With all that’s going on in the world, who knows when or if the NHL will resume its season. Recent reports suggest that the league may resume in August, award the Stanley Cup in September, and then hold a truncated offseason during October when the draft and free agency would take place.
That means waiting an extra few months for the two biggest events that will shape next season’s Detroit Red Wings. The draft has been on everyone’s mind since it became clear the team wouldn’t contend this season. As for free agency, they have money to spend and some holes to fill.
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That doesn’t mean the Red Wings will go on a spending spree once the gates are opened to speak with free agents (UFA). They are in the midst of a rebuild and might be years away from contending for a playoff spot. This isn’t the time to hand out huge contracts for hot-ticket players. However, there are some UFA options available that the Red Wings should consider pursuing when given the chance.
Torey Krug – D
This is the lone player that the Red Wings should consider throwing big money at. The hardest part about this option isn’t the money or finding him a spot on the team, it’s convincing Krug to leave one of the best teams in the league to join the worst.
There are many reasons why the Red Wings should pursue Krug. As a Livonia, Michigan-native, he would give them another homegrown talent to add to their collection, (from ‘Could Red Wings possibly lure Torey Krug back home?,’ Boston Globe, 11/07/2019). At 28 years old (29 in April), he still has plenty of rubber left on the tires. He could sign a longer-term deal and help bring the Red Wings back to contention over the lifespan of that deal.
Krug would immediately become the team’s top defender. With 337 points through 523 games, as well as a career Corsi% (a metric that determines a player’s offensive opportunity share in relation to their opponents) of 55%, he can create offense from the back end. He would also have a spot on the Red Wings’ power play, breathing life into a unit that desperately needs it.
Alex Galchenyuk – F
The third-overall pick from the 2012 NHL Draft is the type of player who general manager Steve Yzerman has gone after since taking control of the Red Wings. At 26 years old, Galchenyuk is still young enough that some wonder if he can offer more than he has shown. Adding players in that situation is what brought Robby Fabbri and Brendan Perlini to the Red Wings.
Galchenyuk was included in the deal that sent Jason Zucker to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Now with the Minnesota Wild, he is “auditioning” for a spot any NHL team heading into the 2020-21 season. With seven points through 14 games with the Wild, Galchenyuk had promising results.
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His current cap hit of $4.9 million will likely be higher than what he’ll sign for on the open market. Frankly, he hasn’t consistently shown the ability to perform up to that dollar value. The Red Wings could scoop him up on a short-term deal to allow him to live up to the potential that made him a highly-touted prospect. Best case scenario, he finds a permanent home with the Red Wings and boosts their offensive capabilities. Worst case, he could bring back future assets in a trade.
Robin Lehner – G
Jimmy Howard is likely in his final months as a member of the Red Wings. With nobody in the system ready to join Jonathan Bernier at the NHL level, the team’s biggest hole to fill in free agency is another goalie. This is where Lehner comes in.
Before the organization signed Bernier to a three-year deal in the summer of 2018, Craig Custance of The Athletic reported that Lehner visited Detroit to determine his fit with the organization, (from ‘Custance: Lehner visits Detroit as Red Wings’ free-agency plan takes shape’, The AthleticNHL – 6/26/18). The Red Wings signed Bernier, and Lehner opted for the New York Islanders.
Lehner now finds himself with the Vegas Golden Knights, a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Though the Golden Knights are committed to Marc-André Fleury as their top goalie and essentially the face of the franchise, Lehner gives them the opportunity to roll out a top-notch tandem.
Goals saved above average (GSAA) determines how many goals a goaltender has prevented above or below the average in a similar situation. Since 2018, Fleury’s GSAA is minus-.34, meaning he’s been pretty average, if not slightly below average. In that same span, Lehner’s GSAA is 35.76, which is well above average. If the Golden Knights don’t lock him down, the Red Wings should.
The Red Wings have financial flexibility for the first time in a long time. How they opt to use it will go a long way to determining the long-term outlook for their roster. Though it may be enticing to sit on their cap space and save it, the team will need to fill certain vacancies somehow.
The three players mentioned above could help in the short term as well as the long term. Though the Red Wings’ options are not limited to these three, they should only add players that make sense for now and the future. After all, there’s plenty of players within the organization who may be ready to break out.
For now, the days have passed since the Red Wings were linked to every big-name free agent available. The 2020 offseason will be about spending efficiently, whenever it happens.