Red Wings on the Verge of Salary Cap Flexibility

The world lost an amazing human being this week when Detroit Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay passed away at the age of 93. As the left wing on the famed Production Line, Lindsay won four Stanley Cups with the Red Wings along with numerous personal awards.

Though nicknamed “Terrible Ted”, he was a true humanitarian and put everyone else first – Lindsay was the first captain to skate the Stanley Cup around the ice, wanting fans who paid his salary to witness it up close. He also advocated for better salaries and benefits for NHL players during a time when summer jobs to cover the bills were not out of the ordinary, and helped create the NHL Players’ Association.

Lindsay will be sorely missed, but he’s now reunited with his wife, Joanne, and former linemates Gordie Howe and Sid Abel. Rest in peace, Ted.

For the third season in a row, the Red Wings will miss the playoffs. But, there’s hope in sight. The team is expected to have a significant amount of salary cap space with only a few players to re-sign – something very new for the Red Wings.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland
Will Ken Holland kick some tires this summer on free agents? (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Let’s dive into next season’s salary cap outlook, plus take a look at other factors that could determine the amount of cap space Holland will have at his disposal.

Related – Red Wings Rebuild: What’s Next?

Minimalist Offseason

Before reviewing the 2019-20 roster and the potential cap space, let’s set a few conditions for the summer:

  • The Red Wings are awarded the fifth-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and select Bowen Byram.
  • The 2019-20 salary cap upper limit will be set at $83 million.
  • The Red Wings re-sign Jimmy Howard to a two-year, $9 million deal ($4.5 million AAV).
  • The Red Wings re-sign Joe Hicketts to a two-year, $1.8 million deal ($900,000 AAV).
  • No other offseason moves are made.

With those players signed, here’s what Detroit’s roster would look like with a minimalist approach:

Anthony Mantha Dylan Larkin Darren Helm
Filip Zadina Andreas Athanasiou Tyler Bertuzzi
Michael Rasmussen Frans Nielsen Luke Glendening
Justin Abdelkader Jacob de la Rose Evgeny Svechnikov
Christoffer Ehn
Danny DeKeyser Mike Green Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Ericsson Filip Hronek Jonathan Bernier
Dennis Cholowski Trevor Daley
Joe Hicketts Madison Bowey

With this roster and the maximum relief provided by placing Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen on long-term injured reserve, the Red Wings would have about $19 million in salary cap space to work with. There’s a little more nuance to it, but Detroit has some money available.

Other Roster Management Factors

Obviously, the roster above isn’t set in stone. Dennis Cholowski, Christoffer Ehn, Filip Hronek, Michael Rasmussen, and Filip Zadina could still be sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins without having to pass through waivers first.

In addition, the Red Wings could re-sign Niklas Kronwall, who—considering his age—amazingly still has some gas left in the tank and could be back for a 16th season with the organization. If he is retained, Detroit would need to clear a spot on the blue line – either by sending someone down or shipping a defenseman out. It should be noted, though, that Danny DeKeyser and Mike Green have no-trade clauses (NTCs) and Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley have lists of teams they can reject trades to.

Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings
Will Niklas Kronwall come back for another season with the Red Wings? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Holland could also sign a couple of unrestricted free agents to supplement the roster. Erik Karlsson would be a dream acquisition, but an unlikely one. The same could be said for Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. However, it’s comforting to know that the organization could feasibly pursue one or two of these free agents and upgrade the roster in that manner.

Another way the roster could be adjusted is if a prospect or two makes the case to play the 2019-20 campaign in Detroit. Libor Sulak and Joe Veleno certainly come to mind as legitimate candidates. Veleno, in particular, has been tearing up the QMJHL this season and is clearly ready for the next level.

And finally, Darren Helm’s NTC is likely to be nullified this summer. There’s a stipulation in his contract that if he’s not among Detroit’s top-nine forwards in terms of average time on ice or the team misses the playoffs, then his NTC may be voided. The Red Wings may not want to trade Helm right away, but some flexibility would be created.

Final Word

For the first time in many years, the Red Wings are expected to have some cap space. If Holland is feeling good about the team’s outlook, there’s plenty of money available to spend on free agents this summer.

However, it may be wise to save the cap space for another day. Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Evgeny Svechnikov will need new contracts during the summer of 2020 and are due for raises – significant boosts for the former three. The team could also take on salary in exchange for assets, much like the Arizona Coyotes did with Pavel Datsyuk’s contract in 2016.

In the meantime, let’s savor this flexibility.

How should the Detroit Red Wings spend their cap space? Share your thoughts below.