It has been a busier than anticipated summer for the Detroit Red Wings and general manager Steve Yzerman. Three new players joined the team on July 1, and Adam Erne came over from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a trade on August 14.
Patrik Nemeth signed a two-year contract worth $6 million. To the chagrin of many, the Red Wings have had a relatively porous blue line for several seasons. The team is hoping that Nemeth can be a short-term solution while they attempt to put the finishing touches on their rebuild.
Nemeth Brings Defensive Responsibility
No one will ever confuse Nemeth with a dynamic offensive player. He scored a goal and nine assists in 74 games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-19 and has never surpassed 15 points in a season during his NHL career. Alas, his defensive capabilities fill a need for the Red Wings.
With noted puck movers Mike Green and Filip Hronek patrolling the right-hand side, the Red Wings needed a responsible left-handed defenseman to play alongside them. Nemeth’s stay-at-home mentality will allow either Green or Hronek to join the rush more often. Fellow left-hander Danny DeKeyser will fill a similar role on the other pairing.
“He’s a big, strong, solid defensive defenseman,” Yzerman told reporters after the signing. “He kills penalties well, defends well.”
The 27-year-old Nemeth suppresses shots at an above-average rate, especially near the front of the net. During the 2017-18 season, he was fifth in the league in blocked shots with 185. He also blocked 131 shots last season, albeit in a lesser role due to the emergence of other defensemen on the Avalanche roster. The Red Wings can expect safe, steady play from the Swedish blueliner without a ton of flash.
A Conservative Contract
Perhaps the best aspect of the Nemeth signing is that it is low risk. A two-year deal with an annual value of $3 million on a team that has no plans of contending is a safe investment in free agency.
Some fans may be discouraged that the team added another player to a crowded roster of defensemen, especially with younger blueliners waiting in the wings. That is a fair criticism, but the contract makes sense when looking to the future.
The contracts of Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Green all expire at the end of the 2019-20 season. DeKeyser, alongside Nemeth, will be the only veteran defensemen under contract for the 2020-21 season. With Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, Oliwer Kaski, Madison Bowey, Moritz Seider, and Jared McIssac all under the age of 24, it is sensible to have some extra veteran presence around.
Furthermore, if several young players are ready for a full-time role during the 2020-21 season, Nemeth could easily be flipped to a contender as a rental at the trade deadline. While the Red Wings did not get significantly better by adding Nemeth to the team, they also did not handcuff themselves by signing a misguided contract.
Nemeth is essentially a stopgap. He is not going to have an earth-shattering impact on the Red Wings’ blue line, but he is better than some other veteran defensemen already on the team. He joins the squad during a rebuilding period, and he will not be under contract when the team starts to push for a playoff spot.
Yzerman did the right things in free agency this summer. Handing out contracts with sizable term can get you in trouble when you are a rebuilding club. Nemeth is a responsible option that fills a role without breaking the bank. A low-risk signing with possible reward is always a win in my books.