Detroit — What was expected to be a rather uninspiring unrestricted free-agent class in the NHL has suddenly become quite interesting.
A slew of restricted free agents not receiving qualifying offers has deepened the pool of available talent Wednesday as NHL free agency begins — and the Red Wings could reap the benefits.
The Wings have roster spots to fill, and roughly $31 million of cap space (essentially seven roster spots to fill). With real needs for possibly two defensemen, a second-line center, and a front-line winger, Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman likely will be busy.
“We’ve got some roster spots to fill,” Yzerman said. “It’s tough; there’s a lot of competition for players. We’ll see what we can do. We have some areas we’d like to address. It’s just a question of who and how long and how much?”
That $31 million cap space looks huge, but remember there are upcoming big contracts with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi beginning with the 2023-24 season, and before too long, Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond.
But Yzerman is intent on finding more help for the nucleus of players that has been here through much of the rebuild, along with simply improving upon several disappointing recent seasons.
“We want help for Dylan (Larkin), Tyler (Bertuzzi), Filip Hronek,” Yzerman said. “They’ve been here a few years, Dylan and Tyler particularly. We want to surround them with some better players. We watched the positive impact some of our younger guys (Seider, Raymond) had this year. We’d like to add to that, and continue to move forward.
“If there’s a player that can make what we feel would be a significant impact, we’re not afraid to do that in free agency.
“If we can find a player that fills a hole and the contract makes sense, whether it’s a one-year deal or a long-term deal, we’ll do it.”
As in the previous few years, term of the contracts might be a key issue with any free agent the Wings pursue. They are nearing the end of their organizational rebuild, but still aren’t quite at the point of signing long-term deals with older players who they would be saddled with just as they pursue playoff berths.
There are plenty of things for Yzerman to consider.
“What’s the cost of acquiring that player? Does the cost of acquiring that player make sense for where we hope to be in three or four years or are we just spending a whole lot of money and are not going to be much different in three or four years, whether that player is here or helped get us there,” Yzerman said. “Is there a more efficient way to get there at the end of the day?
“We weigh it all and that’s for short-term and long-term contracts.”
Here are some players to keep an eye on Wednesday and the Red Wings:
► Andrew Copp, N.Y. Rangers, center: The Ann Arbor native and former Michigan star had a terrific season in Winnipeg and with the New York Rangers, and at 28, would seem to nicely fit what the Wings are building. But the Rangers, for whom Copp was a terrific trade deadline acquisition, likely will do whatever they can to keep Copp from hitting the open market.
► Dylan Strome, Chicago, center: The Blackhawks, incredibly, didn’t qualify the 25-year-old 6-foot-3, 210-pound center, who had 22 goals last season. Strome could be a nice fit, but there likely will be a lot of competition for his services.
► Vincent Trocheck, Carolina, center: If the Penguins are seriously walking away from Evgeni Malkin, then Trocheck, a Pittsburgh native, seems destined to return home. But the 29-year-old would be a great addition for many teams, including the Wings. Trocheck scored 21 goals in Carolina, and has stated he’d like to complete the unfinished business of winning a Stanley Cup in Raleigh.
► Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay, wing: The age (31) is a bit of concern, and Palat isn’t going to be a huge offensive performer. But Palat crosses off any other area and intangible so well, knows coach Derek Lalonde from their Tampa days, and obviously has a strong relationship with Yzerman. It’s doubtful this gets done, but it’s not as impossible as you would have thought a few weeks ago.
► Ben Chiarot, Florida, defenseman: Not a guy who attracts headlines, but Chiarot has helped any team he’s been on. He’s 31, is sneaky effective offensively, and at 6-foot-3 plays with some snarl. Chiarot will attract a lot of interest.
► Dominik Kubalik, Chicago, wing: Another useful player the Blackhawks didn’t qualify, Kubalik has scored 62 goals in 202 NHL games. Kubalik, 26, is more of an offensive player, and his defense isn’t great. But the Wings might like the potential windfall offensively here.
► Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh, center: Look, Malkin is included here because it appears the future Hall of Famer will be available and he’d fill a short-term need. The age and money would likely nix any potential deal. But this would certainly create buzz.
► Nazem Kadri, Colorado, center: Kadri had a career-best season and would neatly fill that second-line center spot. But Kadri is 31, looking for big money and term, and the Wings aren’t likely to be a fit.
► Alex Edler, Los Angeles, defenseman: Edler used to be one of those trade deadline acquisitions always linked to the Wings when they were in the playoff hunt. The marriage never happened. Now at age 36, Edler could still be a good, left-shooting defender the Wings could plug into the lineup.
Red Wings free agents
The Wings’ unrestricted free agents include defensemen Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser, forwards Sam Gagner, Carter Rowney and Mitchell Stephens (who wasn’t qualified a contract Monday), and goaltender Thomas Greiss.
After acquiring Ville Husso, Greiss isn’t returning and will hit the market.
Gagner and Staal are two veteran players who would like to remain in Detroit, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Yzerman work something out with them.
DeKeyser’s long career with the Wings looks to be at an end.