Grading Steve Yzerman’s Free Agent Signings as Red Wings GM

The Hockey Writers

Patience is a virtue, and even more so if you are a Detroit Red Wings fan these days. The month of March was not kind to Hockeytown as the team struggled through a seven-game losing streak that has now jeopardized their chances of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season. General manager Steve Yzerman was tasked with an uphill battle when he took over the role from his predecessor, former Detroit and current Oilers GM Ken Holland, in 2019. The organization needed a massive overhaul, burdened with long-term contracts from underperforming players. This was no cakewalk for the Red Wings legend, as the rebuild has shown slow but moderate success.

Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings General Manager
Steve Yzerman, Detroit Red Wings General Manager (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When you factor in the lack of lottery luck for the Red Wings, you begin to envision a picture of how long and difficult this road has been. Over the years, Yzerman has shown he’s not afraid to dip his toes into the free-agent pool, and this writer wanted to take a look at how his moves have helped shape this team for the future. Here are some of his top free-agent signings with grades and what their future looks like in the Motor City as the club looks to return to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

David Perron – Left Wing

David Perron signed a two-year, $9.5 million contract to join the Red Wings during the summer of 2022 — bringing that much sought-after playoff experience to help mentor a young and upcoming team. The 6-foot left winger was just two years removed from hoisting the Cup with the St. Louis Blues and has provided some key depth scoring for the Red Wings, posting 37 goals in 147 games. He will turn 36 this summer — while also becoming an unrestricted free agent — and rumors have swirled that both he and the organization are looking to extend his time in the Motor City.

David Perron Detroit Red Wings
David Perron, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Perron has provided a physical presence that this team was sorely lacking, and his retaliation on Artem Zub earlier in the season, even though he wasn’t the culprit, will go down in Red Wings lore. It’s no secret that Detroit is looking to get younger next season. That’s what happens when you have one of the best prospect pools in the NHL. I think it comes down to a tough decision on the Quebec native during the offseason. The 17-year veteran could end up back with the club on a one-year deal, but does he still want to play for a team still two to three years away from competing? That’s the million-dollar question for him. I feel he came in and did exactly what he was expected to do. In other words, he was a solid signing who brings valuable experience to the dressing room, but I’m not so sure we’ll see him wearing the Winged Wheel next season.

Grade: B

Ben Chiarot – Left Defense

This could be one of the more polarizing players that Yzerman has signed. At times, his energy and physicality combine to make him a very effective NHL defenseman. Then there are the other times. Chiarot and his defensive partner, Jeff Petry, have been the scapegoats for a team that has struggled all season in their own end. Streaky is a kind way of putting it, as Chiarot hasn’t been the same player week in and week out. The Hamilton, Ontario native was brought in to provide tough second-pairing minutes while also adding that highly coveted veteran leadership. He also joined the organization during the summer of 2022 but for a much longer term of four years and $19 million. His first season in Motown did not go as planned, as he finished with a career-worst minus-31, but his second season with the team has seen some “steady” improvement in that department.

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Chiarot doesn’t bring much to the table offensively, but again, that’s not in his tool bag. He’s on the books for two more years at $4.75 million, so he won’t be an easy contract to move. I have no doubt his name was brought up at the trade deadline as Yzerman looked to shed some salary with players who don’t fit Detroit’s timeline to compete, and having said that, I’m starting to wonder if it was a signing that he’s beginning to second guess. The recent scuffle in practice with emerging star forward Lucas Raymond probably didn’t do him many favors with Red Wings brass — although it was good to see Chiarot stick up for the youngster in the following game against the Arizona Coyotes. With Simon Edvinsson getting called up, it will be interesting to see how this situation plays out.

Grade: C

Shayne Gostisbehere – Left Defense

The “Ghost Bear” can be considered a successful signing from an offensive standpoint. He’s given Detroit a high-end quarterback to lead the top power play and has posted 47 points in 68 games so far in his first season with the Red Wings. The Florida native signed a one-year contract for $4.125 million, so he will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. He does have the second-worst plus/minus on the team at minus-17 and is now playing for his fourth club in the past five seasons. It will be hard to bring Gostisbehere back at a reasonable price, especially considering the team’s depth in the American Hockey League (AHL). The Red Wings will look to upgrade their defense during the offseason, as it’s been a point of frustration for Detroit all season. I don’t think we see “Ghost” back.

Grade: B-

Justin Holl – Right Defense

This signing was a tough pill for Detroit fans to swallow and is easily the most questionable move to date that Yzerman has made. While searching for a right-handed defenseman this offseason, he went bargain bin shopping and overpaid for the 6-foot-4 defenseman, signing him to a three-year deal at $3.4 million annually. It’s not a good look when that player has played only 37 out of a possible 71 games this season.

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You can’t afford to have that amount of money sitting in the press box on a nightly basis. What’s even more concerning is that shortly after, Yzerman traded for Petry, who has also struggled mightily on the back end. There hasn’t been a fit for Holl in Detroit, and with his deal, he will be very difficult to move. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yzerman use a buyout here during the offseason.

Grade: D

Andrew Copp – Center

This signing brought optimism, at the time, that the Red Wings had finally landed that second-line center they had been so desperately searching for. During the summer of 2022, Yzerman inked the Ann Arbor, Michigan native to a five-year, $28.125 million deal, which raised eyebrows in Detroit when you consider that he has not been known to favor agreements with term. Andrew Copp was coming off an impressive playoff run with the New York Rangers after getting traded from the Winnipeg Jets. Between both teams, he compiled 21 goals and 32 assists in 72 games. In 20 playoff games, he posted six goals and eight assists. Solid move, right? Well, not exactly. He didn’t seem to be the same player in his first season with Detroit, posting nine goals to go along with 33 assists while playing in all 82 games. This season got off to another slow start, as he has struggled at both ends of the ice. The 2013 fourth-round pick has moved up and down the lineup, but the addition of J.T. Compher has forced him into a bottom-six role.

