Detroit — The Red Wings have to get better in a variety of spots to become the competitive team they want to be.
General manager Steve Yzerman has an opportunity Saturday to upgrade the roster, and he will do so carefully and judiciously.
NHL unrestricted free agency begins at noon Saturday, but with a free agent class that is largely unexciting.
Gone are the days when fans and teams drooled over the available big-name stars and the opportunity to revamp lineups. With the majority of stars now tied into long-term contracts, the number of difference-making players on the market are few and far between.
Still, there are players who can help, especially with the free agent class strengthened by players who weren’t issued qualifying offers or were bought out on Friday.
Yzerman stated after Thursday’s NHL Entry Draft that he’d like to add forwards with goal-scoring ability, a right-shooting defenseman and a backup goaltender.
“I’d like to add some offense, but there’s no guarantees I can do anything,” Yzerman said. “We’ll fill some spots. Who exactly? I’m not sure, or for how long or how much. That’s the nature of free agency.
“You know our roster, the guys we’ve traded (Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana). We’ll try to do that in some form or another.”
If not entirely through free agency, Yzerman could still explore the trade market, which could heat up again later in the summer.
The Wings also have $30 million of cap space to spend, although Yzerman isn’t going to use that money simply to use it.
“We’re positioned reasonably well to have the ability with cap space, with draft picks (two first-rounders in 2024), if we want to go at it through trade or if we want to go through free agency. There are options there,” Yzerman said. “But I’m not going to just spend the money because I have it and we’re not going to trade the picks because we have them.
“We’ll try to make good decisions regardless of our cap space or our depth.”
But with competition among teams for talent, and the type of younger talent the Wings want largely unavailable, the marketplace can be difficult to navigate.
“It’s just hard,” Yzerman said. “If we want young players — and there aren’t many of them on the market — to get them you have to be prepared to pay and you have to prepared to pay a lot of money to them as well.”
So who could be on the Wings’ radar? Here are some possibilities:
▶ Tyler Bertuzzi, age 28, Boston, wing: The former Wing was dealt to the Bruins at the trade deadline and Bertuzzi excelled in the playoffs (though the Bruins didn’t). The Bruins likely don’t have the cap space to make a new contract work. Could the Wings bring Bertuzzi back? You’d think the term would be the biggest obstacle.
▶ Alex Killorn, 33, Tampa Bay, wing: Yzerman and coach Derek Lalonde know Killorn well from their Tampa days together. Killorn would be a fine veteran influence, but would he be willing to go to a rebuilding team at this point in his career?
▶ Joonas Korpisalo, 29, Los Angeles, goaltender: If the Kings don’t re-sign Korpisalo, he might have a choice of a few teams to choose from. Korpisalo and Wings goaltender Ville Husso have a friendship and rivalry going back years to Finland, so there might be a hook there.
▶ Radko Gudas, 33, Florida, defenseman: If the Panthers aren’t able to retain Gudas, he’ll be popular on the market. The Wings could definitely use the snarl and grit he plays with.
▶ Matt Dumba, 28, Minnesota, defenseman: Dumba has been linked to the Wings in the past and his age would fit well with what the Wings are trying build. But Dumba didn’t have a great offensive season, and being a right-hand shot, he’ll have his pick of teams.
▶ J.T. Compher, 28, Colorado, center: The former Michigan standout was teammates with Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp in Ann Arbor. Compher is coming off a career-high 52-point season and has the versatility the Wings like.
▶ Antti Raanta, 34, Carolina, goaltender: Raanta was 19-3-3 with a .910 save percentage last season and could be the perfect complement to Husso’s workload.