Coming Soon: Red Wings Salary Cap Relief

From a salary cap standpoint, the past two offseasons have been difficult for the Detroit Red Wings. Hampered by expensive contracts doled out to depth players, the organization has been near the cap’s upper limit despite being a rebuilding team.

Much to the relief of Red Wings fans everywhere, financial freedom is on the way. Next summer, the franchise should be in a much more manageable spot with regard to its salary cap dealings.

In the meantime, general manager Ken Holland needs to re-sign franchise center Dylan Larkin and find a creative way to cut salary and become compliant with the salary cap. But the large cap hit that will come with Larkin’s new deal will be more palatable next summer when salary cap space opens up for the Red Wings.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland.
Ken Holland will have some extra spending money next summer. (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Red Wings’ Contracts Coming Off the Books

At the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, Detroit will have a handful of pending unrestricted free agents and plenty of cap space to work with:

  • Gustav Nyquist – $4,750,000
  • Thomas Vanek – $3,000,000
  • Luke Witkowski – $750,000
  • Niklas Kronwall – $4,750,000
  • Nick Jensen – $812,500
  • Jimmy Howard – $5,291,666

Some of these players—most notably Nyquist, Vanek, and Jensen—could be dealt by the 2019 NHL trade deadline to aid Detroit’s rebuild. Regardless of which players are with the Red Wings at the end of the season, these six hitting unrestricted free agency will open up $19,354,166 with no significant NHL restricted free agents to sign. Additionally, Detroit could once again non-tender Martin Frk and open up another $1,050,000 in cap space.

Niklas Kronwall of the Detroit Red Wings
The 2018-19 campaign figures to be the last for Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Furthermore, Johan Franzen and potentially Henrik Zetterberg’s contracts could be placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) and create cap space if the Red Wings are in need of it. If this coming season is in doubt for Zetterberg, then it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be around for the 2019-20 campaign.

For those keeps score at home, that’s over $20 million in cap space for the summer of 2019 if Frk is non-tendered, plus another ~$10 million available if Franzen and Zetterberg were placed on LTIR with cap relief. When was the last time Holland had so much cap space to work with and so few key players to re-sign?

Related – Detroit Red Wings: Grading Ken Holland’s Rebuild Moves

Red Wings Shopping Spree?

With so much cap space, what should Holland do? For one, the Red Wings will need another goalie with Howard’s contract expiring. Re-signing the veteran to bridge the gap until prospects are ready to step in isn’t out of the question. It would not be surprising to see the veteran inked to a two-year contract extension with something around a $4-million cap hit if he has another solid season between the pipes.

Jimmy Howard of the Detroit Red Wings
Will Detroit retain Jimmy Howard after his present contract expires? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Apart from Howard, it’s possible that Nyquist and Jensen will be re-signed if the two aren’t dealt at the deadline. The duo are still young enough to be valuable contributors for the next few years.

Related: Red Wings Prospects Ready to Take Veterans’ Jobs?

Outside of Detroit, the Red Wings could have a shot at a few marquee free agents if they reach the market next summer. Erik Karlsson, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene, Tyler Myers, and Ryan Ellis will all become unrestricted free agents if they are not re-upped before July 1, 2019. All, especially Karlsson and Seguin, would be high-impact additions for a rebuilding team on the rise. It would be best to keep cap space open in case these players become available.

One final option may be the best: Holland can just save the cap space for another day. At some point, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, and others will need new contracts. It’s a new concept for the Red Wings, but they don’t have to spend their valuable cap space if no available player is worth it.

What should the Detroit Red Wings do with their cap space next summer? Comment below with your thoughts.