Steve Yzerman pointed out that in the immediate aftermath of free agency, every team sees itself as having gotten better.
The Detroit Red Wings weren’t among the big spenders on the market this week; rather, Yzerman stuck with his plan and made low-key signings. No one got more than two years. The biggest signing was Pius Suter, a 25-year-old who fits into the core age group and who projects to be the second-line center. Defenseman Jordan Oesterle adds to the depth on defense. Those were the free agent signings.
Yzerman also re-signed veterans Sam Gagner and Marc Staal, and traded for Nick Leddy and Alex Nedeljkovic.
Camp is seven weeks away, but there’s enthusiasm in the hockey operations offices at Little Caesars Arena.
“I’d like to think with the Pius Suter, with Nick Leddy, and with the rest of group, Tyler Bertuzzi coming back healthy — I think we’re going to generate a little bit more offense,” Yzerman said. “We’ll score a few more goals, I think.
“I think our back end is a little stronger, a little bit more mobile, that we can get a little more offense out of it. I hope that translates to wins.”
Yzerman’s biggest doing in free agency was signing Suter for two years, $6.5 million. Suter notched 14 goals last season for the Chicago Blackhawks.
“He is an offensive-minded, playmaking center, which was a real need for us,” Yzerman said.
Suter, Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina and Jakub Vrana are the front runners to forge the top two lines. Gagner, Vladislav Namestnikov, Michael Rasmussen, Frans Nielsen and Adam Erne will battle for the other spots. Joe Veleno, a first-round pick from 2019, and Lucas Raymond, a first-round pick from 2020, will be expected to compete for minutes, too, but they may have more competition, because Yzerman didn’t rule out signing another free agent.
“For our younger players, if they come to training camp and do well, earn a spot, that’s great,” Yzerman said. “What I’m not necessarily doing is leaving spots open just to hand it to one of the younger players or hand it to them by default. We’re still looking at a few things. Not so much on the back end or in goal, but up front, looking at a few things to potentially add one more player, possibly two. For our young guys that have a chance to crack the lineup, we would rather they simply are better than the players that we have.
“I am kind of talking out of both sides of my mouth. If a young guy can play, great. I don’t want to leave a spot on the roster open to just hand it to anyone, but I’m also not going to sign a free agent, feeling oh, we have a hole, let’s just plug it. I want a guy who can serve a purpose.”
Oesterle’s purpose is to add to the left-side defense, where he joins Staal, Leddy and Danny DeKeyser. On the right side, there’s Filip Hronek, Moritz Seider, Troy Stecher and Gustav Lindstrom.
“We have four rights, four lefts,” Yzerman said. “We’ve got experience, some depth. I like to think with our D, we’re in a little bit better position today than we were a year ago.”
Yzerman added insurance in bringing back right-shot swingman Luke Witkowski, a Holland native who played for Yzerman in Tampa Bay and played for the Wings from 2017-19.
“He can play on the right wing, he’s rugged, hard-nosed, a great person,” Yzerman said. “He gives us some depth to play here, play in Grand Rapids. Great leadership and tough as nails.”
A bit tougher and a bit more skilled. It’s a step in the right direction for the Wings.
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.com. 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.