Four. Four straight seasons that have been void of any postseason action for the Detroit Red Wings. Of course, this dubious stretch comes on the heels of 25 consecutive playoff appearances including four Stanley Cup championships. For a proud city and an original six franchise, missing the playoffs was once an anomaly, but has become the expectation. For how long? There appears to be light piercing through the clouds.
Most Red Wings fans would agree that the franchise is in good hands as the organization’s former and beloved captain, Steve Yzerman, has returned. This time around Yzerman will, of course, be guiding the ship as general manager. If his success with the Tampa Bay Lightning is any indication, then Detroit should be genuinely excited.
Offseason Activity and Stable of Prospects
There are plenty of reasons fans should be optimistic. This offseason the Red Wings added veteran players at each position including Bobby Ryan and versatile Vladislav Namestnikov up front. Defensively, they acquired long-time New York Ranger Marc Staal on the left side and then signed steady right-hander Troy Stecher. Perhaps the most important free-agent addition was signing goaltender Thomas Greiss who recently helped the New York Islanders reach the Eastern Conference Final in 2020.
The Red Wings also have a group of under-25 players who have been groomed or are being groomed into quality NHLers. That list includes forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri, Filip Zadina, Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno, and Lucas Raymond. Except for 23-year-old Filip Hronek, who is already making an impact with the big club, the upcoming defensive prospects also have great potential led by Moritz Seider, Albert Johansson, Gustav Lindström, Dennis Cholowski, and Jared McIssac.
Extra Cap Room in 2021
However, 2021 also marks an important year when two contracts will come off the Red Wings’ books, including Henrik Zetterberg and Stephen Weiss’ which will free up an extra $7.75 million in cap space.
Zetterberg was an outstanding player and captain but paying his $6 million plus salary for the past two seasons when he hasn’t played has been an anchor. The Red Wings’ extended playoff absence is arguably related to his career-ending injury.
Utilization of Cap Space
The question on everyone’s mind is how will Yzerman spend that extra cash? Firstly, it will depend on how management deals with their 10 upcoming UFAs in 2021 including five forwards (Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendenning, Bobby Ryan, and Sam Gagner), four defensemen (Marc Staal, Patrik Nemeth, Jon Merrill, and Alex Biega), and one goaltender (Jonathan Bernier). It’s an interesting mix of players, the youngest of which is 28-year-old Oklahoma native, Merrill.
The Red Wings will also have three RFAs to negotiate new deals with next offseason. Tyler Bertuzzi is up for renewal again along with Adam Erne and Hronek. For all intents and purposes, there will be a true changing of the guard in 2021. My guess is that the Red Wings will likely be selective with the veterans they re-sign and will fill the remaining spots with young prospects who are ready to make the NHL leap.
Outlook in the Crease
Regardless of what the Red Wings spend to keep their current players, Yzerman will likely budget enough cash to address any roster deficiencies via free agency, including an upgrade in the crease.
Greiss is a viable option in the interim but he is also 34 years old. At 32, Bernier has become a decent backup, but it is doubtful the Red Wings would re-sign him when he becomes a UFA in 2021. Of the Red Wings’ five signed goaltending prospects, none have really stood out to date, at least no one who could challenge for the starting goaltending position in 2021-22.
If the Red Wings decide to budget for a solid starting goaltender through free agency next offseason, then there should be several interesting options available, including:
Jordan Binnington – age 26 – last contract: St Louis Blues – 2 years, $4.4 million AAV
Petr Mrázek – age 28 – last contract: Carolina Hurricanes – 2 years, $3.125 million
Philipp Grubauer – age 28 – last contract: Colorado Avalanche – 2 years, $3.33 million AAV
Frederik Andersen – age 30 – last contract: Toronto Maple Leafs – 5 years, $5 million AAV
Tuukka Rask – age 33 – last contract: Boston Bruins – 8 years, $7 million AAV
This is my list of the top goaltenders that are expected to become UFAs in 2021. One could argue that Antti Raanta belongs in that group, but he is 31 years old. The obvious complaint is that both Rask and Andersen are over 30. However, they have are proven starters whereas Raanta could be categorized as a solid platoon player. If the Red Wings are going to build from the crease out after next season, then they may want to give decent term to a potential starting goaltender who is in his 20s.
The Red Wings could make a trade prior to the 2021 offseason to improve the roster but they are in a good spot to determine a list of desirable goaltenders and how they might attain one of those players. All that said, the future will look increasingly brighter after the 2021 season when the Red Wings should make significant strides in the standings. At the very least, that will be the new expectation in Detroit.