motown

After Part 1 and Part 2 which discussed the expansion draft, buyout period, and the 2021 NHL draft, the following transactions have been made:

  • Evgeny Svechnikov was lost to Seattle in the expansion draft
  • Frans Nielsen was bought out
  • The Red Wings drafted the following players in the first 3 rounds:

Part 3 will focus on one approach to free agency – the “let’s get crazy” option. Before we start there, let’s lay out which prospects I’m prepared to promote this season.

After Moritz Seider’s ridiculous performance in the SHL, he is a no-brainer to start in the NHL for me. I really don’t think I have to say much more than that. He was arguably the best player in the entire SHL this past season.

After Seider, there’s a group of prospects I think could be considered for the NHL next season:

  • Albert Johansson
  • Joe Veleno
  • Lucas Raymond
  • Jonatan Berggren

Of the three listed, I believe that Veleno is the most NHL ready. He’s already got a season in the AHL and SHL under his belt and he’s been working hard on developing his 200-foot game. We saw flashes of that in the SHL although his counting stats don’t necessarily reflect that as his Malmö team was not the strongest. I’ll elect to promote Veleno with the plan to play him on the third line in sheltered minutes.

As far as Johansson, Raymond, and Berggren, I’d like to bring them over to North America but my plan will be for them to start the season in Grand Rapids with the option to bring them up to the NHL pending their progress. Johansson had a dynamite season in the SHL and I’d like to see him transition to the smaller ice in Grand Rapids first with the option of calling him up if he plays well. Beggren also took a massive step forward as he finally stayed healthy for a full season. He looks like he’s going to translate to an excellent middle-six playmaking winger. He will need to sign a contract first, so I will sign him to a three-year, $894,197 AAV deal. Raymond, is ultra-talented but ultimately missed the last part of the season for Frölunda. I’d like for him to transition with Johansson and Berggren in Grand Rapids with the option to call him up similar to what the Wings did with Zadina in 2018-2019. I foresee all three players being in the NHL by the end of next season.

Now we can get started by addressing the Red Wings’ current crop of unrestricted free agents.

As it stands on 4/20/2021, the following players are set to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season:

  • Darren Helm
  • Bobby Ryan
  • Valtteri Filppula
  • Luke Glendening
  • Sam Gagner
  • Marc Staal
  • Alex Biega
  • Jonathan Bernier

As general manager, there are really only three guys on this list that I would be interested in bringing back for the following season – Ryan, Gagner, and Bernier. Of those three, Bernier is by far the most pressing need. Over the past two seasons, Jonathan Bernier ranks 17th in 5v5 goals saved above expected which is truly an extraordinary feat behind this team. At age 33, re-signing Bernier is not without risk as we’ve seen how quickly goaltenders can fall off a cliff (Braden Holtby, Devan Dubnyk, etc). Given that, I would limit signing Bernier to a maximum of two years for a similar average annual value to his past contract of two years, $3 million AAV.

As far as Ryan and Gagner, I think both would be luxuries to have but not necessarily “must-haves”. Bringing one or both back would allow the Wings to be more intentional about Veleno and Rasmussen’s development. Ryan’s fast start to the season was certainly exciting but at 34 years of age, I’m not sure that I want to commit top-six minutes to him for next season. If Ryan is willing to come back on a similar team friendly deal while recognizing that his minutes will be more middle-six and second PP unit, then I’d be ok with a one-year $1 million deal but I suspect that won’t be enough to entice him.

Gagner on the other hand is a bit younger (32 at the start of next season) has been a solid fit for Detroit on their third line. From a statistical standpoint, he’s graded out very well defensively. I would be interested in bringing Gagner back to play in the bottom-six again. I would offer Gagner one year, $1 million AAV which is a bit more than he received this past season ($850K).

