When Pavel Datsyuk decided that he wanted to leave the Detroit Red Wings to finish his career in Russia, it handcuffed the team with his $7.5M cap hit for the 2016-17 season. General manager Ken Holland got creative and moved the Magic Man’s contract to the Arizona Coyotes, effectively giving the team some wiggle room with the salary cap.
There was still the matter of replacing Datsyuk’s offensive and defensive contributions, though. While the task was nearly impossible, Holland did the best he could with the available talent on the market. Once Steven Stamkos decided to re-sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the caliber of player dropped quite a bit. Still, Holland was able to sign Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, filling in various gaps in the Wings’ lineup. A little past the quarter mark of the season, let’s take a look how each has fared while wearing the winged wheel.
While he does not possess the offensive talent that Datsyuk did through most of his career, Nielsen represented the best two-way player on the market during the summer. Holland inked the 32-year-old center to a six-year, $5.25M AAV contract on July 1st.
The Danish-born forward has shown signs of adjusting to his new team, but it looks as if he is truly starting to settle in as of late. Through 22 games with the Red Wings, Nielsen sits at third in scoring among forwards with 12 points, including a team-high five points on the power play.
Perhaps more important is the role he has taken on for the team. Nielsen is averaging 17:24 TOI/GP (2nd) for the team, including 02:32 (6th) on the power play and 01:52 (2nd) on the penalty kill. His versatility is what attracted the Red Wings’ brass, and he has displayed his ability to play in any situation this season.
Holland took a bit of a risk when he signed Vanek to a one-year, $2.6M contract. The 32-year-old winger was fresh off a buyout at the hands of the Minnesota Wild. General manager Chuck Fletcher cited the need for the team to gain some flexibility with respect to the salary cap. So far, it looks as if the risk that Holland took has paid off.
Through 11 games, Vanek has notched four goals and five assists, leading all Red Wings with 0.82 P/GP. It is even more impressive when you consider that he has averaged just 14:16 TOI/GP with the team. Known for his ability to score goals, the Austrian-born forward has also impressed the fanbase with his playmaking ability.
While it’s unlikely that Vanek will keep up his torrid scoring pace, the signing has benefited both parties. The Red Wings have received more bang for their buck than they could have anticipated, and Vanek is setting himself up for his next contract, whether it is with Detroit or another team in the league.
When Holland signed Ott, he left the Red Wings fanbase split about the acquisition. Most were fine with the $800K cap hit, though detractors of the signing claimed they feared the 34-year-old forward would take a spot in the lineup over players like Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha. Still, his reaction to signing in Detroit probably helped to win over some who were originally against the move.
In 18 games, Ott has generated little offense, chipping in with a goal and an assist. Holland signed the grizzled veteran to provide leadership and grit on the team’s fourth line, and he has done his job in that regard. When he is able to get under the skin of the opposition, it benefits the team, but when his tactics fall short, it has gotten the team into trouble.
I am a writer from Windsor, Ontario who has covered the Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers. I have had the pleasure of doing so since February of 2015. Previously, I have written about Red Wings prospects for Hockey’s Future. I am always up for chatting about the Red Wings and hockey in general, so leave me your comment and/or tweets. Follow me on Twitter at @BrandonPeleshok.