Detroit — The Stanley Cup has been awarded to the Tampa Bay Lightning (again), it’s almost mid-July, and it’s not possible to take a breather from the NHL just yet.
Because of the pandemic, the entire sports world calendar appears to be backed up and disjointed — and the NHL is no different.
The late start to the regular season has pushed the NHL’s important dates deep into the summer, when the league would normally begin to go on vacation.
So, here we are in the July, when Wings general manager Steve Yzerman is about to embark on some of his most important work in the next few weeks.
In rapid order, you have a buyout period, getting ready for the expansion draft, the NHL Entry Draft, and free agency before the end of July.
At his season-ending press conference, Yzerman talked about this busy stretch.
“Our priorities now are to get with our amateur scouting department to get organized for the draft, to get our draft list in order,” Yzerman said in early May, soon after the regular season ended. “Between now and the end of the playoffs, we will spend some time with other clubs that aren’t playing and as teams get eliminated, work your way around the league to find out if there is a match (trade possibility), similar to the trade deadline. Find out what teams are trying to do and if there is a fit that we can address any of our needs prior to the expansion draft.
“Things will happen really quickly once you get close to that expansion draft. We have to be really prepared for the draft, then free agency — to get ourselves organized to make sure we have identified any targets in free agency and be prepared to go.
“Because once we get the expansion draft, the NHL Draft and the free agency period, that will all happen very quickly.”
Let’s take a closer look at how the rest of this month develops for the Wings and rest of the NHL:
► July 9, first buyout period begins (and ends July 27): This actually began 24 hours after the Stanley Cup was awarded, so teams could have begun the process late Thursday night. It’s an opportunity for teams to alleviate themselves of bad contracts and get their protection lists in order.
The Red Wings would appear to have one candidate for a buyout. Forward Frans Nielsen has one year on his contract remaining, with a salary cap hit of $5.25 million but only $1.5 million in actual salary due next season.
The actual savings would be $1 million to buy Nielsen out, with the salary cap hit dwindling to $4.25 million next season and $500,000 for 2022-23. Is that roster spot so important to buy out an alternate captain? The Wings did with Justin Abdelkader last year, but the financial cost was more substantial. This one is meager in comparison.
The buyout period ends the night before unrestricted free agency begins.
► July 17, protection list for expansion draft deadline: Teams must submit their list next Saturday and the NHL will release all lists on Sunday, July 18.
Most teams, including likely the Wings, will choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie (the other option is eight skaters, be it forwards or defense, and one goalie). The Wings’ most intriguing question might be on defense and whom to protect among Danny DeKeyser, Troy Stecher, Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom. One of either DeKeyser or Stecher will be exposed to satisfy minimum requirements. Who is other defenseman to keep?
► July 21, Seattle Kraken expansion draft: Seattle enters the NHL the same way the Vegas Golden Knights did, selecting one player from each team, excluding Vegas, for a total of 30 players — 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goalies. Expect a flurry of trades, as teams attempt to satisfy Seattle in creative measures and get rid of unwanted players and contracts. It’ll be a busy few days.
► July 23, first round of NHL Entry Draft: The Wings select sixth (their own pick) and 22nd (the pick acquired from Washington in the Anthony Mantha trade). This draft could be one of the most wide open in recent years, as scouting and junior leagues were severely impacted by the pandemic through the hockey season. Teams likely have differing opinions on different prospects.
► July 24, Rounds 2-7 of NHL Entry Draft: The Wings have 10 picks in this portion of the draft — three in the second round (own, Edmonton’s and New York Rangers’), two in the third round (own and Vegas’), two in the fourth round (own and Tampa Bay’s), two in the fifth round (own and Ottawa’s), and their own pick in the sixth round.
► July 26, final day to submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents: Jakub Vrana, Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek, Adam Erne, Michael Rasmussen, Evgeny Svechnikov, Cholowski and Lindstrom are potential RFAs. Vrana, Erne and Bertuzzi are arbitration eligible.
► July 28, unrestricted free agency opens at noon: Among Wings who are potential UFAs include goalie Jonathan Bernier, forwards Luke Glendening, Bobby Ryan, Sam Gagner, Darren Helm and Valtteri Filppula, and defensemen Marc Staal and Alex Biega. There appears to be mutual interest in terms of Glendening and Bernier returning, and possibly Staal. It’s debatable among the others.