Now that the Detroit Red Wings have 12 new prospects in their pipeline, they can turn their focus to free agency, which is scheduled to open up Friday at noon.
During a recent Zoom call, general manager Steve Yzerman noted that the organization would once again approach free agency conservatively. And once the 2020 NHL Draft wrapped up, Detroit’s GM provided some more detail on his free agency plans:
So with free agent season on the horizon, let’s dive into Detroit’s strategy and potential targets.
Krug & Markstrom: Shoot Your Shot
Over the last few weeks, there have been a handful of rumors linking both Jacob Markstrom and Torey Krug to the Red Wings – two of the most talented players hitting the market not named Taylor Hall or Alex Pietrangelo.
Let’s start with Markstrom, since the Red Wings have a clear need in net – both now and in the future. The 30-year-old goaltender is coming off of an All-Star season with the Vancouver Canucks, where he posted a 2.75 goals-against average (GAA) and .919 save percentage (SV%). According to NaturalStatTrick, Markstrom’s goals-saved above average (GSAA) ranked 14th in the NHL, saving 6.65 goals above average at five-on-five last season. For comparison, Jonathan Bernier’s five-on-five GSAA was 2.03.
If the Red Wings want to sign Markstrom, it’ll cost them. The goaltender will come with a price tag around $5 million per season – similar to Robin Lehner’s recent deal with the Vegas Golden Knights. Detroit will need to decide if that’s an equitable price to pay for stability in net.
As for Krug, there’s been plenty of smoke around the Michigan-native returning home. And if the Red Wings are able to sign the defenseman, he would instantly become Detroit’s top blueliner.
Over the past few seasons, Krug has been the go-to guy for the Boston Bruins – one of the top teams in the entire NHL. During the 2019-20 playoffs, he and Charlie McAvoy led all Bruins in ice time, playing top-pair minutes ahead of Brandon Carlo and Zdeno Chara. Krug also quarterbacked one of the NHL’s most lethal power plays and would immediately improve Detroit’s man advantage.
Like with Markstrom, signing Krug would require a large financial commitment. He’s going to command a five- of six-year contract on the open market, with an average annual salary north of $7 million. This would make Krug Detroit’s highest-paid player. Is that something Yzerman wants to do knowing playoffs are still a few years away?
Realistic Options for the Red Wings
A more conservative approach would see the Red Wings signing a tandem goalie and maybe one other player – either a depth defenseman or a middle-six forward.
If the Red Wings pass on Markstrom, there are a handful of goalies who would pair well with Bernier. Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, and possibly Mike Smith could be good tandem options. Corey Crawford and Anton Khudobin would be slam dunk signings, but probably don’t want to play behind a bottom-feeder team. Regardless, Detroit shouldn’t commit term to a goalie unless they’re going to start for the next few seasons.
On defense, Detroit could target a right-handed defenseman like Trevor van Riemsdyk or Justin Schultz to play second- or third-pair minutes on a one-year contract. They could then flip the blueliner at the deadline for supplemental draft capital. There’s no harm in adding depth.
Up front, Detroit desperately needs secondary scoring. Erik Haula, Vladislav Namestnikov, Mattias Janmark, Mark Jankowski, Dominik Kahun, and Alex Galchenyuk are intriguing options here, especially if they’re willing to take a one-year contract above market value. Again, the play here would be to bring in a player on a one-year deal, then trade him to a contender at the deadline.
He may be a little pricey, but Detroit should also consider offering term to Anthony Duclair. The forward did not receive a qualifying offer from the Ottawa Senators and is now an unrestricted free agent (UFA). Duclair scored 23 goals with the Senators last season and just turned 25. He’d add to their young core and could be a key cog in the rebuild.
Finally, another interesting scenario worth exploring is an Andreas Athanasiou reunion. The former Red Wing was not tendered a qualifying offer by Ken Holland and the Edmonton Oilers, making him a UFA. The ship may have sailed – there’s a good chance Athanasiou doesn’t want to return to Hockeytown. But if he’s open to finishing what he started, a one-year contract to prove his worth could benefit both parties.
If the AHL is able to operate next season, the Red Wings may want to sign a free agent or two to bolster the Grand Rapids Griffins. Matt Puempel, Chris Terry, and Eric Tangradi are scheduled to become UFAs and they’ll either need to be re-signed or replaced.
Ideally, Detroit can bring in top-notch AHL talent to play alongside Veleno and Givani Smith in Grand Rapids. That said, they may wait until there’s clarity on the AHL season before acting.