Grading the Red Wings’ 2023 Offseason

The Hockey Writers

With the Traverse City Prospect Tournament on the way this week and the Detroit Red Wings’ NHL training camp to follow shortly thereafter, I think it’s time to take a look back at the totality of the Red Wings 2023 offseason. We’ll look at how they did in free agency, the 2023 Draft, the trade table, and at their cap management in general.

Whether you were plugged into each and every moment of the riveting summer months or you took some time off of hockey and need a bit of a refresher, I hope that this article can at very least get you excited about what is to come for the Red Wings this season. Detroit’s first regular season game is one month away, with the Red Wings facing off against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday, October 12.

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s lots to go over so let’s get started, looking first at the team’s free agency moves.

Free Agency

Free agency is quickly becoming a day worthy of nerves for Red Wings fans as the team has committed considerable money to players who project to be, at best, middle of the lineup players in back to back summers. This year they added a few good short term bets but also made a few larger commitments that already feel like a bit of a head scratcher.

J.T. Compher – C

28-year-old, two way center J.T. Compher had a career year in 2022-23, scoring a career-high 52 points while playing just over 20 minutes a night as the second line center for the Colorado Avalanche. While that seems like a pretty promising profile for a two-way center that Detroit can hope to see fill in on their second line going forward, it is worth mentioning that Compher’s most common teammate last year was Mikko Rantanen, who is a superstar in his own right.

Related: Top 100 Prospects – Preseason Rankings

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That means that the likelihood of Compher being a 50+ point player going forward is quite low unless he ends up with lots of minutes alongside at least one winger who breaks out as a star soon. I like the signing overall as I think Compher will be a good middle-six piece down the middle for Detroit over the course of the deal, but a 5-year contract worth $5.1M/year is a bit rich for someone coming off a career year. 

If this deal feels familiar, it’s probably because Detroit signed Andrew Copp, a then 28-year-old, two-way center coming off a career year, to a 5-year deal worth $5.6M/year last summer. While I’m still a defender of the Copp deal, it seems strange to double down on that and commit to a center group of Dylan Larkin, Copp, and Compher for at least the next four seasons, though it might make sense if prospects like Nate Danielson and Marco Kasper take a while to adapt to the responsibilities of playing at center in the NHL.

Daniel Sprong – ???

I don’t have a grade for the Daniel Sprong signing at this point (one year, $2M) because it’s a little unclear what his status is going into this season. In August, Sprong was accused of assaulting a former INDYCAR driver Zach DeMelo at a nightclub. Since there haven’t been any official updates about the situation, I expect he’ll be with the team at training camp but I decided to leave him out for now so as to not speculate. If he does play, Sprong should effectively replace Dominik Kubalik as a depth scorer with a track record of scoring 5v5 goals at a very efficient rate.

Christian Fischer – C+

Christian Fischer has shown the potential to be a good middle-six power forward at times in his career, but his offensive production simply hasn’t been there over the last few seasons. I expect Fischer will be a depth piece for Detroit this year, spending most of his minutes on the fourth line as a physical winger, that’s if he even earns a spot in the lineup over younger players who will be fighting for those spots like Carter Mazur and Elmer Soderblom. Still, a one-year deal worth just over $1.1M isn’t much of a risk for the Red Wings considering it’s worth the exact amount of money that teams can bury in the AHL for cap relief if needed later in the season.

Shayne Gostisbehere – B+

With the well-documented depth that Detroit has accrued on the left-side of their defensive group, it was a surprise to see them sign the left-handed Shayne Gostisbehere in free agency. However, that doesn’t automatically make this a bad signing, I’d argue it was their best move in free agency this year.

Shayne Gostisbehere Carolina Hurricanes
Shayne Gostisbehere. Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Gostisbehere has established himself as a power play merchant who can produce 30-40 points consistently with middling even strength impacts. Some extra scoring on the back end would help this Red Wings team a lot so I like the addition of Gostisbehere on a one-year deal worth $4.1M.

Justin Holl – D

Much like the Ben Chiarot deal from the 2022 offseason, the Justin Holl signing this summer was much maligned by many Red Wings fans from the moment it was announced. While it’s not as large as the Chiarot contract (only three years at $3.4M), it is still a considerable pay day for a defender who has never eclipsed 25 points in a single season and has a . . . controversial play style.

