Now that the 2019 NHL Draft is over and the Detroit Red Wings have a handful of new prospects in their pipeline, the organization can now turn their focus to free agency.
Unlike last summer, the Red Wings only have a few free agents to consider re-signing. That doesn’t mean Steve Yzerman won’t be busy, though.
In this edition of the 2019 Red Wings Summer Rebuild Series, we’ll preview Detroit’s upcoming free agent options with the negotiating period now open. Be sure to stick around, as we’ll cover a number of Red Wings topics throughout the offseason:
- Red Wings Rebuild: Grading the Young Guns
- 2019 Red Wings Prospect Report
- 2019 Red Wings Draft Guide
- Summer 2019 Prospect Rankings
- 2019-20 Red Wings Season Preview
2019-20 Red Wings Cap Space
According to CapFriendly, the Red Wings have $71,749,543 committed to 23 players—including Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen—for the 2019-20 season – about $10 million below the $81.5 million cap. Moving Zetterberg and Franzen to long-term injured reserve would allow the Red Wings to surpass the upper limit by just over $10 million.
However, their cap commitments do not include potential free agent additions – both internal and external. Let’s take a look at Detroit’s free agents and how much they might cost to re-sign.
Red Wings’ Unrestricted Free Agents
This summer, the Red Wings only have a few unrestricted free agents after re-signing Jimmy Howard and dealing Gustav Nyquist.
|Pos||Player||2018-19 Stats||2018-19 Cap Hit|
|D||Niklas Kronwall||79 GP – 3 G – 24 A – 27 PTS||$4,750,000|
|C||Wade Megan||11 GP – 0 G – 1 G – 1 PTS||$650,000|
|LW||Thomas Vanek||64 GP – 16 G – 20 A – 36 PTS||$3,000,000|
|RW/D||Luke Witkowski||34 GP – 0 G – 2 A – 2 PTS||$750,000|
Of the four, Niklas Kronwall and Luke Witkowski appear to be the most likely to return. Steve Yzerman noted that he’s already talked with Kronwall and Witkowski, but has not spoken with Thomas Vanek.
“If he wanted to play, absolutely,” Yzerman responded when asked about the possibility of Kronwall coming back for another season. “He can take as much time as he wants. I don’t need to know (by July 1).”
Despite Kronwall’s $4.75 million cap hit, the defenseman’s salary was only $1.75 million last season. And based on his play, I expect the veteran to return for one more season and reach the 1,000-game plateau.
For Witkowski, a one- or two-year deal would be fair for the fan favorite and frequent scratch. If the Red Wings are going to sit two or three players each night, it probably shouldn’t be prospects, but rather a glue guy like Witkowski.
Thomas Vanek and Wade Megan likely won’t be back with the organization. There are younger, cheaper options—and prospects—available to take Vanek’s spot in the middle-six. As for Megan, there’s a slight chance he re-signs to play with the Grand Rapids Griffins next season, but with the glut of forwards already there, it wouldn’t make much sense to bring him back.
Red Wings’ Restricted Free Agents
Fortunately for the Red Wings, they don’t have any major restricted free agents to ink to new deals this offseason after re-upping Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, and Tyler Bertuzzi.
Like the UFAs above, this list would have been longer if not for a couple transactions. Libor Sulak signed with Severstal Cherepovets of the KHL and Axel Holmstrom returned to his native Sweden.
|Pos||Player||2018-19 Stats||2018-19 Cap Hit|
|LW||Martin Frk||30 GP – 1 G – 5 A – 6 PTS||$1,050,000|
|G||Patrik Rybar||37 GP – 2.49 GAA – .908 SV% (AHL)||$925,000|
|D||Joe Hicketts||64 GP – 3 G – 24 A – 27 PTS (AHL)||$636,111|
|LW||Dylan Sadowy||14 GP – 1 G – 0 A – 1 PTS (AHL)||$925,000|
|C||Dominic Turgeon||72 GP – 6 G – 14 A – 20 PTS (AHL)||$919,167|
Certainly not as intriguing as last year’s batch of RFAs. We’ll press on, though.
Joe Hicketts and Dominic Turgeon are basically in the same boat. Neither have solidified a roster spot with the Red Wings, but require waivers to be sent back down to Grand Rapids. One-year contracts with modest raises would give Detroit the most flexibility – make the two prove their worth at the NHL level over a larger sample size to determine next steps beyond this season.
Martin Frk and Dylan Sadowy appear to be on their way out. The former hasn’t been able to adapt his game beyond a booming shot, while the latter has had trouble sticking around with the Griffins, let alone challenge for an NHL job. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to bring either back with the amount of forwards the Red Wings already have under contract.
That brings us to Patrik Rybar. The goaltender put up respectable numbers during his first season in North America and helped the Griffins salvage a playoff spot after Harri Sateri went down with an injury. The Red Wings have no reason not to bring Rybar back as a 1A option to pair with Filip Larsson in Grand Rapids. A two-year contract—with the second year being a one-way agreement—would suffice.
