This figures to be an exceptionally busy time for Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.
He just wrapped up five days of meetings with his inner circle during a stay in Las Vegas. The March 3 trade deadline is six weeks away, and the past stretch has exposed how much the needle still has to move on the rebuild. It isn’t just a matter of figuring out what players Yzerman can flip for assets, it’s also about who can be added.
One name that holds a great deal of interest for the Wings is Bo Horvat, a pending unrestricted free agent with the Vancouver Canucks who the Wings would love to see as their No. 1 center.
Horvat turns 28 in April. He is a consistent 20-goal scorer who topped 30 goals last season, and already has hit that mark this season. (He scored 19 goals in the pandemic-shortened 56-game season in 2021). The Wings would love to bid for his services on the free agent market, but the Canucks are likelier to deal him rather than lose him for nothing.
In order for a trade to happen, the Wings would need to be allowed to talk to Horvat’s agent regarding an extension, because they’re not in the market for a rental player. Beating out other interested teams likely would require an offer along the lines of Joe Veleno, Michael Rasmussen, and a first-round pick (the first-round pick would need to be protected, in case the Wings end up in the lottery with a shot at selecting first overall in 2023).
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This is Yzerman’s fourth season in charge of the Wings, and while they certainly have progressed from the sad place they were in when he took over, they still have far to climb. As encouraging as it was to see how well they played to beat the playoff-bound Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 12, it was a slap in the face for the organization to see the Wings fall flat the next game and lose to the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team near the bottom of the standings.
Yzerman hasn’t been shy about trading players, having shipped out, amongst others, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha, who respectively had put up 30 and 25 goals in a Wings uniform. This season, Yzerman placed another scorer, Jakub Vrana, in the minors, after exposing him on waivers.
Another high-profile forward could be on the way out soon. Tyler Bertuzzi, 27, is in the last year of his contract, and the sides are apart on term and money. The problem for the Wings is that Bertuzzi has been injured so much this season, his value is hard to pin down. Currently sidelined day-to-day by a lower-body injury, he has appeared in just 15 games, producing one goal and four assists. Last season he was limited to 68 games (partly because his refusal to get the COVID vaccine prevented him from playing in Canada), but he did score 30 goals. The season before that, in 2021, Bertuzzi played just nine games before being sidelined by back pain that ended up requiring surgery.
Though his injury history is a concern, Bertuzzi brings grit and goal scoring to a lineup, and will appeal to contenders. The Wings can give permission to inquiring teams to talk to Bertuzzi’s agent regarding framework for an extension, which should help facilitate a trade.
Dylan Larkin is also in the last year of his contract, but the sides are edging closer towards somewhere in the mid-$8 million per season, after being more than $1 million apart. I don’t see Yzerman trading Larkin even if a deal isn’t signed by March 3, because as a last resort, should the sides not find enough common ground, his rights could be traded ahead of free agency.
Then there is Filip Zadina. He could be available to play as soon as next week, after being sidelined since Nov. 5 because of a lower-body injury that required surgery. Zadina had no points and a minus-3 rating in the nine games he appeared in between being a healthy scratch to start the season and the injury. He has been in the organization since being drafted at No. 6 in 2018, and hasn’t made a fit for himself in the top six — or even the bottom six. On the flip side he is only 23, and he is signed through 2024-25 with just a $1.825 million salary cap hit, so maybe another team sees him as a fresh-start candidate.
The Wings have been clear sellers at Yzerman’s previous trade deadlines. This year, as expectations grow even as the Wings are projected to miss the playoffs for an seventh straight season, Yzerman may be both a seller and a buyer.
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 latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.