Holl was rather mistake prone during his Toronto Maple Leafs tenure (though some were overblown by the media circus that is the Toronto media market) and isn’t the most reliable defensive player as a result. However, he has shown flashes of being a great third pairing defender and a competent second pairing one so hopefully he can reduce the number of mistakes and have a successful career in Hockey Town.

Alex Lyon/James Reimer – C

With Alex Nedeljkovic walking as a free agent, it was clear that Detroit would need to add at least one goaltender capable of holding down the backup spot behind Ville Husso next season. Instead they got two. Alex Lyon had a remarkable stretch of play at the end of the regular season last year, helping the Florida Panthers to scrape their way into the playoffs. He has never played more than 15 NHL games in a single season so asking him to be a full-time back up could be a bit of a stretch at this point.

James Reimer was also signed by Detroit following a rough year as the starting goalie for an aimless San Jose Sharks team. Perhaps decreasing Reimer’s role will help him find his game once again. Neither of these goalies are particularly inspiring additions, but they both fit the role of both NHL backup and AHL starter so they could both handily hold the fort in Grand Rapids as goaltending prospect Sebastian Cossa adjusts to the AHL in a backup role. 

Free Agency Final Grade: C

2023 NHL Draft

While free agency might not be the most exciting time of the year for Red Wings fans, the NHL draft has become a point of pride for many of Detroit’s fans. Excellent selections such as Moritz Seider and Lucas Rayond have built up a lot of good will across the fanbase so excitement is always in the air around draft season even though Detroit has had the worst luck in the Draft Lottery over the last decade.

Related: Red Wings 5 Most Important Prospects

Detroit addressed two of their biggest needs in the first round of the draft this year and then had many other selections to further deepen their prospect pool in the later rounds as well. 

Nate Danielson – A

I was a massive fan of Nate Danielson in his draft year and I’m excited that I’ll get the chance to cover him even more as a future member of the Red Wings. He’s got an excellent package of skills and attributes to someday become a top-six center in the NHL. Danielson is 6-foot-2, shoots right, plays a hard-working two-way style, and shoots hard as well. I see a lot of similarities between Danielson and Dylan Cozens in their draft years and I’m a real believer that Detroit landed a legit high-end center at ninth overall this year.

Axel Sandin Pellikka – A

Axel Sandin Pellikka (ASP) doesn’t fit the mold of the defenders Detroit has typically taken with first round picks. Simon Edvinsson, Seider, and William Wallinder are each very large defenders who compete hard and were “works-in-progress” offensively in their draft years. ASP is only 5-foot-11 and he is an excellent offensive player already, scoring at a remarkable rate in Sweden’s top junior league last year.

Axel Sandin Pellikka Team Sweden
Axel Sandin Pellikka, Team Sweden (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

I think the addition of Sandin Pellikka, an offensively gifted, right shot defender is going to be a great fit in Detroit someday. He will balance out the play style of the Red Wings’ defensive group and he’s a whole lot better defensively than you might assume based on the assists he racks up.

Trey Augustine – A

Considered by many to be the best or second best goaltender in the 2023 Draft, Trey Augustine is a legit goaltending prospect despite falling to Detroit at the 41st overall pick. Augustine had a phenomenal draft year with the USA-18 (NTDP) team, with an insane 29-1-2 record and a .926 save percentage. He was locked in all year, even when he was asked to be the starting goalie for Team USA at the World Juniors at just age 17. Augustine puts more pressure on Cossa as the team’s top goaltending prospect and will spend the next few years developing with Michigan State University in the NCAA. 

2023 NHL Draft Final Grade: A-

Offseason Trades

Jeff Petry Trade – B+

I was surprised when the Jeff Petry trade was announced, not because I didn’t like the deal but because of how many people seemed so upset with it. The way I see it, Detroit traded away Gustav Lindstrom, who would have been the team’s 6th defender at best next year, and a mid-round pick for someone who will make a significant impact on the second pair next season in Petry. He’s not as fleet of foot as he once was, but Petry is still a reliable defender and the salary retention in this trade makes him the sixth highest paid defender on the team this season so it’s not like he’s costing them a whole lot. 