Predictions for Red Wings’ Free Agents
Of Detroit’s nine free agents, I expect five to return next season. Their projected term and cap hits are below.
Until he says otherwise, I expect Kronwall to return and play one last season. With that being said, the Red Wings can sign him to a reasonable deal and play him on the second or third pair.
The other three skaters will come to camp ready to battle for roster spots – none are guaranteed to stick around with the Red Wings. Plus, all would be signed to contracts that could be easily buried in the minors.
External Unrestricted Free Agents
Just like a yellow shirt at a stop-light party, proceed with caution! Just because the Red Wings have cap space, they shouldn’t feel the need to spend it all. That said, they could make a savvy move or two on the free agent front.
Free Agent Forwards
Even with Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin looking for new contracts, the Red Wings should avoid the top tier of free agents. Instead, they should target short-term, cost-effective solutions for the middle-six while their prospects develop. Younger reclamation projects would also be worth a conversation.
A few targets that come to mind (in alphabetical order):
|Pos||Player||2018-19 Stats||Avg. Game Score||Goals Above Replacement|
|RW||Brett Connolly||81 GP – 22 G – 24 A – 46 PTS||0.58||7.7|
|RW||Joonas Donskoi||80 GP – 14 G – 23 A – 37 PTS||0.61||11.2|
|LW||Gustav Nyquist||81 GP – 22 G – 38 A – 60 PTS||0.78||11.9|
|RW||Corey Perry||31 GP – 6 G – 4 A – 10 PTS||0.27||-3.4|
Of the four, Brett Connolly and Joonas Donskoi would be the most appealing – and likely the most cost-effective. Both could command three- or four-year contracts with an AAV coming in around $3 million, with Connolly costing a tad bit more than Donskoi.
Connolly is a former first-round choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning, taken sixth-overall by Yzerman in 2010. The burly right wing popped home 21 even-strength goals last season with the Washington Capitals and possess a right-handed shot. Connolly can still move well for his size and can play in all situations.
Connolly has evolved into a pretty efficient scorer in low minutes over the last few seasons, posting 2.19 points-per-60 during his tenure in Washington – which is first-line caliber.–Dom Luszczyszyn (from ‘By the numbers: Evaluating the 2019 free agency class – The Athletic NHL – 6/24/19)
Because of Erik Karlsson signing, it’s unlikely that San Jose will be able to retain Gustav Nyquist and Donskoi this offseason, giving the Red Wings an opportunity to ink one of the two. While we all know what Nyquist can bring to the table, Donskoi is a sneaky good wing with above-average speed and outstanding hands. Over the past couple seasons, he’s had strong possession numbers and shown a knack for setting up teammates for quality chances.
Few players drive play better than Donskoi does who is excellent at creating chances for himself and his teammates, as well as moving the puck up ice.–Dom Luszczyszyn (from ‘By the numbers: Evaluating the 2019 free agency class – The Athletic NHL – 6/24/19)
And finally, adding Corey Perry could benefit the Red Wings. It would certainly be a polarizing move, but signing Detroit’s old antagonist to a one-year, “prove-it” deal with the intention of trading him at the trade deadline would be a savvy strategy for Yzerman and the Red Wings. Perry may not be a 40-goal scorer anymore, but he could certainly hit 20 and provide value to a contender looking for size and Stanley Cup experience as the season is winding down.
Free Agent Defensemen
There’s not much to say here – the Red Wings shouldn’t pursue any free agent defensemen. Their blue line is already clogged with veterans and prospects fighting for roster spots.
With Karlsson, Alexander Elder, and Jacob Trouba signed to new deals, the rest of the market stands to benefit from their good fortune. Tyler Myers and Jake Gardiner will both end up inking contracts that will look rough in a few years. The Red Wings should avoid this underwhelming crop of defensemen and save their cap space for another day.
Nope. Not even once.
Detroit’s draft picks are just too valuable to offer sheet a rising star, even if that player is Brayden Point, Mitch Marner, or Patrik Laine. Besides, they’ll need that cap space next summer.
Red Wings 2020 Shopping Spree
Not only will the Red Wings need to re-sign Athanasiou, Bertuzzi, and Mantha to long-term, high-AAV contracts next summer, there will also be a strong crop of unrestricted free agents hitting the market, including:
- D Tyson Barrie
- LW Alex Galchenyuk
- LW Mikael Granlund
- G Braden Holtby
- LW Taylor Hall
- D Roman Josi
- LW Chris Kreider
- D Torey Krug
- D Alex Pietrangelo
- RW Tyler Toffoli
If the Red Wings are in a place where they can contend in the near future, pursuing one or two of these free agents wouldn’t be the worst idea. Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Jimmy Howard will be coming off the books, opening up an additional $16 million-plus in cap space.
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.