Detroit — It may not be a frenzy, but there will be intrigue when NHL unrestricted free agency begins on July 28.
With the salary cap still flat at $81.5 million for next season, many teams are again going to be cash-strapped with little room to navigate and add players. Plus, many of the top potential unrestricted free agents have been re-signed, shallowing this summer’s available players.
Gone are the days when the first day of free agency brought so much anticipation for most teams looking to spend on stars.
The Red Wings used to be one of those teams in that situation.
But what about now?
They’ll have wiggle room, with only 10 players under contract for approximately $33.3 million. But there are several factors which will likely keep general manager Steve Yzerman away from the high-priced, big-name aisle (although this summer’s crop of free agents isn’t going to excite most folks).
The Wings, though showing signs of improvement, simply aren’t ready to add big-name, big-salary free agents at this stage of the rebuild. Nor would many certain free agents want to be Wings, at this stage, instead for looking playoff-ready teams.
Also, with the team’s restricted free agents — forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, Adam Erne and Michael Rasmussen and defenseman Filip Hronek — all in need of new contracts, that’ll take a bite of the available money.
And the Wings have several potential UFAs of their own they’d like to re-sign.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier and forward Luke Glendening are near certainties to return. Bernier has been arguably one of the Wings’ best players over the last two seasons, and he forms a good tandem with goaltender Thomas Greiss.
Glendening is a leader on the young team and is one of the best players in the face-off circle in the NHL.
Defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Sam Gagner, Darren Helm and Bobby Ryan all are UFAs who would fill particular roles in the lineup. But not all are going to return, with Staal and Gagner the likeliest to be extended new deals.
The Wings are likely to, similar to last offseason, sign free agents on short-term contracts and have flexibility to make bigger moves in the future.
“My approach has been you look for opportunities, you wait for opportunities to come along,” Yzerman said during his end-of-season Zoom call with reporters. “When I have tried to force something and chase something, it hasn’t really worked out. Along the way, I have never really tried to do something to make a splash. There has to be a reason for it, a good reason, thinking you’re going to be a better team. I don’t want it to just look good, it has to actually be good.
“Anything along the way that might make sense, I am not opposed to signing a free agent.”
Taking the Wings’ own UFAs out of the equation, here are some potential UFAs who could fit what the Wings will be looking for beginning July 28:
► Ian Cole, defenseman, Minnesota (one goal, seven assists in 2020-21): The Ann Arbor native is 32 and coming off a good season with the Wild, but they’ll have only so much money left over to spend. Cole will likely look toward a contender first, but the left-shot defenseman would be a fit with the Wings.
► Alex Goligoski, defenseman, Arizona (three goals, 19 assists): Goligoski, 35, might be the type of veteran who slips through the cracks and becomes available later in the summer. He’s the type of defenseman who the Wings can then sign and flip at the trade deadline.
► Mattias Janmark, center, Vegas, (11 goals, 13 assists): A former Wings’ draft pick dealt to Dallas in 2015 in the Erik Cole trade, Janmark has had a steady career and played very well in Vegas as a rental. Janmark, 28, might have earned himself a multi-year deal with his performance this season.
► Jon Merrill, defenseman, Detroit/Montreal, (no goals, five assists): The Wings signed the Grand Blanc native last summer, then dealt him to Montreal at the trade deadline for a fifth-round pick. Merrill did a fine job with the Wings, and a reunion is very possible.
► Ryan Murray, defenseman, New Jersey (no goals, 14 assists): Murray, 27, might be more of a reach and will likely be looking for some term on the contract, but he’s a talented left-shot defenseman who could upgrade the lineup.
► Patrik Nemeth, defenseman, Detroit/Colorado, (three goals, seven assists): Nemeth did his job with the Wings for two seasons as a sturdy defensive defenseman who knew his role. He’ll have options, but a return to Detroit wouldn’t be shocking.
► Tomas Nosek, center/left wing, Vegas (eight goals, 10 assists): The Wings lost Nosek, 28, in the expansion draft and he became a versatile, productive player in Vegas. The cash-strapped Golden Knights might have difficulty keeping Nosek, who could certainly help the Wings’ lineup.
► Jordan Oesterle, defenseman, Arizona (one goal, 10 assists): Another local player (Dearborn Heights/Dearborn Divine Child/Western Michigan) who is a left-shot defenseman, Oesterle, 28, could be looking for an opportunity to showcase himself for a bigger deal down the line.
► Jamie Oleksiak, defenseman, Dallas (six goals, eight assists): He’s probably out of the Wings’ price range, but there is a chance Oleksiak slips through unsigned the first couple weeks. He would add size (6-foot-7, 255 pounds) and big-game pedigree, and would be a bargaining chip at the deadline.
► Jaden Schwartz, left wing, St. Louis (eight goals, 13 assists): Schwartz, 28, has scored more than 20 goals in a season four times in his career, but he slumped this year. He might be a nice fit as a guy who is looking to re-establish himself.
► Tomas Tatar, left wing, Montreal (10 goals, 20 assists): Tatar, 30, was a productive player with the Wings before being traded away in 2018. There’s a chance the market may squeeze Tatar, who could be looking for a contract past the first few days of free agency.
► Alex Wennberg, center, Florida (17 goals, 12 assists): He picked a great time to have a career-best season, after signing a one-year, $2.25 million deal last summer. He’ll get a better contract this time around, but can Wennberg, 27, duplicate that type of production?