Yamamoto/Kostin Trade – C+

The Kailer Yamamoto/Klim Kostin trade was a strange one from the start, with the Edmonton Oilers looking to get off the Yamamoto deal, willing to move on from Kostin to get the deal done. The Oilers got $3.1M in cap space for next season and the Red Wings got two players for free (or as GMs like to say future considerations). Yamamoto’s deal was bought out immediately so it’s clear that Detroit only made the deal because they wanted to add Kostin and had the cap space to make it happen for free which is a win, albeit a strange and small one.

DeBrincat Trade – A

This trade is the most important one the Red Wings made this offseason and it isn’t close. It has been a talking point for years now that Detroit needed a high-end goal scorer to help push them over the edge and back into being a competitive team and that’s exactly what they landed with DeBrincat. Landing a two-time 40+ goal scorer is huge and they didn’t have to give up a whole lot in order to get him either. 

Related: 4 Reasons to Believe DeBrincat Will Bounce Back in Detroit

A future fourth round pick is inconsequential in a deal like this and Donovan Sebrango wasn’t likely to factor into the team’s plans going forward considering how many left shot defenders are in the organization at the moment. They also traded away Dominik Kubalik who had a really nice season last year as well as a first rounder in 2024, with Detroit getting to choose if it is their own or Boston’s. The only pieces of consequence here are Kubalik and the worse of their two first rounders next year and to land one of the league’s premiere goal scorers for so little is a great piece of work. 

Offseason Trades Final Grades: A-

Cap Management – A

DeBrincat Extension – A

The Red Wings wasted no time getting DeBrincat signed to a contract extension after trading for him, agreeing to a four-year deal worth $7.875M/year. I believe DeBrincat will outperform that contract very quickly, and while some fans are worried that this sets him up for an even bigger pay day four years down the line, I think it’s a good enough number for the next four years that I can look past it for now. 

Veleno Extension – A

Joe Veleno was an unsigned RFA for most of the offseason, signing a one-year deal near the end of August worth $825k. This is a great deal for Detroit and gives Veleno another chance to show that he can be a great bottom-six piece going forward. His nine goals and 20 points last year were alright but another step or two up production wise could help him land a long-term deal in Detroit and help the team solidify their center depth as well.

Yamamoto Buyout – C+

Taking on Yamamoto, and ultimately buying him out, was the cost to acquire Kostin, and while I don’t think Kostin will be much more than a decent bottom-six player, landing that type of player for free because you have lots of free cap space is pretty nice overall. This buyout won’t hamper the team’s ability to make the moves they want to over the next two seasons so the downside is pretty minimal even though the upside isn’t particularly high either.

Cap Space Next Summer – A

The Red Wings did a great job of adding talent on short contracts this summer, adding several pieces who will be off the cap sheet in a year or two at most. This means they will still have a ton of cap space to work with going forward which is perfect because they need to pay Seider, Raymond, Jonathan Berggren, and maybe David Perron next summer if they are all coming back.

Moritz Seider Detroit Red Wings
Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

They did a great job of improving the roster today while still keeping their options open for the future. There is still over $30M available to them for next year which should make extending their top young talents a whole lot simpler.

Cap Management Final Grade: A

I think it’s fair to say that this was another successful offseason for the Red Wings. While they did make some weird decisions, especially in free agency, I really don’t think they made any moves that will prohibit them from becoming a contender in the next handful of seasons. 

Related: The Best NHL Prospects From Each Country

I believe they made some key additions that will improve the team in the short and long term this summer, filling many of their most important needs. They added goaltending depth and more scoring on the backend for this upcoming season while also adding both a great center prospect in Danielson and a great RD prospect in Sandin Pellikka who flesh out their future depth chart in a really positive way.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

This summer was a good one for Hockey Town, but boy am I ready to finally watch some hockey again and move on from the offseason. Successful off seasons are great, but the New Jersey Devils have shown over the last few seasons that it takes a few breakout performances from key players for an “Offseason Champion” to truly burst out onto the scene and become a contender. Hopefully this is the year the Red Wings can make a similar leap. 

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