Andrew Copp Detroit Red Wings
Andrew Copp, Detroit Red Wings (Evan Sabourin / The Hockey Writers)

Paying a bottom-six forward that kind of money is not ideal, especially when you consider that his offensive output has continued to decline for the second straight season. Copp has registered 32 points in 70 games, and it’s safe to assume that’s not what the organization envisioned for him when he signed that big deal. With Marco Kasper and Nate Danielson waiting in the wings, I would also not be shocked to see him fall victim to a team buyout this summer.

Grade: D

Daniel Sprong – Left Wing

The 27-year-old Sprong signed a one-year deal with Detroit for $2 million and has provided exactly what was expected. The former second-round pick has shown throughout his career that he thrives in a limited role. He has been a spark plug for the Red Wings with 17 goals and 20 assists in 68 games, but he averages only 12:18 time on ice (TOI). That is excellent production for only $2 million per. But he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and I’m curious about what kind of offers he’ll get from other contending teams. So far, it seems to be a good match, but I have a feeling he may want a larger role heading into the 2024-25 season, and I’m not sure that will happen in Detroit.

Grade: B-

Patrick Kane – Right Wing

Patrick Kane, a.k.a “Showtime,” was a surprise in-season signing that paid dividends right off the bat. It’s almost worrisome to think where this team would be without him. Many believe he has had a positive impact on the emergence of Raymond this season. Kane has produced at a high rate for the Red Wings, especially when you consider the off-season hip surgery he went through. His highlight reel goals have kept Detroit in the thick of the wild card race, and I have to believe Yzerman is interested in signing him to a two or three-year extension. But what does he want? One would have to think he would want one more shot at a Cup run, and that may take a bit longer with the Red Wings. I know Hockeytown would vote for a return.

Grade: A-

J.T. Compher – Center

Compher has been a pleasant surprise in his first season with Detroit. The Illinois native signed a five-year, $5.1 million deal, and the organization views him as an integral part of the rebuild. He has thrived as the team’s second-line center, a role that Copp had been projected to take when he came to the club. With 16 goals and 22 assists, he is on pace to finish with 47 points, five short of the career-high 52 he set with the Colorado Avalanche a season ago. His two-way game was part of the appeal for Yzerman, and his attitude and grit have lived up to the expectations. He’s been a very solid, if not spectacular, signing.

Grade: B

Christian Fischer – Center, Right Wing

Christian Fischer has instantly become a fan favorite in Detroit with his feisty play and ability to score timely goals. He signed a one-year, $1.125 million deal this past offseason, and I have to think Detroit would like to bring him back, as he has thrived in a bottom-six role for the club. The former second-round pick has really proven his value on a line with Copp and Rasmussen that has caused nightmares defensively for opposing teams. I’ve always had Kirk Maltby vibes when I watch him play. A three-year deal at $1.75 million annually would be my guess if the team plans to re-sign him this summer.

Grade: B

Ville Husso – Goaltender

The summer of 2022 saw Detroit looking for a veteran goalie to bridge the gap to prized prospect Sebastian Cossa. Husso signed a three-year deal for $14.25 million. The Finnish netminder found moderate success with the St. Louis Blues during the 2022-23 season, going 25-7-6 with a .919 save percentage (SV%). Yzerman had hoped he could continue that in Detroit, but that hasn’t exactly been the case for the Red Wings. He posted a modest 26-22-7 record with a .896 (SV%) for the 2022-23 season and really struggled down the stretch for Detroit. This season has been a whole different story, as he has battled multiple injuries that have limited him to just 19 games. Husso wasn’t exactly lighting it up, though, with a 9-5-2 record and a .892 (SV%). He has one more year left on his deal, and will be very hard to move this summer. Yzerman may have to get creative if they go after a big-name fish at goaltender. I think that’s the play.

Grade: D

Alex Lyon – Goaltender

Yzerman brought Lyon in this past offseason with a two-year deal at $975,000 annually. The Red Wings thought they had acquired goalie depth between the AHL and NHL levels. Little did everyone know he would be called upon to carry the load for the majority of the season and keep Detroit in the playoff hunt. Lyon has done just that, but the cracks in his armor are beginning to show, as Detroit has now gone to James Reimer in two of the last three games.

Related: Red Wings Have a Star in the Making With Lucas Raymond

There was no way he could maintain that pace, as he had never started more than 14 games in a season during his six-year career; he’s already started 34 this season. While his (SV%) had spiked to .925 earlier in the season, it has now rested at a more reasonable .904. What you see is what you get with Lyon, and he’s a decent goalie on a team-friendly deal. I expect him to return to a similar role next season as the team’s backup.

Grade: B

James Reimer – Goaltender

Reimer is a similar goalie to Lyon, except their fortunes have been reversed. A capable backup at times, he struggled early on for the Red Wings and sat for long periods while Lyon had the hot hand. But now, it seems like it’s Reimer’s time to shine. During his latest March stretch, Reimer has gone 3-1 with a more manageable .907 SV%. He, too, was acquired to be the backup to Husso and is now showing signs of life for Detroit as Husso continues to struggle with injuries. Reimer came in on a one-year deal at $1.5 million, but I have a hard time believing he will return to the team next season. The Manitoba native struggles with consistency, and at 36, he could be nearing the end of the road after a long, respectable career.

Grade: C-

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