The big name I’m letting walk is Luke Glendening. He’s certainly been a fan favorite, playing tough minutes against difficult competition and he’s known around the league for his faceoff prowess. However, beyond the faceoffs, he simply has not made a sizable enough impact in other facets of the game to warrant spending money to bring him back. Over the last three seasons, the Wings have a 5v5 expected goals for percentage of 41.27% and a 5v5 goals for percentage of 41.01% with Glendening on the ice. His minutes are certainly tough but I think it’s important to understand that we shouldn’t accept poor outcomes simply because he’s fighting an uphill battle. Dom has Glendening worth -0.4 wins this season and worth -2 wins over the next three seasons. I believe it’s in the best interest of the Wings to fill that fourth-line center either internally with Chase Pearson or externally with someone like Mikhail Grigorenko. My sense is that Pearson isn’t ready so I’ll plan on offering Grigorenko a one-year, $1.3 million contract, a similar deal to the one he signed this past season with Columbus. Grigorenko has not played much center for Columbus this season but played center when he was with Colorado in the three previous years. I would sign him with the intention of returning him back to the center position.

Summary: Re-sign Sam Gagner to one-year, $1 million AAV. Re-sign Jonathan Bernier to two-years, $3 million AAV. Sign Mikhail Grigorenko for one-year, $1.3 million AAV

Beyond just the UFA’s, the Wings have the following RFA’s to sign

  • Jakub Vrána (arbitration eligible)
  • Tyler Bertuzzi (arbitration eligible)
  • Adam Erne (arbitration eligible)
  • Mathias Bromé (arbitration eligible)
  • Michael Rasmussen
  • Christian Djoos (arbitration eligible)
  • Dennis Cholowski
  • Gustav Lindström
  • Givani Smith
  • Filip Hronek

I’ll start by extending qualifying offers to all players except for Bromé and Djoos (more on them later). We’ll set aside the key three RFA’s (Vrána, Bertuzzi, and Hronek) and we’ll focus on the other crop first.

Adam Erne over the second half of this season has certainly played his way into deserving another contract. He’s been a force for the Wings in the bottom half of the lineup and is a huge reason why the Wings were able to play .500 hockey through a brutal stretch in March and April. At 25 years of age, I think it’s reasonable to provide Erne with a two-year deal. I believe that a two-year, $1.8 million AAV will be enough of a raise on this season to reward Erne’s performance without overcorrecting for what was likely a hot shooting streak that is certain to regress. The two year deal will also buy one UFA year and allow the Wings to gather an additional year of information before deciding whether or not to make a longer commitment.

Rasmussen, Lindström, Smith, and Cholowski at this point should be bridged. We’ve seen flashes of good things from each of these players this season. A three-year deal for each would still leave them as restricted free agents upon the expiration of the contract. I think either two or three-year deals are reasonable, but in the interest of maintaining flexibility, I’ll stick with two year deals for Lindström, Cholowski, and Smith. For Rasmussen, I think you’re looking somewhere in the neighborhood of what Tyler Bertuzzi signed back in 2018-2019 which was a two-year deal at $1.4 million AAV. I would offer Rasmussen three years at $1.4 million AAV to bridge him to his last year before UFA. For Lindström, I think a two year deal at $925K AAV will be a perfect show-me deal. For Cholowski, I think you’re looking at a two year deal at $1 million AAV and for Smith I think you’re looking at a two-year deal at $1 million AAV.

As far as Djoos and Bromé, I’m not necessarily convinced either player should come back next season. With Seider coming over, I’d rather make a commitment to Cholowski for one final season as opposed to bringing Djoos back to compete for minutes. Bromé brought a lot of energy to the fourth line and it was a delight to see him score his first NHL goal but I don’t think he brings enough to the bottom of the lineup to merit consideration over a guy like Givani Smith. As such, I’d rather keep Smith and commit to him as a full time member of the lineup as opposed to Bromé.

Alright at this point, the Red Wings would be moving forward with the following 20-man roster with Pánik as an extra.

On paper, this still isn’t a strong roster (duh). Using Dom’s GSVA model, we’re talking about a 9 GSVA team…which is ~20 GSVA away from the average Stanley Cup champion. So we’ve got our work cut out for us and fortunately enough, I think there are two potential paths forward. Today let’s discuss the “nuclear option”.

Option 1: The Nuclear Option

As it stands, the Red Wings have ~$50 million in cap space. With a flat or near-flat salary cap for likely the next couple of seasons, there are a number of NHL teams that are in significant cap trouble due to poor planning and limited cap flexibility. Some of you may know where I’m heading here but just in case it isn’t clear…we’re talking about offer sheets.

