Philadelphia — The smile and look of relief on his face said it all. Adam Erne was glad, appreciative, excited — pick your word — to be back in the NHL.
When Erne was placed on waivers Feb. 4, and eventually assigned to Grand Rapids when no other team claimed him a day later, it was a jolt to the system.
But, being back with the Wings, at his locker at Little Caesars Arena, with his Wings teammates, it’s feeling comfortable again.
“This is where I want to be, at the end of the day,” Erne said. “It’s good to be back, for sure.”
Erne was recalled after the trade of Tyler Bertuzzi to the Boston Bruins last week, as the Red Wings looked to shore up holes among their forwards and add some size and grit after the trades of Bertuzzi and Oskar Sundqvist (to Minnesota), and a knee injury to Michael Rasmussen.
The Wings had a logjam of forwards in early February, with players coming off the injured list and a lineup having complete health for a change. So, someone had to go, which made players expendable, even Erne, who hadn’t seen the minor leagues in five seasons.
“I’ve been up for a lot of years now; I wouldn’t say I was expecting it,” Erne said of being waived. “But, it is what it is. You just have to grind through it. It’s part of the game.
“I just had to work my way back. That’s really all you can do. Not really mope about it. Just work hard and keep working to get back up.”
What stung, or surprised Erne, was the fact, he felt, his play with the Wings wasn’t bad.
“I thought I was playing well, to be honest with you,” said Erne, who is in the final year of a two-year contract ($2.1 million salary-cap hit) and be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. “I’m just trying to keep doing what I was doing and see where the cards fall.”
Erne played in nine games with the Griffins, with five assists, a minus-one rating, and four penalty minutes.
“(Erne got) a lot more ice time down there, a lot more touches with the puck,” Erne said. “I thought I was playing well before. It was just a matter of when I was going to come back and making sure I was playing well and working on my game down there.”
With the Wings, Erne has played 45 games this season, with seven goals and eight assists (15 points), with a minus-eight plus-minus rating and 13 penalty minutes.
Erne was on a checking line with Pius Suter and Alex Chiasson Saturday against the New York Islanders, and with Suter and Sundqvist (before Sundqvist was traded) on Thursday. For Erne, it’s a natural fit.
“It was good to come back and play with those guys,” Erne said. “I’m comfortable playing with those guys and they’ve been playing well lately, so it’s easy to hop back in.”
Erne made quite an impression just one minute into Thursday’s game, when he fought Seattle’s Yanni Gourde, a good friend from when both played in Tampa Bay.
“He’s actually one of my good buddies,” Erne said. “It just kind of happened. We’re both kind of fiery guys out there, and it’s just part of the game. We talked afterward and he’s still one of my good friends.
“It’s just part of the job, to get the guys going. It’s not always with a fight, but being physical and playing the hard way. Definitely, it was good to get back into it quick.”
For all the talk about players traded away, there were some that general manager Steve Yzerman re-signed.
Such as defenseman Olli Maatta, who signed a two-year contract worth $6 million ($3 million per season cap hit) two weeks before the deadline. Maatta was a player who wanted to stay in the organization, liked the city, and an agreement, not surprisingly, was worked out.
Maatta, 28, has been a seamless addition, playing 58 games with 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) and an even (zero) rating. The Wings were looking for a defensive defenseman who could steady the defensive corps and Maatta has done that, while also supplying some offense.
But, what Yzerman appreciates is the veteran presence and attitude.
“I put great value in really good people and high-character people and Olli is a real professional,” Yzerman said during his post-trade deadline press conference. “He shows up every day. He’s there early, he’s training, he’s prepared before practice, before the game. He’s there after practice, after the game.
“He’s been a good, solid steady defenseman. He gets the puck up, he defends well. We were able to work out a contract that makes sense for him and makes sense for us and where we are, where our young defensemen are as well.
“Overall, I just think he’s been a good pro and a good teammate and a good example for our players.”