Red Wings Free Agency Preview: Top Targets & Analysis

The Hockey Writers

Now that the 2024 NHL Draft is over, the Detroit Red Wings can turn their focus to improving the organization through free agency. Steve Yzerman has several priorities to address, and the make-up of the free agent market aligns well with Detroit’s needs. Today, we’ll dive into a handful of targets that could be pursued in the coming days.

Note: The rankings below are based on a combination of factors, including player talent, organizational fit, and contract projections. 

Red Wings’ Top Priority: Top-Six Forward(s)

First and foremost, the Red Wings need at least one top-six forward. Specifically, they need a wing or two with Dylan Larkin and J.T. Compher already entrenched down the middle.

Looking at the free agent market, we can split top-six forwards into two groups: primary and secondary. The former would primarily skate on the top line and is a play driver, and the latter would be a contributor on the second line.

Primary Top-Six Forwards:

  1. Patrick Kane
  2. Jake Guentzel
  3. Steven Stamkos
  4. Jonathan Marchessault
  5. Tyler Bertuzzi

Secondary Top-Six Forwards:

  1. Teuvo Teravainen
  2. Viktor Arvidsson
  3. Jeff Skinner
  4. Warren Foegele
  5. Jake DeBrusk

Given his familiarity with Detroit’s system, his 2023-24 performance, and his ability to teach younger players, Patrick Kane is the top target here. Excluding his first five games—what I consider his “ramp up timeline” from offseason hip surgery—Kane was a point-per-game player for the Red Wings (45 points in his final 45 games). 

Patrick Kane Detroit Red Wings
Patrick Kane was a welcomed addition to the Detroit Red Wings. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

Just behind Kane are Jake Guentzel and Steven Stamkos. Both will be pricey on the free agent market, but will also have a significant impact on the Red Wings. Guentzel’s 5.72 iHDCF/60 at five on five ranked seventh among forwards in 2023-24 (minimum 200 minutes played). Detroit was second-to-last in HDCF/60 last year. The two-time Stanley Cup winner also posted 34 points in 28 regular season and playoff games with the Carolina Hurricanes, proving he’s more than Sidney Crosby’s sidekick.

If he doesn’t re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, expect Yzerman and the Red Wings to pursue Stamkos aggressively. He checks all of the boxes – proven winner, elite offensive talent, and positional versatility.

Jonathan Marchessault and Tyler Bertuzzi round out the primary top-six forwards in a tier below the other three. Marchessault scored 42 goals last season and has a Stanley Cup ring and Conn Smythe trophy to his name. Reuniting with Bertuzzi has its perks – the winger ranked 23rd among forwards with 5.02 iHDCF/60 at five on five last season (minimum 200 minutes played).

Moving onto the secondary group, Teuvo Teravainen is far and away the best player available in this segment. Frankly, not enough people are talking about him. Teravainen is a true, two-way forward – he scored 25 goals in 2023-24 and put up outstanding defensive numbers:

In addition, Teravainen can line up—and perform well—at both flanks on the power play.

Next up are two players with something to prove: Viktor Arvidsson and Jeff Skinner. Arvidsson was limited to 18 games in 2023-24 due to injuries, but was highly effective when he was in the lineup. The veteran winger produced 15 points and his 21.57 shot attempts per 60 at five on five ranked sixth among forwards with at least 200 minutes played.

Skinner was bought out last week – his $9 million cap hit didn’t align with his production. That said, his offense is still top-six quality. Skinner scored 24 goals last year after topping 30 tallies the two seasons prior. And like Teravainen, he’s a high-volume shooter, with 19.66 shot attempts per 60 at five on five. There are some concerns with the defensive side of his game – slotting him alongside Compher and Lucas Raymond could mitigate that, though.

An unheralded option for this role is Warren Foegele. The Edmonton Oilers forward can play up and down the lineup and on both special teams – Detroit’s coaching staff values this kind of versatility. He’s also among the league’s best at generating high-danger chances, ranking fourth among forwards with at least 200 minutes played in both HDCF/60 and iHDCF/60 at five on five.

And finally, Jake DeBrusk might be the most talented player on this list (or slightly behind Teravainen), but he’s ranked fifth due to what I’m expecting for his next contract. His goal-scoring and physicality would be a valuable addition to the top six, for sure.

Detroit’s Second Priority: Top-Four Right Defenseman

In addition to a top-six forward, the Red Wings need to prioritize adding an impact top-four defenseman to strengthen the blue line. Specifically, they need a rearguard who can slot in next to Simon Edvinsson on the second pair.

Here are the top options:

  1. Matt Roy
  2. Chris Tanev
  3. Brett Pesce
  4. Shayne Gostisbehere
  5. Alexandre Carrier

Before analyzing the players on the list, it’s worth stating that Detroit’s interest in re-signing Shayne Gostisbehere appears to be genuine. If he is indeed brought back, then it’s fair to reason that the Red Wings won’t pursue a top-four blueliner due to salary cap and roster space limitations.

