How Detroit Red Wings’ recent rough stretch impacts Steve Yzerman at NHL trade deadline

Detroit Free Press

Yzerman used his first two trade deadlines as general manager of the team he captained to glory to stoke the rebuild, but he may be challenged to do the same at this season’s deadline. His biggest move before March 21 could be to use some of the Wings’ salary cap space as a conduit in a multi-team trade and come out of it with a draft pick.

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Yzerman has multiple players in the last year of their contracts who will become unrestricted free agents: Forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Sam Gagner, defensemen Nick Leddy, Marc Staal, Danny DeKeyser and Troy Stecher, and goaltender Thomas Greiss.

None of those are high-value trade chips.

Namestnikov (13 goals, 11 assists in 56 games) may garner interest because his $2 million cap hit would fit into most contenders’ budgets and he has offensive skill. Leddy (15 points, minus-31 rating in 53 games) has struggled after initially looking like a good fit in Detroit, and if there’s interest, it’s because his résumé proves he has been effective on good teams. His $5.5 million cap hit likely means the Wings would have to retain some of his salary.

Staal (10 points, plus-9 in 51 games) is the sort of calm, dependable veteran that appeals to a contender, but those same qualities make him valuable to the Wings and only worth moving if the offer is really, really good.

Of the pending UFA defensemen, Staal is the one that makes the most sense to extend for another season. That same reasoning goes for Gagner among the forwards. Greiss (3.65 goals-against average, .888 save percentage in 22 appearances) has struggled and his $3.6 million cap hit is further going to be unappealing to any of the teams (Edmonton, Toronto and Washington, among others) who need help in goal.

Yzerman has shown he has willing to move younger players: In 2020, he traded Andreas Athanasiou in a deal that brought in Gagner and two second-round picks. In 2021, Yzerman traded Anthony Mantha in a deal that brought in Jakub Vrana, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.

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Forward Tyler Bertuzzi (24 goals, 24 assists in 50 games) plays the sort of gritty game that spells playoff success, but his choice not to get the COVID-19 vaccine and therefore faces border restrictions diminishes his value. Neither Filip Zadina (seven goals, 12 assists, minus-23 in 56 games) nor Michael Rasmussen (8 goals, 11 assists, minus-22 in 56 games) has played up to expectations as former top-10 picks, but that also limits their trade value.

At more than $10 million below the cap ceiling, Yzerman could facilitate a trade between two teams who are up against the cap and are willing to sacrifice to make a deal happen. It’s what happened last year, when Yzerman gained a fourth-round pick from retaining part of Denis Savard’s salary as he went from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Wings to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In 2012, Yzerman, then in his second year as GM of the Lightning, facilitated Kyle Quincey going from the Colorado Avalanche to Tampa Bay to Detroit, and got the Wings’ first-round pick out of it. (Yzerman used it to draft Andrei Vasilevskiy, who went on to lead the Lightning to the Stanley Cup twice).

That the Wings have a ways to go before they are a playoff-caliber team has become clear as games have intensified coming out of the All-Star break in early February. The Wings had to go past regulation to squeeze two victories (at the New York Rangers and against the Carolina Hurricanes) out of a seven-game stretch against teams that all were in the playoff picture. Vrana has added offensive punch since debuting March 8 after missing the first 56 games recovering from shoulder surgery, but just as he enters the lineup, Robby Fabbri exits with a season-ending knee injury.

Yzerman has strengthened the rebuild at the last two trade deadlines, especially so in 2021, when he did so both for the present (Vrana) and the future (the first-round pick was packaged in a trade to draft goaltender-of-the-future Sebastian Cossa). There aren’t as many chips at his disposal this time, but Yzerman may well find a way to maneuver the Wings forward.

Contact Helene St. James at 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 AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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