Steve Yzerman added multiple forwards, defensemen and goaltenders on the first day of free agency, but did not find what the Detroit Red Wings arguably need most.
Four months after trading away Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana and Filip Hronek, all highly skilled players in their mid-20s, the Wings filled those vacancies with J.T. Compher, Daniel Sprong and Justin Holl.
Signing goaltenders James Reimer and Alex Lyon certainly looks like upgrades over Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg, whose struggles last season curbed the Wings’ effectiveness. But Bertuzzi and Vrana were both proven scorers and Hronek was an offensive defenseman, and the newcomers do not have resumes that match their production.
Yzerman was not made available to reporters Saturday, but two days earlier he spoke of the challenge of finding high-end players in free agency: “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.”
Yzerman had salary cap cash, but seven years of missing the playoffs has left the Wings without the cachet of being a destination for the sort of top-end free agents they used to draw. Bertuzzi was a 30-goal scorer and while Yzerman made a smart move in gaining a first-round pick (2024, top-10 protected) for a guy who otherwise could have been lost for nothing in free agency, neither Compher and Sprong have Bertuzzi’s touch around the net.
It was a busy day for the Wings, who began the day by signing newly acquired bottom-six forward Klim Kostin for two years, $4 million. They also re-upped reserve defenseman Gustav Lindstrom for one year, $950,000 and added minor-league defenseman Brogan Rafferty on a two-way contract. Forward Tim Gettinger was also added on a two-way contract to stock the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Here is a look at who they signed, in order of salary cap commitment:
Forking over five years and $25.5 million for a 28-year-old who has yet to score 20 goals in one season seems costly, but so it goes in free agency. Compher, 28, won the Stanley Cup in 2022 with the Colorado Avalanche, which has been his team for all of his 423 NHL games (88 goals, 106 assists). Compher’s $5.1 million cap hit ranks third among forwards on the team behind fellow Wolverines Dylan Larkin ($8.7 million) and Andrew Copp ($5.625 million). Compher (6 foot, 190 pounds, shoots right) is a good player, but the term and money is steep for a guy whose single-season career highs are 18 goals and 52 points.
One year at $4.125 million for a 30-year-old defenseman with 538 games of experience is a pretty good deal. Gostisbehere (5-11, 180, shoots left) adds depth down the left side, joining Ben Chiarot, Jake Walman and Olli Määttä, and, maybe as soon as this fall, 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvinsson. Gostisbehere has 87 goals and 224 assists since 2014-15, spending most of that time with the team that drafted him, the Philadelphia Flyers, before moving on to the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. Having depth on defense is always needed, and this looks like a shrewd move.
The Wings needed a right-shot defenseman to offset trading Hronek. Holl fits those two descriptors, but he doesn’t have Hronek’s offensive skill set. Holl, 31, got three years with an average annual value of $3.4 million. Kevin Shattenkirk was one of the few offensive, right-shot d-men on the market, and went to Boston for one year and $1 million — but he may have been partly swayed by perceiving the Bruins as still capable of contending for the Stanley Cup, and not in a rebuild like the Wings. Holl (6-3, 197) has 11 goals, 71 assists and a plus-58 rating in 285 games, all with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Minnesota native projects to slot into the second or third pairing, possibly opposite either Määttä or Edvinsson.
Sprong, 26, was signed for one year, $2 million, so it’s another no-risk contract. The Dutchman has 67 goals and 49 assists in 268 games split among the Pittsburgh Penguins, Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals and Seattle Kraken. He is coming off a career-high performance with 21 goals and 25 assists, but before his 46-point season, he was in the mid-teens to around 20 points. Sprong (6-0, 202, shoots right) slots onto the depth chart behind right wings Lucas Raymond and David Perron. The hope is Sprong is a late bloomer who will thrive in a bigger role with the Wings, and if not — it’s a one-year deal.
Adding a goaltender to serve alongside Ville Husso was the top priority, and the Wings found an answer in James Reimer. Inking the 35-year-old for one year at $1.5 million is as close to no-risk as it gets, and he does have a solid resume with a 2.87 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in 476 games (204-169-61). Husso is signed through 2024-25, so Reimer gives the Wings a stop-gap guy while they figure out if 2021 first-round pick Sebastian Cossa is nearing being ready to play in the NHL. This is a really good signing because Reimer has vast experience from 13 years in the league and the commit is as short as possible.
Lyon, 30, was signed for two years, $1.8 million. This is another solid signing, appearing to upgrade the Wings at third-string goalie and giving them someone to put in Grand Rapids to mentor Cossa and push him for starts. Lyon and Reimer replace Nedeljkovic (who signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins for one year, $1.5 million) and Hellberg. Lyon has a 3.05 GAA and .904 save percentage in 39 career games, 31 of them starts, split among the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers. The Minnesota native had a good spurt down the stretch this spring, going 6-1-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average and .943 save percentage and was rewarded with being in net when the Panthers began their playoff series against the Bruins.
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