New additions say they like the direction in which ‘hungry’ Red Wings are headed

Detroit News

Detroit — Goaltender James Reimer had options when free agency began Saturday and teams began courting the veteran player.

The same can be said about the other players the Red Wings signed in the opening hours of free agency, seemingly fixing the holes that existed in the lineup.

But the way Reimer and several of the other newcomers explained it, just the feeling from speaking to Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, or current or past Wings, and seeing how the rebuild is going, joining the Wings was the best option.

“Just the direction of the team, they probably haven’t had the success they would have wanted the last couple years, but now they’re building and Stevie’s obviously putting his fingerprints on the team,” Reimer said during a Zoom call Sunday with media. “Everyone around the league can see what’s going on here and what they’re doing. I’m excited to be a part of that.”

The Wings identified goal-scoring forwards, a right-shot defenseman and goaltending depth as primary needs, and Yzerman has been busy filling those holes.

Yzerman went about filling those needs signing forwards J.T. Compher, Daniel Sprong and Christian Fischer, defensemen Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere, and goaltenders Reimer and Alex Lyon.

Compher (Colorado), Sprong (Seattle), Holl (Toronto), Gostisbehere (Carolina) and Lyon (Florida) are all coming in from winning teams, with Compher winning a Stanley Cup in Colorado in 2022.

There is a feeling the Wings are also building toward a sustained winning environment.

“Growing up in Chicago and seeing the tradition the Wings have, I have a lot of respect for the organization,” said Compher, who is reunited on the Wings with former Michigan teammates Andrew Copp and Dylan Larkin. “I had real good talks with Steve and the coaching staff and what they’re trying to build and how they’re trying to build it. It’s a great place to play hockey.”

For a player like Fischer, who played to small crowds in Arizona and not knowing what the future held for the organization, the stability and tradition the Wings possess will be a welcome situation.

Talking with Yzerman and assistant coach Jay Varady (who coached Fischer in Arizona), Fischer felt the Wings were the perfect fit after having played his entire career in Arizona.

“I wish I could tell you there was a specific answer to why I chose it but speaking to Jay and talking to Steve, I was really motivated and it felt right,” Fischer said.

Many of the new Wings were on Zoom calls Sunday talking about their past, and already looking ahead to this season. Here’s a sampling of each:

▶ Compher: Compher talked with Copp and Larkin during this entire week, and got congratulatory calls after signing a five-year contract with the Wings worth $25.5 million ($5.1million annual average value).

“They said they love the room, it’s a real good group of guys who want to win and they’re excited to work together and make the playoffs and push to make this team as good as they can be,” Compher said. “It sounds like the organization on the whole is all working for the same goal.”

In Compher’s first year in Colorado, the Avalanche were the worst team in the NHL. Five years later the Avalanche were Stanley Cup champions.

“It was a fun journey,” said Compher, who feels he can impart some of those experiences to the younger Wings. “There were challenges you go through and you learn a lot about yourself. I’m thankful for that experience and look forward to having the same type of journey here.”

▶ Sprong: Sprong signed a one-year contract worth $2 million AAV after scoring a career-high 21 goals in Seattle.

Blessed with one of the hardest shots in the league, Sprong felt focusing more on his defensive play helped him produce offensively. The way the Kraken could use four lines in any situation and getting an opportunity to play on the power play and showcase that shot helped Sprong, who will feel comfortable walking into the Wings’ room.

Sprong played with David Perron and Olli Maatta in Pittsburgh, knows Robby Fabbri and Jake Walman from junior hockey, and grew up in the same area of Montreal as Joe Veleno, and knows Veleno well. Sprong is also good friends with former Wing Anthony Mantha.

“He (Mantha) played here a long time and said nothing but good things about the city,” Sprong said. “It’s a lot easier and you feel more comfortable when you hear good things about the city and organization. I’m just excited to be here.”

▶ Gostisbehere: The veteran defenseman signed a one-year contract with a $4 million AAV and figures to spark the Wings’ power play and offensive game, as he’s four times scored double-figure goals.

“The biggest thing for me on the one-year deal was the right opportunity to show what I can do, and I thought it was a great fit,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s a young, hungry team with a lot of skill.”

Carolina acquired Gostisbehere at the trade deadline, and Gostisbehere was a key part helping the Hurricanes reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

“It definitely lights a fire in you, going that far in the playoffs,” Gostisbehere said. “I’ve been int he playoffs before but never past the second round. You get a taste of it, playing meaningful games that late in the season, and it’s a different atmosphere and vibe. It’s something I’m thankful for to get that experience and once you get the taste you want to get back in there.”

▶ Reimer: Reimer had an eye on the Wings upon reaching free agency, especially after having played in non-traditional, smaller markets such as Florida, Carolina and San Jose, after beginning his career in Toronto.

“There’s a buzz and certain excitement when you play in a big market,” Reimer said. “There’s something exciting coming back to a traditional hockey market and an organization where there’s a ton of history.”

▶ Fischer: The Wings signed Fischer, a right wing, to a one-year contract Sunday morning for $1.125 million.

Fischer, 26, had 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points. The 27 points were the most 6-foot-2, 212-pound winger since his rookie season in 2017-18 when Fischer posted career highs of 15 goals, 18 assists and 33 points.

Originally drafted in the second round of 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Fischer has accumulated 111 points in 398 games with Arizona.

Fischer played in the Plymouth Township-based U.S.National Team Development Program from 2013-15.

Fischer enjoyed playing in Arizona but the constant turmoil of possible relocation and not having a permanent arena was an irritation.

“It’s not normal,” said Fischer of the constant relocation chatter. “It’s a pretty big distraction and takes up a lot of conversation.”

Finally having a decided home ice advantage will be a pleasure for Fischer.

“I haven’t had 15-20,000 people cheering for you and on your side, as crazy as it is after being 400 games in the NHL,” Fischer said. “It’s pretty fun to have that kind of first crack at it. What a 180 going from Arizona to Detroit.”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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