Detroit Red Wings mailbag: Why Steve Yzerman didn’t sign John Klingberg

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman’s former right-hand man, Anaheim Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek, pulled off quite the coup two weeks into free agency, signing defenseman John Klingberg to a one-year, $7 million deal.

That prompted a reader, Bob H., to ask why the Detroit Red Wings didn’t make a play for the top defender on the market: “Just want your take on Stevie letting Klingberg get away for only 7 mil, when he had over 9 mil on the cap. That would have been great.”

Yzerman signed two defensemen when free agency began July 13, inking Ben Chiarot (four years, $19 million) and Olli Määttä (one year, $2.25 million). Both are left-handed shots brought in to pair with right-side defenders Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek.

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Klingberg, who turns 30 in August, has 303 assists among 374 points in 552 games, all of them with the Dallas Stars, who drafted the 6-foot-3, right-handed Swede 131st overall in 2010. He was looking for a big payday on the market, but as the frenzy of the first few days ebbed, he ended up setting for big money for one year.

Had Yzerman signed Klingberg, it would have meant jettisoning Hronek, and Yzerman made it clear on July 14 that he wasn’t interested in being put in such a situation: “What I wouldn’t want to do is go and sign another free agent, a significant free agent, and put myself in a position where I have to trade somebody, because that’s not a good time to do it.”

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Hronek is coming off a subpar season in which he struggled to adapt to losing his spot as the Wings’ top defenseman to Seider. But Hronek is five years younger than Klingberg, and has a respectable 118 points in 245 games on a team that, since Hronek entered the NHL in 2018-19, has not had as much talent as the Stars.

Yzerman signed Hronek for three years, $13.2 million last September. Yzerman clearly sees Hronek, drafted at No. 53 in 2016, as part of the rebuild. Hronek plays bigger than his 6-foot frame, and is a good shooter and passer.

Since being named GM in April 2019, Yzerman has been careful about the contracts he has given to free agents.

When he signed forward Andrew Copp on July 13, it marked the longest (five years) and highest annual average value ($5.625 million) for a deal, but the Wings didn’t have a second-line center. They do have two talented, young right-handed defensemen in Seider (21 years old) and Hronek (24) and with the signings of Chiarot and Määttä, now have two partners who project to strengthen the top-four corps.

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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