Detroit Red Wings free agents: Here’s who Steve Yzerman should extend, who should exit

Detroit Free Press

In a few weeks general manager Steve Yzerman will be conducting exit interviews with a select group of Detroit Red Wings players eligible for unrestricted free agency.

During his three years in charge of the Wings, Yzerman has overseen an infusion of young talent, balanced with adding savvy veterans and re-signing several players he inherited from the previous regime. As much as the success of the rebuild relies on young players coming in and playing key roles, older players have performed a valuable role in helping the Wings show growth this season. 

MORE: Jake Walman, Oskar Sundqvist have been great. Do they fit the rebuild?

There are 11 forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender under contract through next season. Restricted free agents include forwards Filip Zadina and Mitchell Stephens and defensemen Jake Walman and Olli Juolevi. The Wings own their rights, so their contracts can be handled at leisure.

When it comes to the UFAs, Yzerman is expected to let them know soon after the season ends April 29 whether he’s interested in keeping them. There’s a case to be made for at least two of them, but there also are instances where the time has come to part.

D Danny DeKeyser

DeKeyser, 32, is finishing a six-year, $30 million contract. He hasn’t been the effective workhorse he was in his prime since undergoing major back surgery in December 2019. He’s been able to contribute because he’s a smart, calm player, but placing him on waivers multiple times over the past year is a clear indication he isn’t part of the future.

F Sam Gagner

Gagner, 32, had 11 goals among 27 points after 70 games, a solid output considering he averages around 13 minutes. He’s a great all-around pro and excellent mentor, especially because he was a high pick himself (No. 6, 2007) so he knows what that kind of pressure is like. Gagner can play center or right wing, is good on the penalty kill and can spot onto the power play if needed. Yzerman already has extended Gagner twice for one year, $850,000, after acquiring him at the 2020 trade deadline. At that contract he’s a bargain, and one worth extending for depth.

G Thomas Greiss

Greiss, 36, is on the tail end of a two-year, $7.2 million deal. He has had some standout performances (April 6 at Winnipeg, March 12 at Calgary, Feb. 17 at New York Rangers) where he provided his teammates the chance to win, but he’s been pulled four times, and that doesn’t include the two times he replaced Alex Nedeljkovic only to struggle so much the Wings went back to Nedeljkovic. Overall, the stats (3.63 goals-against average, .890 save percentage in 24 starts, 27 appearances) show the Wings are better off looking for a new backup goalie.

F Carter Rowney

Rowney, 32, has six points and a minus-4 rating in 26 games. He did a serviceable job centering the fourth line, but he hasn’t had much of an opportunity to make a case for himself because he’s been hindered by injuries. He was signed last summer for $825,000, and there seems little reason to extend him, especially if Stephens is retained. When both were healthy, Rowney was scratched on multiple occasions.

D Marc Staal, UFA

Staal, 35, celebrated his 1,000th game March 12. He brings size (6 feet 4, 208 pounds) and physicality to the back end and an overall calming presence to the lineup. He’s a great mentor to guys like Moritz Seider. Staal is on pace to play 73 games and played all 56 games last season. He’s the only player on the team to have appeared in more than 60 games who has a season-long plus rating. Staal could have opted to chase a Stanley Cup, but he has been vocal about how much he likes playing for the Wings. He’s coming off a one-year, $2 million deal. The only left-side defenseman under contract through next season is Jordan Oesterle (and he can play right side, too). Walman, a trade-deadline acquisition, has made a favorable impression toward being resigned. Keeping Staal would still leave room if 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvinsson is ready to challenge for a spot next season. Staal was named an alternate captain at the start of this season, and he’s the leading UFA who should be extended.

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

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