The Detroit Red Wings added a trusted veteran and a promising late bloomer to their lineup on the opening day of free agency.
Forward Sam Gagner’s one-year extension clocked in before the NHL’s so-called “silly season” began, continuing a relationship that began at the 2019-20 trade deadline. After his acquisition from Edmonton, he became a leader in the locker room and a calming, versatile presence on the ice. Later, in the afternoon, forward Pius Suter was signed for two years and a total of $6.5 million. A former juniors teammate of Tyler Bertuzzi and Robby Fabbri, Suter didn’t reach the NHL full-time until he was 24, posting 27 points in 55 games last season. The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t tend the 5-feet-11, 176-pound Swiss native a qualifying offer, but there was a fit for him with the Wings, who are desperate to improve their offense.
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Suter, a former Swiss League MVP who turned 25 in May, is expected to battle for a spot in the Wings’ top six. Suter scored 14 goals last season, with five coming against the Wings. His first three of the season one game, Jan. 24 in a 6-2 Blackhawks win over the Wings in Chicago. After scoring 11 goals in Chicago’s first 35 games, he only had three in their final 21. Suter wasn’t immediately available to media Wednesday. Gagner, who turns 32 in August, has shown how he can impact a rebuilding team.
“I think when you’re going through something like that as an organization, you need veteran players that can help lead the way, but you need to be able to play,” Gagner said. “I think I still have a lot of game left. I kind of found myself in a new role last year that I really enjoyed — being able to play on the penalty kill and the power play, kind of anywhere in the lineup, in different positions, is something that I would consider an asset.
“I’m looking forward to getting back there and helping the team grow in any way I can. We have a really good group, a great group of guys. I think we’re closer than people would expect. We’re a better team than people would expect.”
Earlier this month, the Wings added defenseman Nick Leddy and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic via trades. Veteran defenseman Marc Staal was re-signed Sunday, and ex-WMU defenseman Jordan Oesterle was another Wednesday free-agent signing.
There will be one noticeable loss in the dressing room, as Luke Glendening’s decade-long tenure with the franchise ended when he signed a two-year, $3 million deal with the Dallas Stars. Glendening, an alternate captain since 2019, called it one of the toughest decisions of his life, “leaving what I’ve known, what’s been comfortable to me. But you never know if you don’t try.”
Gagner didn’t want to try free agency.
“I really enjoyed my time last year,” he said. “Right from the end of the season until now, my thought process was to hopefully be back wit the Wings. I’m looking forward to getting back there and getting to work.”
Gagner had seven goals and eight assists in 42 games last season, despite missing two weeks in January after testing positive for COVID-19. He’s a right-handed shot with high-end smarts, and a calming presence. He has been a great resource for first-round picks such as Filip Zadina, as Gagner was the No. 6 overall pick in 2007. Gagner’s career has gone through some turbulence, and that’s part of what makes him so valuable as a mentor.
“I was a high pick in Edmonton and one of the guys who was expected to help turn things around,” Gagner said. “Handling that adversity has made me a better persona and it helps in the situation I’m in now, being able to impart some of that on our young group.
“You want to be a good hockey player. That’s the best way to help the group. If I can bring my best every night, my voice, it travels a little farther in the room. That’s what I’m focused on, making sure I come to camp ready.”
Camp is still two months away, but July’s signings stoke excitement that the Wings are on a path to a more competitive season ahead.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.