Last summer, Ken Holland and the Detroit Red Wings were tasked with signing a handful of restricted free agents, including Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, and future captain Dylan Larkin. The summer of 2019 presents a different scenario: having to choose which unrestricted free agents (UFAs) to bring back.
After the 2018-19 campaign concludes, six Red Wings players will become UFAs: Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Vanek, Luke Witkowski, Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen, and Jimmy Howard. In addition, Martin Frk will be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights.
Let’s take a look at Detroit’s pending free agents and determine what kind of new contract they can expect. Will it be the Red Wings signing them? Or perhaps another team?
Gustav Nyquist Migrating From Detroit?
Not Detroit – Four years, $22 million
Soon enough, the Goose will, in fact, be loose. As a pending unrestricted free agent, Nyquist may want to explore more lucrative options come July – and that could also be a good thing for the Red Wings. Already hampered by long-term, costly contracts, paying 29-year-old Nyquist $5.5 million over the next four years doesn’t make a lot of sense for a rebuilding team.
If anything, the Red Wings should try to trade Nyquist before the deadline – if he’s willing to waive his no-trade clause. Acquiring an asset or two for a player likely to leave—like what was done with Brendan Smith a couple years ago—could benefit Detroit down the road. The two draft picks exchanged for Smith netted the Red Wings center Zach Gallant and highly rated winger Jonathan Berggren.
Thomas Vanek & His Hockeytown Leadership
Detroit – One year, $3 million
With Nyquist and Kronwall likely gone plus Mike Green and Trevor Daley becoming rental trade chips in 2019-20, the Red Wings could opt to keep Vanek in a leadership role. He loves Detroit and the team enjoys having him around – Vanek would be a good mentor to the likes of Evgeny Svechnikov, Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen, and possibly Joe Veleno next season.
Injuries and a lack of scoring have been a concern this year, but Vanek is due for an uptick in production. His three-point night against the New York Islanders is a sign of that. If he can find his game and reach a 0.50 points per game pace, it would not be surprising to see Vanek sign the exact same contract as he did last summer.
Martin Frk on the Outside Looking In
Not Detroit – One year, $1.5 million
Still a restricted free agent, the Red Wings could once again decide to non-tender Frk so that they can nullify his arbitration rights. But, unlike last season, Frk could be headed elsewhere.
The Red Wings will need to find 2019-20 roster spots for Svechnikov, Zadina, and Veleno. There just isn’t enough room for Frk, who has just three points this season in fourth line and power play minutes.
Luke Witkowski Following Blashill?
Not Detroit – One year, $900,000
Witkowski’s versatility and great attitude are pluses and he’s been relatively effective on the ice this season as well. Witkowski is essentially tied to Jeff Blashill – he’ll get a contract offer from wherever Blashill is next season, whether that’s Detroit or somewhere else. And, as of now, I’m guessing that’s not Detroit.
Bon Voyage, Niklas Kronwall
Not Detroit – 20 years, new boat
This is more than likely Kronwall’s last year in the NHL. And while playing a season or two in Sweden to finish off his career could be an option, retirement is more likely to happen. A nice, new boat—the Kronwalled—is in the defenseman’s future.
Nick Jensen Seeking Greener Pastures?
Not Detroit – Three years, $7.5 million
While he may not score much from the blue line, Jensen has been a valuable contributor for the Red Wings. His speed, willingness to join the rush, and ability to kill penalties will make him an attractive rental option as the NHL trade deadline nears. Plus, he shoots right-handed, which is always in demand.
Though they are different players stylistically, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jensen earn a new contract similar to that of Washington’s Michal Kempny. They both play the same role and are effective third-pairing defenders who can jump up to the second pairing if need be. Moving on from Jensen would also open up another spot on the blue line for a prospect (Joe Hicketts, Libor Sulak, Filip Hronek) to fill.
Red Wings Reunion for Jimmy Howard
Detroit – Two years, $9 million
A brick wall for the Red Wings, Howard could also be an interesting trade chip over the next couple of months. Even if he’s dealt, a Hockeytown return is still likely for Detroit’s long-time No. 1 goaltender.
Howard, who will be 35 before the season ends, still has some gas left in the tank – especially if his backup is playing 35-40 percent of Detroit’s games. A new contract paying him $5 million next season and $4 million the year after that is fair and on par with recent deals. Pekka Rinne, who is slightly older than Howard and a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate, just re-signed in Nashville for $10 million split between two years.