Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman’s busy offseason includes deciding which of his players to offer new contracts and which to let go.
The Wings finished their third season under Yzerman at 32-40-10, showing progress in the first half. In addition to looking for a new coach to replace Jeff Blashill, Yzerman will be retooling the lineup. Multiple players are under contract through at least next season, including core parts of the rebuild such as Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider and Jakub Vrana. Other players under contract include forwards Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Oskar Sundqvist, Pius Suter and Joe Veleno, defensemen Filip Hronek, Gustav Lindstrom and Jordan Oesterle and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Yzerman has several decisions to make on pending restricted and unrestricted free agents. Here is a breakdown of how the rebuild would be best served by the players not under contract:
D Danny DeKeyser (UFA)
DeKeyser, 32, has been of limited effectiveness since undergoing back surgery in December 2019; his lack of a fit into the team’s future was indicated by being put on waivers multiple times over the past couple seasons.
[MIGHT NOT BE READY: Robby Fabbri (ACL) uncertain if he’ll be ready for start of 2022-23]
D Olli Juolevi (RFA)
He was claimed off waivers from the Florida Panthers shortly before the trade deadline to provide depth, a wise move given both Nick Leddy and Troy Stecher were moved. The thinking was that it offered Juolevi, 24, a chance to audition for a spot in the lineup. But the No. 5 overall pick in 2016 didn’t make an impact, and there’s no reason to bring him back.
F Sam Gagner (UFA)
At the start of the season it seemed unlikely Gagner would be extended, but 13 goals and 18 assists is a really nice return on an $850,000 contract. Gagner scored nine goals in the second half, when games were more intense. He’ll be 33 in August, but his durability showed in playing 81 games in 2021-22. He’s a good mentor, knowing the pressure of coming into the NHL with sky-high expectations — he was the No. 6 overall pick in 2007. He provided a right-shot option, too, where the Wings don’t have much depth. For the same deal, he’s worth considering keeping.
G Thomas Greiss (UFA)
He struggled with consistency, at times delivering game-winning performances and other times needing to be pulled early. He’s 36, and there are better options to fill the need for a guy who can share the net with Nedeljkovic.
G Magnus Hellberg (UFA)
Cue Hellberg, an affable Swede looking for a chance to get back to the NHL. He had a grand total of four NHL games on his résumé, and none in the past five years, when he joined the Wings in mid-April. An appearance in the Wings’ finale in New Jersey brought that to five games. Hellberg is 31, and has the size (he’s 6 feet 6) that’s so coveted. It seems unlikely the Wings would enter the season with someone so unproven, but if he’s willing to reconsider a stint in the AHL, Hellberg could get his foot in the door as a third-stringer.
F Carter Rowney (UFA)
Injuries limited him to 26 games. He’s a bubble player, someone who provided depth at the fourth-line center spot. Rowney, 32, made $825,000, and there seems little reason to bring him back.
D Marc Staal (UFA)
He turned 35 in January, but he still played 71 games. (He missed the Wings’ final two games after testing positive for COVID-19.) Staal brings size (6-4, 208 pounds) and plays a smart game — as bad as the Wings were defensively in the second half, Staal finished a respectable minus-1. He’s a great mentor for young defensemen and has been vocal about how much he likes playing in Detroit. On a similar deal (one year, $2 million), he’s a keeper.
D Mitchell Stephens (RFA)
Injuries limited the 25-year-old to 27 games. Like Rowney, Stephens is a bubble player. Assuming Yzerman brings in a new face to center the second line, that would leave Suter, Rasmussen and Veleno to compete for the third- and fourth-line center spots, leaving no need to bring back Stephens.
D Jake Walman (RFA)
Walman, 26, was part of the return in the Leddy trade. He’s a good skater, and likes to shoot the puck. He got a few looks running the power play and his 19 games showed he has some skill. He’s coming off a $725,000 contract and there’d be no risk in tending him a qualifying offer.
F Filip Zadina (RFA)
In the years since he was drafted at No. 6 overall in 2018 on the basis of his excellent shot, Zadina has 25 goals in 160 games. (Raymond, the No. 4 overall pick in 2020, already has 23 goals in 82 games). It’s not for lack of opportunity — Zadina saw time on the first and second lines and was a regular on the power play. He’s 22, so there’s certainly hope he figures things out, and maybe a new coach will help. But it’s been a disappointing return on a guy who was expected to play a key role in the rebuild. A qualifying offer is warranted, but he hasn’t earned a long-term deal.
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.