While the Detroit Red Wings are just nine games into the 2015-16 season, the play of Justin Abdelkader in the early going has raised some questions about his value. He began the season scoring at a torrid pace, notching five points in his first two games. However, he has gone pointless in the seven games since. In the last year of a contract that pays him just 1.8M per year, Abdelkader is in line for a substantial raise. Despite the fluctuation in his offensive production, the question remains: how much is he worth to the Red Wings?
Even when you put aside his offensive contributions, Abdelkader possesses a unique skillet compared to other players on the Red Wings; he plays an abrasive, two-way style. Currently, he leads the team in hits (29) and can play on the penalty kill when necessary.
Abdelkader is second in TOI/GP among Red Wings forwards, averaging 18:51 per night. He is a heart-and-soul type of player – the kind of player who could wear an “A” for the Red Wings down the line. It does not hurt that he is a native of Michigan, either. All of these things will factor into Ken Holland’s decision on whether or not to retain the 28-year-old winger.
At the same time, his style of play could work against him – at least in terms of durability. In general, power forwards tend to “burn out” before skilled players. The wear and tear on their bodies catches up with them, limiting their effectiveness or even forcing them to retire earlier than they might have liked. While Abdelkader is a relatively healthy player, it could be an issue down the line.
Glut of Talent on the Way
Further complicating the situation, the Red Wings have a number pending free agents heading into the 2016-17 season. Like Abdelkader, Darren Helm is an unrestricted free agent, and is likely looking for a raise from his current 2.125M dollar cap hit. Restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek could be in line for big raises, too.
It is entirely possible that the Red Wings will have to let one of Abdelkader or Helm walk if their contract demands are too high. Luckily, the Red Wings have a glut of young talent in the AHL. Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi could make the jump to the NHL as soon as next season. There is even an outside chance that Evgeny Svechnikiov could compete for a spot on the roster.
Ultimately, it is tough to picture Holland letting Abdelkader walk, considering his role on the team. However, the Red Wings should be wary about signing him for too long of a term. Abdelkader has one season of strong production, as he put up 44 points through 71 games last season. While he is off to a good start this season, the jury is still out on whether or not he can maintain that kind of production.
It is likely that Abdelkader will demand north of 4M from the Red Wings for his next deal, which depending on the term could work out well for both parties. Something along the lines of three or four years at 4-4.5M would be a solid deal for Detroit. While Abdelkader is an important part of the Red Wings, Holland should remain as objective as possible.