The same goes for a Jacob Trouba acquisition. If he is brought in, then the Red Wings are unlikely to pursue a top-tier free agent blueliner.

In an ideal world, Detroit signs Matt Roy. I’ve been pushing for the Red Wings to acquire Roy since last offseason and for good reason. The Canton-native is outstanding on the penalty kill – he led the Los Angeles Kings in shorthanded time on ice per game (2:51) and was a major part of the Kings having the NHL’s second-best penalty kill.

Detroit Red Wings free agent target Matt Roy
Matt Roy should be Detroit’s top target among all position groups. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In addition, Roy had a 57.7% goal share against elite competition according to PuckIQ. “I think he’s as good as it comes defensively,” one executive told The Athletic (from ‘NHL free-agent big board: Reinhart, Guentzel and Stamkos lead our ranking of the top 50 UFAs’ – The Athletic – 5/29/24).

The Red Wings need to improve defensively. Roy is the perfect candidate to help accomplish that objective.

If not Roy, then Chris Tanev and Brett Pesce are strong options as well. Pesce has been linked to the New Jersey Devils, but nothing has been confirmed yet. 

Tanev’s playoff-style game fits in with what Yzerman is trying to build in Detroit. He’s a minute-eater and outstanding penalty killer. He blocked 7.26 shots per 60 at five on five in 2023-24, which ranked seventh among defensemen with 200-plus minutes played. 

Rounding out the top targets is Alexandre Carrier, an undersized, but highly competitive blueliner whose skill set—blocking shots, strong on breakouts, and suppressing opportunities against—could pair nicely with Edvinsson. Carrier elevated his game in the playoffs and will likely have a lower cap hit than the four players ranked above him.

There are other right defensemen available, though I’m not sure they’d fit in well. Brandon Montour would fit from a talent perspective, but his contract demands are likely to take up most of Detroit’s budget – if he leaves the Panthers. Sean Walker’s propensity to jump into the play wouldn’t mesh well with Edvinsson’s desire to do the same. And then there’s Matt Dumba, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Tyson Barrie – these three would essentially be lateral moves in replacing Jeff Petry on the second pair. Might as well conserve cap space instead.

Detroit’s Third Priority: Checking Line Forward

The Red Wings plan to deploy a checking line once again in 2024-25. Before doing so, they’ll need to sign a forward to skate alongside Andrew Copp and Michael Rasmussen. Their best options are:

  1. William Carrier
  2. Christian Fischer
  3. Jack Roslovic
  4. Yakov Trenin
  5. Tyler Johnson

Carrier fits this role perfectly. He plays a chippy style and has a non-stop motor. He also won a Stanley Cup playing a shutdown role for the Vegas Golden Knights. 

In addition, Carrier can produce offensively as well. He ranked eighth among forwards with at least 200 minutes played in both HDCF/60 and iHDCF/60 at five on five. His 64.94% high-danger chance share at five on five ranked third in the league, too. Clearly, Carrier is not a one-trick pony.

Carrier will have lots of suitors, though. If he prices himself out of Detroit’s range, then the Red Wings should re-sign Christian Fischer to fill this role. He’s an outstanding organizational fit and had great chemistry with Copp and Rasmussen last year.

Jack Roslovic and Tyler Johnson are versatile options, having the ability to play both center and wing, plus contribute to the penalty kill. Roslovic’s speed would add an intriguing element to the checking line as well.

And finally, there’s Yakov Trenin, who would add some jam to the shutdown line. Think Klim Kostin, but more offense to his game. He hits everything that moves and is a relentless forechecker.

Additional Red Wings Free Agent Targets

These final three categories are somewhat optional. The Red Wings don’t necessarily need to add these types of players, but there’s value in doing so.

Below are my top five targets for goalies, depth forwards, and AHL depth, respectively.

Goalie:

  1. Anthony Stolarz
  2. Cam Talbot
  3. Ilya Samsonov

Depth Forward:

  1. Austin Czarnik
  2. Kevin Stenlund  
  3. Mattias Janmark
  4. Sammy Blais
  5. Sam Gagner

AHL Depth:

  1. Taro Hirose
  2. Ben Meyers
  3. Matt Luff
  4. Michael Hutchinson
  5. Carson Meyer

Final Word

Steve Yzerman has been busy over the last week, and that’ll continue to be the case when free agency opens up on Monday. The Red Wings must improve defensively and add offensive depth if they want to push for a playoff spot in 2025.

Ideally, Detroit signs Kane, Teravainen, Roy, and Fischer to address their needs, with salary moved out to be cap-compliant. These four will address the organization’s top priorities and position the Red Wings well in the Atlantic Division.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, PuckIQ, and NHL.com.

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