A team is officially free to sign a restricted free agent to an offer sheet the Tuesday following the NHL Entry Draft. The rules for an offer sheet are as follows (from CapFriendly):

  1. The submitting club must have all of the required draft picks available prior to submission
  2. All of the draft picks required as compensation must be the club’s own draft picks (draft picks acquired from a different team in a trade cannot be used)
  3. The draft picks must available in the nearest entry draft, unless the compensation requires two or more draft picks in the same round: an extra year can be used to for compensation for these picks (if two 1st round picks are required, the club must have two 1st round picks available in the next three drafts)
  4. If an Offer Sheet is proposed in which multiple draft picks from the same round are required as compensation, the additional draft picks are sourced from the immediately succeeding drafts in which the draft picks are available
  5. A club is permitted to present multiple Offer Sheets, so long as the club has all of the picks required to satisfy each Offer Sheet.

NOTE: Clubs who do not have all of their own picks cannot substitute those picks with picks they have obtained from other clubs. However, clubs can reacquire their own picks in order to meet the requirements, but they must do so prior to submission

Detroit satisfies the requirements of having all of their own draft picks in the next four drafts, allowing them to offer every tier of compensation. The compensation required for an offer sheet is determined by the average annual value of the contract signed. Of note, if the contract signed is for six or seven years, the average annual value of the offer sheet is calculated by taking the total value of the contract and dividing it by five instead of the total number of years on the contract. Hypothetically if the Wings threw a seven-year, $70 million offer sheet at a player this offseason, the AAV of the offer sheet would be $70 million/five years = $14 million for the purposes of determining compensation but would be $10 million in cap hit as it counts toward the salary cap.

Shown below are the offer sheet compensation tiers from this past season. They have not been officially listed for the upcoming season but I suspect they will be very similar as the tiers are based on average league salary for the season.

Adapted from CapFriendly

An additional wrinkle is that the draft picks must be available in the nearest possible draft and if multiple picks in the same round are required, an extra year can be used for compensation (i.e. if two first round picks are required, a team must own two first round picks in the next three years). A team cannot defer picks in this situation. For example, if a team has their 2022, 2023, and 2024 first round picks and makes an offer sheet that requires two first round picks, they must offer up their 2022 and 2023 and cannot defer to their 2024 pick.

Alright so let’s bring this back to the Red Wings. Why would a rebuilding team such as the Red Wings consider making an offer sheet and giving up the draft picks they’ve worked so hard to obtain? Well, let’s take a look at some of the players eligible to sign an offer sheet this summer:

  • Elias Pettersson
  • Andrei Svechnikov
  • Cale Makar
  • Miro Heiskanen
  • Brady Tkachuk

Pettersson, Svechnikov, and Makar in particular are franchise players and they are all 22 years or younger. Next season, Pettersson, Svechnikov, and Makar are projected to be worth 2.9, 2.5, and 3.4 wins respectively per Dom Luszczyszyn’s GSVA model.

data via Dom Luszczyszyn

For an offer sheet to be viable and make sense, it should satisfy the following:

  • The player signed should fit the contending window of the team signing the offer sheet without risk of significant depreciation
  • The offer sheet has to carry a large enough cap hit such that the receiving team would not consider or not be able to match it
  • The draft picks offered up as compensation should not greatly exceed the value of the player signing the offer sheet

It’s clear that each of the players listed above would satisfy the first requirement as the oldest player is Makar who will be 23 in October. As far as the second bullet point, this is where things start to get tricky. With the cap almost certainly remaining flat at $81.5 million for next season, some pressure will be placed on teams that did not appropriately plan for this outcome.

Based on available cap space, key free agents to sign, and players already under contract, I believe Carolina, Dallas, and Colorado would have no problem matching an offer sheet in the highest compensation tier. Ottawa certainly has the bandwidth to do so if they are willing to spend the money. I have to imagine that Melnyk would not risk losing Tkachuk, even if someone offered an AAV >$10 million.

That leaves Vancouver. The Canucks are currently locked in to 15 contracts for next season and have the least amount of cap room. They are stuck with a $3,035,212 cap hit from the Luongo recapture penalty and will be paying $23 million to Tanner Pearson, Antoine Roussel, Loui Eriksson, Micheal Ferland, and Jay Beagle. Now Ferland will likely be LTIR (although the Canucks can’t reap the full benefits of this unless they spend to the cap limit) as he has been unable to come back from significant concussion injuries but Beagle will presumably be healthy and ready to go for next season. Oh and the Canucks will have to sign Quinn Hughes as well.

