If this were a couple weeks ago, the Detroit Red Wings would have several needs heading into free agent season. Steve Yzerman had other plans.
In three separate transactions, Yzerman acquired defenseman Nick Leddy, goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, and re-signed free agent blueliner Marc Staal. All of a sudden, Detroit’s shopping list is mostly checked off.
That said, the Red Wings will still be active when free agency opens up on Wednesday. Here’s what you can expect when the fun begins.
State of the Red Wings’ Roster
As of now, the Red Wings are pretty set in net and on defense when it comes to their NHL roster. Here’s the projected lineup as of now:
|Robby Fabbri||Dylan Larkin||Tyler Bertuzzi|
|Jakub Vrana||Michael Rasmussen||Filip Zadina|
|Adam Erne||TBD||Givani Smith|
|Danny DeKeyser||Filip Hronek||Alex Nedeljkovic|
|Nick Leddy||Moritz Seider||Thomas Greiss|
|Marc Staal||Troy Stecher|
Given the lineup above, a few things stand out in terms of organizational needs that can be resolved through free agency:
- Middle-six center
- Middle-six wing (preferably a right shot)
- Fourth-line center
- Defensive depth
With that being said, let’s dive into Detroit’s options to address these holes in the lineup.
Red Wings’ Middle-Six Forward Options
When Detroit re-signed Staal, my immediate reaction was to assume his brother, Eric, would be joining him here in Hockeytown. The two previously stated that they would like to skate together next season. So with Marc back in town, you can bet Eric is on the way to step into a middle-six center role with the Red Wings.
It’s unclear whether Eric Staal would push Michael Rasmussen to the third line or not. The latter did not look out of place in Detroit’s top six down the stretch, but his future could be that of a shutdown, third-line center. And if the Red Wings want Rasmussen to model his game after Jordan Staal, who better—apart from Jordan, himself—to mentor him than his older brother Eric.
If Eric signs elsewhere, the Red Wings have plenty of other options. They could address the middle-six center role internally with either Vladislav Namestnikov or Joe Veleno, though the latter could probably use a little more seasoning in Grand Rapids.
Alternatively, they could go the free agent route. Below are five targets worth considering for the middle-six center role:
- Pius Suter
- David Krejci
- Alex Wennberg
- Mikael Granlund
- Ryan Donato
Adding Suter would be a fantastic move – regardless of whether or not the Red Wings sign Staal. He played on the same line as Bertuzzi and Fabbri in juniors and looks the part of a second-line center.
As for Krejci, chances are he would not be interested in joining a rebuilding team in the twilight of his career. The Red Wings could offer an appealing one-year contract, though.
Krejci made $7 million last season; he’s not going to receive that kind of money again. Detroit could afford to pay him close to that amount and offer him a no-movement clause so Krejci can dictate where the Red Wings move him when/if they sell at the trade deadline.
Why am I proposing this? Imagine the possibilities of a Vrana-Krejci-Zadina second line. Czech mate. Krejci also addresses Detroit’s desire to add more right-handed shots.
Speaking of which, there are several right-handed players available who could slot in on Detroit’s third line, including:
- Ondrej Kase
- Sam Gagner
- Bobby Ryan
- Vinnie Hinostroza
I’ll throw Tyler Johnson into the mix as well. If Tampa Bay is willing to offer up picks and/or prospects to take on Johnson’s contract, the Red Wings should oblige and exploit their wealth of cap space.
But back to the free agent options, I prioritized Kase over Gagner and Ryan due to his age and potential to be a medium-term piece within Detroit’s rebuild. Plus, Yzerman loves bringing in players from the 2014 NHL Draft (see: Fabbri, Nedeljkovic, Vrana, and Brendan Perlini).
Detroit’ Fourth-Line Center
The Red Wings have three main approaches when it comes to finding a fourth-line center. Re-sign Luke Glendening (most likely option), promote Chase Pearson (plausible), or sign an external free agent (unlikely).
I’m all for giving Glendening a two-year, $3.6 million contract ($1.8 million AAV) to more or less continue on with his last deal. He’s been a valuable role player for the Red Wings, whether that’s taking faceoffs, killing penalties, or providing leadership on a young team.
If Glendening opts to take his talents elsewhere, Pearson would be a fine replacement. He recorded 22 points in 28 games with Grand Rapids last season and has been the go-to defensive center throughout his career. At the very least, Pearson should be considered for a depth spot on the roster so he can battle for ice time.
But if Yzerman wants to bring in outside depth, Jordan Martinook, David Kampf, Jujhar Khaira, Travis Boyd, and Patrick Brown likely won’t command meaningful dollars when they hit the open market. Any of those five players would suffice as the fourth-line center.
Finally, the Red Wings could add one more defenseman to round out their blue line heading into the 2021-22 season. Why? Well, for one, injuries happen. And two, the Red Wings may want to ease Moritz Seider into NHL duties.
With that in mind, a few free agents stand out as solid bottom-pairing defensemen with upside, including:
- Jon Merrill
- Erik Gustafsson
- Jake McCabe
- Slater Koekkoek
- Ben Thomas
All five defensemen can play both sides and shouldn’t come with high price tags. If the interest is there, it makes sense to run it back with Merrill – this time on a two-year contract.
Related: Grading the Red Wings’ 2021 Draft
Other Free Agent Notes
Including a few free-agent related notes below that didn’t really fit into any of Detroit’s priorities listed above, but are worth mentioning.
- Gabriel Landeskog – Locked on Red Wings Podcast host Nolan Bianchi lets me join him and ramble about the Red Wings from time to time, so I’m going to repay the favor. Nolan has been pitching the idea of signing Landeskog to a lucrative contract, and I’m all for it. Detroit needs more game-changers – the Swedish forward is just that.
- Weaponizing Cap Space – As teams prepare for free agency, the Red Wings should explore all options when it comes to taking on bad contracts. They have the cap space, and just look at the return the Arizona Coyotes have brought back in exchange for taking on a slew of bloated contracts.
- Grand Rapids – The Griffins need players too! As of now, I’m only counting 9-10 skaters on their roster. Bringing back Taro Hirose, Joe Hicketts, Dominic Turgeon on two-way contracts would help, as would signing the likes of Hudson Fasching, Pascal Laberge, and Colby Sissons.
- Evgeny Svechnikov – I’m hoping Svechnikov is brought back on a two-way deal as well (who doesn’t love a good comeback story?) but chances are, he’ll pursue other opportunities. Perhaps Ken Holland gives him a call?
Who do you hope the Red Wings sign this summer? Comment below!
Tony Wolak is based in the Washington D.C. area and covers the Detroit Red Wings for THW. As a former junior and college hockey player, Tony has a unique perspective on Red Wings topics.