Steve Yzerman has ‘beautiful list’ as he seeks to improve Detroit Red Wings in free agency

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman described a list of players that would be a good fit for the Detroit Red Wings as “beautiful,” and that was before it included free agents rendered unrestricted because they did not get a qualifying offer from their prior employers.

Free agency begins Wednesday, or as some call it, “the silly season” because in the frenzy to secure a player, general managers can be a bit carefree when it comes to making offers. That’s more so a temptation of GMs in charge of contenders; for a team trying to take the next step in a rebuild, it’s an opportunity to find complementary players that can fill gaps at reasonable prices.

“We watched some of the positive impact some of our young guys had this year,” Yzerman said. “We’d like to add to that and continue to move forward. If there’s a player that can really make a significant impact, we’re not afraid to do that in free agency.

“Some of the things we weigh on is, how much does that player help us today, tomorrow and two or three years down the road, and what’s the cost of acquiring that player. Does the cost make sense for where we hope to be, or are we just spending a lot of money and not going to much different whether that player is here or helped get us there, and is there a more efficient way to get there.”

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Yzerman already addressed the need for a goaltender by acquiring Ville Husso. But the Wings need scorers and defensemen, and Yzerman has roughly $30 million in salary cap space, though some of that will go toward re-signing restricted free agents Filip Zadina and Jake Walman.

The 2022 class of unrestricted free agents is deep on forwards and light on defensemen (and even lighter on goaltenders, which is why Yzerman pounced on Husso). The top forwards projected to be available at noon Wednesday include Johnny Gaudreau, Nazem Kadri and Claude Giroux.

Here are top options that make sense for Yzerman:

F Andrew Copp

Copp is  28 years old; 6 feet 1 and 206 pounds; from Ann Arbor; can play center or wing; can move up and down the lineup and is coming off a career-best 21 goals and 53 assists, plus 18 points in 16 playoff games. Copp could be a fit as a second-line center, giving the Wings depth down the middle and the maneuverability to play Pius Suter on the third line. Copp likely will command in the $5.5 million annual range and at least five years.

F Vincent Trocheck

He is 29, 5-10 and 183, and regularly scores in the 20-goal range. He’s demonstrated his effectiveness against the Wings, posting nine goals and 11 assists in 29 career games. He shoots right, which would be another asset for the Wings. He has consistently been a solid two-way center in his career with Florida and Carolina and has a career 52.1% winning percentage on faceoffs.

F Andre Burakovsky

He’s 27, 6-3 and 201 and just won the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche. He’s coming off career highs with 22 goals and 61 assists.

F Ondrej Palat

Palat is 31, 6-0 and 194, reliably scores in the 15-goal range and is well familiar to Yzerman from having played for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

F Dylan Strome

He’s 25, 6-3 and 200 pounds, and is coming off a 22-goal, 48-point season. He was rendered a UFA when the Chicago Blackhawks declined to offer him a qualifying offer; they did the same thing last year with Suter. Strome was drafted at No. 3 by the Arizona Coyotes in 2015, but they gave up on him after 48 games over three seasons. Strome has looked at home on a line with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat at times, but also has been a healthy scratch.

F Ryan Strome

Dylan’s older brother, Ryan is 29, 6-1 and 191, and shoots right. He’s coming off 21 goals, 54 points with the Rangers, and has flirted with the 20-goal mark multiple times. Like Dylan, Ryan is a former high draft pick (No. 5, 2011) who hasn’t played to expectations, but he’s a solid center/winger.

D Marc Staal

He’s 35, and has been a solid fit for the Wings since arriving in 2020. Simon Edvinsson, the Wings’ top pick in 2021, is expected to compete for a spot this fall, and Staal could be a good mentor for him the way he was for Moritz Seider. Staal is 6-4 and 208 pounds, uses his body well and is a good penalty killer. He’s already re-upped with Yzerman once for one year, $2 million, and could be a sensible option to repeat.

D Josh Manson

He’s 30, 6-3 and 218, shoots right, and was part of the Avs’ Stanley Cup championship run. He’s a physical, shutdown defenseman who also contributed eight points in 20 playoff games. He could make sense if Yzerman is inclined to trade right-shot defenseman Filip Hronek, who wasn’t as effective last season as he’d been in the past.

D Brett Kulak

He’s 28, 6-1 and 197 and has played 334 career games. He’s a defensive defenseman who shoots left, and could appeal to Yzerman’s desire to make the Wings a better team defensively.

D Alex Edler

He’s 36, 6-4 and 210 and a veteran of 966 games. Another solid choice to serve as a stop-gap.

The Wings showed progress last season, to the point they were in the conversation for a wild-card spot past the halfway point. But as games intensified they stumbled, and Yzerman’s job is to strengthen the roster.

“We have free agency coming up, and I have this beautiful list of great players on there that would be a good fit for our organization,” Yzerman said. ” Can I get any of those players? I have no idea at this point. So, we’re just going to continue with trying to draft well, trying to develop young players, try to run a good program here in Detroit, and try to run a good program in Grand Rapids and kind of gradually keep improving. That’s what I’m going to stick with and hopefully sooner than later, we’re a playoff team.

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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