The Grind Line: Red Wings Pending Unrestricted Free Agents

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

Well, now we more or less know what the Detroit Red Wings are going to look like for the remainder of this season. General manager Steve Yzerman moved out who he could, and the players that are left will finish out the season in Detroit. Given the return on the Mantha deal, I’m sure we’re all mostly content with what’s left of the roster.

Despite Yzerman’s best efforts to move out more of his pending free agents, the Red Wings still have eight pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) Those players are: Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendening, Sam Gagner, Hirose, Bobby Ryan, Marc Staal, Alex Biega and Jonathan Bernier

While it’s a given that not all of them will return next season, there are some that make sense for Yzerman to try and bring back for various reasons. Which UFA’s should the Red Wings bring back next season? Our panel weighs in:

Tony Wolak: Glendening & Bernier Will Be Back

I’m all for the conservation of salary cap space, but with only $32,549,723 committed to nine players next season, Yzerman has some dough to throw around. Bringing back Luke Glendening and Jonathan Bernier on one- or two-year contracts is both a fiscally responsible decision and a good message to send to the organization.

Luke Glendening Detroit Red Wings
Luke Glendening, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This isn’t Ken Holland-era over-commitment to past-their-prime veterans. This is rewarding two key cogs for their efforts in helping the Red Wings navigate the rough waters of a rebuild. Bernier has been the Detroit’s MVP since the beginning of the 2019-20 season. Glendening excels in his role as a fourth-line energy player and has been a great role model for the organization’s young core.

Based on my estimations, new contracts for Bernier and Glendening shouldn’t be too expensive:

  • Bernier: $2.5 million AAV
  • Glendening: $1.75 million AAV

In addition, the flat salary cap should keep comparable contracts low. Re-signing Bernier and Glendening is a win-win game plan.

Devin Little: Fill in the Holes

If I’m being honest, there are a handful of pending UFA’s that I wouldn’t mind seeing Yzerman bring back. Like Tony, I think Glendening and Bernier are all but guaranteed to return; I’ve been given little reason to think otherwise. As for the rest of the group, here’s how I rank them in terms of my willingness to have them back:

  • Bobby Ryan – solid veteran that showed well this season. Try again to trade him at the 2022 trade deadline.
  • Sam Gagner – has been surprisingly efficient defensively this season, and shouldn’t break the bank on a new contract. Has also formed a heck of a duo with Vladislav Namestnikov.

Do I NEED these guys back? No, but they both provide value as depth guys for this team, especially in the event that Detroit loses as forward in the expansion draft.. I’m content to leave the rest of the UFA’s behind as this team continues to skew younger.

Moritz Seider Grand Rapids Griffins
The Red Wings have to leave room on the roster for Moritz Seider on the blue line, as well as other young players that are ready for an opportunity (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

I think the 2021-22 campaign is going to be a big one for the Red Wings, and finding that right blend of youth and experience could be the difference between bottoming-out like the 2019-20 season and staying afloat like this season. I think Yzerman has a lot of solid support pieces in place already, so why not keep some of them around as the Red Wings continue to sprinkle in more and more of their youth?

Pat Brown: Feel The Bern-ier!

I was torn between two players on this one – Ryan and Bernier – but with the talent the Red Wings have waiting to show their stuff, I had to give the nod to Bernier to help continue and stabilize things between the pipes. The pure fact of the matter is the Red Wings do not have a solution in net next season, and Bernier has shown the ability to confidently carry Detroit into the next phase of its rebuild.

The next couple of years should be exciting as the pieces continue to fall into place, and the Red Wings need a solid goalie to help backstop the team back into the postseason. The former 11th overall pick has a career .912 save percentage and 2.77 Goals Allowed Average, exactly the type of stability Detroit needs right now until the next generation’s goaltender is clearly defined.

Jonathan Bernier Detroit Red Wings
It’s safe to say we like having Jonathan Bernier with the Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

As I mentioned before, Ryan is an honorable mention here, but the fact of the matter is I’m much more eager to see Detroit’s stocked cupboard hit the ice at Little Caesars Arena next season than I am to see Glendening, Helm, Staal, etc back in a Red Wings uniform. Thanks for the dedicated service, but the time has come to give the kids who are next in line a shot to step up the highest level.

Kyle Knopp: Limit UFA Signings

The only way for the Wings to move this rebuild forward is to let their young kids fly. Yzerman can do this by limiting the number of UFAs he brings back next year. 

The two he should sign immediately, however, are Bernier and Ryan. 

Bernier has been fantastic for the Wings over the last two seasons and should be the anchor in net as the prospects continue to develop. He provides a consistency that will be important as young players are getting used to the speed of the NHL. As for Ryan, he brings leadership qualities at bargain prices. Resigning him to another short term contract, similar to the one he is currently on, allows the Wings to add a veteran presence who knows how to play the right way. Having a guy like him in the locker room is invaluable. 

Offering Biega and Gagner cheap, one year contracts to play a fill-in role would give the Wings experienced options to increase their depth. Otherwise, let’s see what the kids can do!

What do you think? Which Red Wing UFA’s would you like to see Yzerman bring back, if any?

Want more Red Wings content? Tune into The Hockey Writers’ Grind Line — a weekly show on YouTube and Facebook. Check out our most recent show below, and make sure you subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss any upcoming shows.

Sign up for our free ‘Red Wings Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.