Given how the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed, it’s safe to assume that the Detroit Red Wings won’t be playing games anytime soon. And since the hockey world could use a little fun right now, let’s move into offseason mode and start tinkering with the Red Wings’ roster.
I decided to give Steve Yzerman a break and take over Detroit’s roster management responsibilities. He deserves a some rest and relaxation after a long first season as the Red Wings’ general manager.
Just because I’m in charge doesn’t mean that we’re going to deviate from the Yzerplan, though. We’re still rebuilding. But with several veterans finally seeing their contracts expire, the Red Wings have an opportunity to get significantly younger and I’m fully onboard with carpe-ing that diem.
A few notes before we dive in:
- I’m setting the salary cap upper limit at $82 million. With all of the potentially lost games and revenue, I can’t imagine the cap will come close to the initial $84-88.2 million projection.
- My actions are intended to be as realistic as possible. No trading Justin Abdelkader for Connor McDavid.
- Shout out to former The Hockey Writers contributor Chad DeDominicis, whose offseason projection for the Buffalo Sabres inspired this exercise.
With that out of the way, let’s get to building the 2020-21 Red Wings.
First and foremost, I’m moving on from Jeff Blashill. He’s a good coach and is respected by the players, but the Red Wings need a new voice in the room.
To replace Blashill, I’m bringing in former Red Wing and Jack Adams Award winner Gerard Gallant. Having coached a young, overachieving Florida Panthers team and taking a group of misfits in the first-year Vegas Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Final, Gallant is the perfect coach to create a new Red Wings identity; one that’s built on speed and structure.
With a guaranteed top-four pick, the Red Wings are set to add another gamebreaker to their prospect pipeline. As for whom, I went to Tankathon to see where exactly the Red Wings will pick. The result: Second. And with Alexis Lafreniere undisputedly going first, I’m selecting Quinton Byfield. Welcome to the team!
According to multiple reports, the NHL is considering bringing back compliance buyouts. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic, lost revenue, and the 2020-21 salary cap upper limit not being able to increase as much as previously expected. For the purpose of this exercise, we’re going to assume that this is indeed the case and teams are allowed one compliance buyout this offseason.
The Red Wings don’t necessarily need to utilize a buyout for cap reasons, but could use it to alleviate their forward logjam. With that being said, I’m going to use a compliance buyout on Justin Abdelkader. The buyout will not count against the cap, but the organization will still need to pay Abdelkader what he’s due.
Red Wings’ Restricted Free Agents
The Red Wings have 12 players scheduled to be RFAs, including Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. Here are the contracts that I doled out:
- LW Anthony Mantha: Six years, $6 million AAV
- RW Tyler Bertuzzi: Six years, $5 million AAV
- LW Robby Fabbri: Two years, $2.75 million AAV
- D Madison Bowey: One year, $1.25 million
- LW Taro Hirose: One year, $971,250
- C Christoffer Ehn: One year, $900,000
- RW Evgeny Svechnikov: One year, $874,125
- LW Dmytro Timashov: One year, $850,000
- C Dominic Turgeon: One year, $787,500
- D Kyle Wood: One year, $735,000
I decided to cut ties with Adam Erne and Brendan Perlini. Erne did not offer much beyond his physicality and Perlini doesn’t have the speed or finishing ability to be a middle-six contributor. Plus, there are just too many forwards competing for a few spots. But more on that later.
Unrestricted Free Agent Additions
Unsurprisingly, I passed on bringing back Sam Gagner, Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Jimmy Howard. The team needs to get younger and should be choosy when it comes to adding older players to the roster.
With that in mind, I only added one NHLer via free agency and a few others to help in Grand Rapids. In addition, I brought back Chris Terry for another year with the Griffins.
- D Justin Schultz: One year, $5.5 million
- LW Julius Nattinen: One year, $925,000 (entry-level contract)
- D Matt Kiersted: Two years, $925,000 AAV (entry-level contract)
- LW Alex Limoges: Two years, $925,000 AAV (entry-level contract)
With Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek already on the roster, adding Justin Schultz doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first glance. But that opinion also assumes Seider is able to play a top-four role for a full 82-game season, which more than likely is not the case.
Schultz adds more offense to Detroit’s blue line and gives them flexibility to move players around as needed. He can play a top-four role and can quarterback one of Detroit’s two power-play units. In addition, Schultz is a capable defender in his own end.
The three other free-agent additions will help round out Grand Rapids’ roster in the short term and could potentially contribute in Detroit down the road. Julius Nattinen is one of Europe’s top free agents this summer and has a nice goal-scoring touch.
