I’ve been looking at the Red Wings’ free agent signings today mostly in a vacuum, one signing at a time. With the day done, I want to look at them as a whole. My initial thought is that some of my negativity might be unwarranted.
I’ll break the signings down into a couple groups.
These depth signings didn’t get DH.N write-ups on their own but Detroit signed defenseman Brogan Rafferty and forward Tim Gettinger to two-way deals, meaning they’re likely bound for the Grand Rapids Griffins. Rafferty, in particular, was #2 on the Inside AHL Hockey “big board” of available free agents. Grand Rapids is looking at a decent amount of turnover this summer and these two – along with the Griffins signing of defenseman Josiah Didier – help rebuild lost depth. Lack of depth in the system killed the Griffins when they had players called up to Detroit last year.
James Reimer and Alex Lyon. These are huge question marks to me. Can Reimer rebound and is last season’s late surge indicative of what Lyon can do? If the answer is “no” to either of those, the Red Wings effectively don’t have a backup. I’m just not sure I see either of these as an upgrade over new Pittsburgh Penguin Alex Nedeljkovic, especially after he found his game on what was originally a conditioning stint in Grand Rapids.
Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere. I feel like Holl’s contract is an overpayment for a third-pairing penalty killer but that might not be true. The Red Wings have been getting by with guys like Jordan Oesterle and Robert Haag and Gustav Lindstrom making less than a million dollars (or Troy Stetcher making less than $2 million) on the third pair. Holl’s $3.4 million is comparable with some other third-pair defensemen. Awhile ago I said that I had a hard time accepting how much Dylan Larkin signed for because I haven’t mentally updated contract values that have increased over time. I think I can see $3.4 million being the value of a guy in Holl’s role.
I already mentioned that I think Gostisbehere is overpaid but it’s a lot easier not to worry about that on a one-year deal. He could effectively replace Filip Hronek on the second pair and second power play unit.
I’ll include Klim Kostin here even though he was technically a trade acquisition, given that he was signed to a new contract this morning. Daniel Sprong and J.T. Compher join him. For the second year in a row, the Red Wings have added an entire new forward line’s worth of players. I like the Sprong signing for one year and the Kostin two-year, $2 million AAV deal. As I said in the Compher post, I feel like he’s Andrew Copp 2.0, and that’s a lot of money to pay for redundency.
Overall, though, what’s the impact? Headed out are Nedeljkovic, Magnus Hellberg, Robert Haag, Jordan Oesterle, Pius Suter, and Adam Erne. Kostin, Sprong, and Compher are clear upgrades over Suter and Erne. Gostisbehere, as I mentioned above, is actually replacing Hronek, but Holl seems like an upgrade over Oesterle and Haag. I’m not sure Reimer and Lyon are upgrades over Nedeljkovic and Hellberg, there are too many questions about which versions of the incoming goalies we’re getting.
Given that the starting goalie spot still belongs to Ville Husso, I think it’s safe to say that these changes have made the Red Wings better. And that’s a good thing.
However, I included Hronek as a departing player but did not include Tyler Bertuzzi or Jakub Vrana. The Red Wings addressed many of the holes in their roster but not the one on the top line. This is where my frustration with the Compher signing comes in, because it feels like the Red Wings are trying to solve their top-line problem by having a bunch of second-liners, and it doesn’t work that way.
Detroit was never going to be able to solve the hole left by Bertuzzi via free agency. The only player like him available is him, and he’s probably not coming back.
But, as I said in my post before free agency opened, if the Wings can’t solve that problem, what can we expect from this roster? And as I worried then, they still look like a team that finishes fifth or sixth in the Atlantic Division. So, yes, they’ve gotten better, and that’s a good thing. I just don’t think they got better enough. That may not have been possible. And it’s frustrating to see regardless.
Jersey Number Geekery
I made some notes throughout the day but with the Wings quiet now I’m going to make some predictions. Lyon will get his usual #34 and Reimer will take the #47 he’s worn in the latter part of his career. Gostisbehere will take #41 after having worn it in Carolina, with #53 and #14 unavailable. Holl will go with #15 as the #3 he wore for the Maple Leafs, the #4 he wore for the Marlies, and the #12 he wore in college are all unavailable. Kostin will take #24, which he has previously stated is his preferred number. Compher will get #37 (though I could also see him taking #17 if he wanted to change things up). With all of his previously-worn numbers unavailable, Sprong goes with #81, as he has a history of picking two-digit numbers that end in 1.