Thoughts on Red Wings Free Agency

DetroitHockey.Net

I’ve included some of my thoughts with each post about the Red Wings’ free agent signings this summer but tried to hold off on any kind of overarching themes until the team was done making moves.  Given that general manager Steve Yzerman addressed the media yesterday, it’s safe to assume the big moves are done.

Let’s get the depth signings that will almost certainly be bound for Grand Rapids out of the way first.  Sheldon Dries, Joe Snively, and Tory Dello are all on new two-way deals.  Dries got two years, Snively and Dello got one.  The Griffins had a lot of free agents departing this summer – Zach Aston-Reese already signed in Vegas, Wyatt Newpower moved to Bridgeport, and Austin Czarnik, Taro Hirose, and Matt Luff (among others) remain unsigned – so this gives them some depth back.  Also some familiarity, as Dello went pro with the Griffins out of Notre Dame in 2020.  There are probably more moves to be made there throughout the summer.

But the big club is where the fun is.

Sunday and Monday were interesting for Detroit, not just because of the deals that happened but because of the deals that didn’t.

On Sunday, the pending free agent I would have pegged as most-likely to depart – Patrick Kane – ended up a signing a one-year extension.  The deal was structured such that only $4 million has to count toward this year’s salary cap while another $2.5 million in performance bonuses ($1.5 million of which come after Kane plays just ten games) could be deferred to next year.  It gets Kane the money he wants and leaves Yzerman with the flexibility he needed.  As much as I have capital-T Thoughts on Kane himself, it was a good bit of business.

Then, on Monday, with a ton of cap space to spend and some holes at forward, all of the Wings’ imports were defensemen and goalies.  Goalies, plural.

Near the end of the day Detroit did bring back forward Christian Fischer on a one-year deal.  That was another good piece of business, as he’d worked well in a depth role for the Red Wings and signed an entirely reasonable $1.125 million contract.  But it wasn’t the focus of the day.

The big signings were goalie Cam Talbot and defensemen Erik Gustafsson and, secondarily, defenseman William Lagesson and goaltender Jack Campbell.

Lagesson and Campbell seemingly do not have a spot on the Detroit lineup.  There’s simply no room.  But they’re signed to one-way deals so we at least have to consider the idea that they could win a spot in camp.

The Talbot signing is interesting because the Red Wings already have last year’s Opening Night starter Ville Husso expected to be healthy and last year’s starter-by-default Alex Lyon coming back on an extremely team-friendly deal.  Talbot says he wants to challenge for the starting spot and Yzerman says the team doesn’t want to roll three goalies so something is going to have to give there.  To say nothing of the possibility of Campbell challenging for a role.

However the goaltending shakes out, it’s going to have a domino effect throughout the rest of the organization.  Sebastian Cossa is slated to get the majority of the starts in Grand Rapids this season but he’s going to have to share the crease with whoever of those four don’t stick with Detroit.  It’s easy to assume the Griffins’ tandem will be Cossa and Campbell but what if Husso or Lyon end up demoted as well?  Or are Husso or Lyon expendable in another way?

Gustafsson has been mentioned as a replacement for the departed Shayne Gostisbehere, which makes some sense.  As in goal, though, the sheer number of bodies on the blue line makes it look like more moves are coming.  One of the reasons given for the Red Wings’ trade of Jake Walman in advance of the draft was to clear up roster space for Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson but in signing Gustafsson and Lagesson, the blue line is just as crowded as ever.  Even if we assume Lagesson is bound for Grand Rapids (and assuming restricted free agent Moritz Seider signs), the Wings are slated to carry eight defensemen next year (Seider, Edvinsson, Gustafsson, Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, Jeff Petry, Justin Holl, and Johansson).  While do-able that’s a lot of money to throw at players who aren’t playing.

The changes at forward started on Tuesday with the signing of depth forward Tyler Motte.  This feels a little bit like “Well, Daniel Sprong didn’t work out in the bottom six so let’s get someone cheaper and harder to play against.”  I don’t love that approach as it seems like giving up.  Like finding bottom six scoring is hard so why try?

The big moves came on Wednesday, with the Red Wings signing Vladimir Tarasenko and trading away Robby Fabbri.  I like the Tarasenko signing.  I think he’s an upgrade over David Perron.  I don’t know that Fabbri needed to go to make room but, as with the Motte-as-Sprong-replacement idea, I’m looking at it as Jonatan Berggren is the Fabbri replacement.

At this point, and assuming Seider and Lucas Raymond get their deals done, I think the Wings are probably better at forward, better in goal, and worse on defense.  I think that might be better overall.

All of that said, I come back to the Walman trade.  Yzerman paying what seemed like such a large amount to save so relatively little money sure looked to me like there was a big ticket move coming.  And that never really materialized.  Maybe there was something that didn’t come together, maybe not, but there’s a psychological difference as a fan between making a big splash to improve and making a bunch of small improvements.  If Detroit is improved this year, it’s from Tarasenko being marginally better than Perron and Talbot being better than Reimer.  It’s not from adding a Steven Stamkos or Jacob Trouba.

The Wings only needed to be marginally better last year to have made the playoffs and Tarasenko and Talbot might be that difference.  But right now, in the first week of free agency, it doesn’t feel as much like a win as we may have hoped.


Finally, my jersey number thoughts, some of which I’ve already mentioned…

Gustafsson probably gets the #56 he’s worn for most of his career as it’s assigned to prospect Brennan Ali and therefore can be considered available.

Talbot has worn #33 and #39 for his career and Cossa probably isn’t giving up #33 so that leaves him getting #39 from Tim Gettinger (who only wore it in camp anyway).  Gettinger seems to prefer #26, anyway, but for some reason he didn’t take it last year (when it was assigned to prospect Andrew Gibson); maybe he does this year (when it’s assigned to prospect Max Plante).

Campbell looked like he was going to be able to take his usual #36, as it was worn by Fischer last season, but Fischer’s subsequent return likely makes that impossible.  He’s also worn #1, which isn’t an option in Detroit, so I’m going to guess he gets #31.  I’m on the record as saying that I think Carter Mazur will switch (back) to #43 so maybe Campbell takes #32 instead.  Those are the only “goalie numbers” left available with the Red Wings, with #30 semi-retired.

Lagesson has a history of wearing #37 but that won’t be possible with the Wings.  He’s also worn #84 and #85.  The easy answer is #84 because it’s available but I wonder if we might see Elmer Soderblom switch to the #25 he wears in Grand Rapids, making #85 also an option.  Or he could take something like #17.

Motte has worn #64 quite a bit but he wore #14 at Michigan and it looks like he’s tried to go back to that number when he can.  With Fabbri gone, I’m going to guess Motte takes up #14, but he could get #64 from Emmitt Finnie.

Tarasenko probably isn’t getting his usual #91 and he’s definitely got getting the #10 he wore in Florida so I’m thinking #11 for him.

Dries has worn #15 in Colorado and Vancouver and it’s available in Detroit so that makes sense for him to pick up.  Snively could get the #21 he wore in AHL Hershey since he’s not getting the #91 he wore in Washington.  Dello’s numbers have been all over the place so I’m going to guess he gets something like #45.

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