“Nattinen is best suited to play an offensive role on the third line but obviously with NHL’s mix-and-match style in lineup configurations, he could end up anywhere in the top nine. He shouldn’t be expected to carry his line offensively but he could be a great complementary scorer, especially against secondary opponents.”–Jokke Nevalainen, Dobber Prospects
Matt Kiersted and Alex Limoges both wrapped up stellar seasons at the NCAA level. Kiersted has notable offensive abilities and decent speed. Limoges participated in last year’s Development Camp alongside Detroit’s top prospects and could step into an AHL role rather easily.
The Red Wings are not in the contending phase of the rebuild just yet, so trades should be used to improve organizational depth, not bolster the NHL roster for a Stanley Cup run. With that being said, I made two moves to improve the franchise as a whole.
Trade 1: D Dennis Cholowski traded to the Vancouver Canucks for G Thatcher Demko.
This trade is contingent on Vancouver re-signing All-Star goaltender Jacob Markstrom. They can’t protect both Markstrom and Demko in the Seattle expansion draft and could use more depth on defense.
Cholowski’s defensive gaffes are hard to ignore. If the Red Wings trade him now, they can still recoup good value for the defenseman. This way, they’re not stuck with another Jakub Kindl.
Detroit also gets a young goalie capable of becoming a solid NHL starter. Demko and Jonathan Bernier would give the Red Wings a quality tandem next season, before taking on a leading role the following year.
Trade 2: 2021 third-round pick traded to the New York Rangers for C Lias Andersson.
In this scenario, the Red Wings pick up a reclamation project in Lias Andersson, who wants out of New York. The plan would be to start him out in the AHL and build his confidence back up.
The third-round pick going back to the Rangers was previously owned by the Vegas Golden Knight (part of the Tomas Tatar deal). With six players—seven with Schultz aboard—scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency next summer, the Red Wings can afford to trade the draft pick knowing they’ll likely scoop up more at the deadline in exchange for those rental players.
After all the transactions, here’s how the Red Wings’ 23-man roster would look:
|Anthony Mantha||Dylan Larkin||Filip Zadina|
|Robby Fabbri||Michael Rasmussen||Tyler Bertuzzi|
|Quinton Byfield||Valtteri Filppula||Darren Helm|
|Frans Nielsen||Luke Glendening||Evgeny Svechnikov|
|Dmytro Timashov||Christoffer Ehn|
|Danny DeKeyser||Filip Hronek|
|Patrik Nemeth||Justin Schultz|
|Alex Biega||Moritz Seider|
Bernier and Demko will tend the twine, of course.
I won’t get into too much detail with the reasoning for the lineup above. I will say that the roster is meant to be flexible, especially on defense. In addition, top prospects Seider and Byfield should be eased into the NHL, as exemplified by their initial roles. And finally, the last two forward spots are up for grabs – Andersson, Hirose, and Givani Smith are certainly in contention alongside Timashov and Ehn.
With this 23-man roster (plus Henrik Zetterberg’s contract), Detroit’s total cap hit would be $68,151,624. That leaves $13,848,376 million in cap space, easily the most the Red Wings have ever had available entering a season. This gives Detroit flexibility to take on contracts around the trade deadline or leading up to the Seattle expansion draft.
Speaking of the expansion draft, the offseason roster moves wouldn’t impact Detroit’s approach much. They would still protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and a goalie:
- F: Dylan Larkin
- F: Anthony Mantha
- F: Tyler Bertuzzi
- F: Robby Fabbri
- F: Filip Zadina
- F: Michael Rasmussen
- F: Evgeny Svechnikov
- D: Filip Hronek
- D: Gustav Lindstrom
- D: TBD
- G: Thatcher Demko
The final defenseman could be Bowey, Danny DeKeyser, Joe Hicketts, or Patrik Nemeth depending on next summer’s priorities. Additionally, Andersson, Smith, or Hirose could sub in for Svechnikov if he can’t lock down a full-time NHL role.
It won’t take much to improve upon this season’s results. The additions of Byfield, Schultz, and Demko plus the promotions of Rasmussen, Svechnikov, and Seider give the Red Wings a much better roster in comparison.
It should also be noted that, by this point, the Red Wings are in much better shape with regard to the salary cap. Having $13 million-plus in cap space is a huge benefit.
Now that I’ve wrapped up Detroit’s offseason, I have to say, this was a lot of fun. Be sure to comment with your thoughts on my plan or your own ideas below – I’m curious to know what you think about all of this.
Wait, one more thing. I’m naming Dylan Larkin captain. Now the offseason is complete.
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.