The path forward for the Canucks is to search for a taker for Loui Eriksson’s $4,875,000 for 2021-2022 as a means of freeing up more space. However, we saw this past season that few teams were willing to bite and the prices only went up as the season went along. If I’m Yzerman, I don’t make a similar deal to the Marc Staal deal as there’s a real opportunity to put some significant pressure on the Canucks by extending an offer sheet to Pettersson.

Pettersson is a superstar in this league and he’s just 22 years old. Luszczyszyn projects Pettersson to be worth 19.2 wins over the next seven years which is the 16th highest total amongst current NHL players. Adding Pettersson moves the Wings from a bottom-7 team to a team in the bottom-12, which, while outside the playoffs is a significant step toward the playoffs. The question then becomes, would Pettersson, valued at 19.2 wins over the next 7 seasons be worth the four 1st round picks required?

Revisiting Dom’s GSVA draft pick value curve, we can use the median value of a first round pick to ballpark what the four first round picks for Pettersson would look like. In the screenshot shown above, if Detroit offered a seven-year, $11.5 million AAV offer sheet to Pettersson, the Wings would actually come out slightly behind in contract value and slightly ahead in total wins added. However, it may be inappropriate to use median draft pick value as that assumes that each pick is ~16th in the draft when we know that’s likely not the case, at least for the next two years.

Let’s presume that the addition of Pettersson is enough to give Detroit the eight-best odds in 2022, the 11th best odds in 2023, the 17th best odds in 2024, and the 20th best odds in 2024. How does the value change?

Even in this situation, the trade appears to be roughly equivalent from a wins added perspective. Vancouver, a team that’s in a bit of a cap mess would have to think long about this offer as they also have to sign Quinn Hughes. There’s certainly a path forward where they could escape the jam. They can pay draft picks/prospects to get someone to take on Loui Erikkson’s deal which would likely free up enough money to sign both Hughes and Pettersson long term. But, the question then becomes, how much does Vancouver tear down to be able to sign Pettersson and Hughes and can they field a competitive team during their primes? For these reasons, I believe Vancouver would at least entertain the offer (presuming Pettersson signed it). I think the flat cap for the next couple of seasons will make it such that the Wings don’t have to go absolutely wild with the AAV to force Vancouver’s hand.

Now for the chef’s kiss of this nuclear option. The Wings aren’t done spending. After landing Pettersson on the seven-year, $11.5 million AAV offer sheet, the Wings go ahead and lock up Vrána for three years at $5.1 million AAV, Bertuzzi for three years at $4.8 million AAV, and Hronek for three years at $4.4 million. At this point, the Wings will have committed $70,563,057 to the cap and that leaves them ~$11 million in cap space. At this point, I would consider throwing a large sum of money at Dougie Hamilton.

It’s going to be tough to lure him from Carolina as he appears to love playing for the Hurricanes but if I throw six years, $8.5 million AAV at Hamilton, it may be enough to lure him to Detroit. This is a bit of a risky gamble as Hamilton is 28, but I think he’s the kind of defenseman that ages well.

Luszczyszyn projects Hamilton to provide the 17th most wins over the next season which would give Detroit two of the top-20 players in this regard.

The Wings are a legitimate contender to make the playoffs with this team, still have a significant amount of cap flexibility outside of Pettersson and Hamilton, and the Wings still have about $2 million in cap space as wiggle room. It also further devalues the 1st round picks sent to Vancouver, tilting the scales even further in favor of the Wings. Simply put, this is an option that the Wings cannot ignore if they are looking to expedite their rebuild without relying heavily on the 2022 and 2023 draft lotteries. I believe this option makes sense if the Wings believe in the development of Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, Joe Veleno, Theodor Niederbach, Jonatan Berggren, and Albert Johansson. If a couple of those guys reach their ceiling potential, then the gamble of giving up four 1st round picks for Pettersson makes it totally worth it. If the Wings are unsure in any capacity about that, then it may make more sense to consider the “radical teardown” option that will be presented in Part 4.

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