Could the Red Wings Be in RFA Trouble in 2020?

The 2019 restricted free agent (RFA) pool was set to be one of the largest and most exciting. A large list of young players across the league were, and still are, poised to make a large amount of money. With so many things going on and so much still to be decided in the near future, many fans are eagerly awaiting the contract announcements of players like Mitch Marner. With contract negotiations nearing a standstill, players like Marner, Patrik Laine, and Kyle Conner are rumored to be looking overseas for work. The delay in signings this season could spill into next year, potentially spelling trouble for the Detroit Red Wings next off season.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

There are 14 RFAs that will expire at the end of the 2019-20 season. Of those 14 players, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou are primed to earn the biggest bump in pay. All three will spend the season on the top two lines, and will likely be the difference-makers that will cornerstone the future for the team. Both Athanasiou and Mantha have received extensions in the past, but this will be Bertuzzi’s first time to truly get what is owed. Each of these players have made a large impact on the team. It would be disastrous to the Red Wings’ current rebuild and the chemistry within the locker room if Steve Yzerman can’t find a way to keep all three during the next off season.

Red Wings’ 2019-20 RFAs: Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Adam Erne, Taro Hirose, Evgeny Svechnikov, Jacob De La Rose, Madison Bowey, Oliwer Kaski, Christoffer Ehn, Dominic Turgeon, Ryan Kuffner, David Pope, Vili Saarijarvi

If Yzerman plays it smart, he’ll be able to get all of his key players signed to team-friendly deals. The big three names on the RFA list (Athanasiou, Bertuzzi and Mantha) will all require hefty pay raises. There will be a lot of factors that go into these player’s contracts. Their play, while important, serves as only one facet of contract negotiations. Working within the confines of cap space will be a battle Yzerman will need to fight for years to come.

Anthony Mantha, RW

Mantha has been a big name in Detroit since he was drafted by the Red Wings 20th-overall in 2013. His early career with the team’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, was plagued by injuries. Since then, Mantha has remained relatively healthy during his professional career. Last season, Mantha put together 25 goals and 48 points as he battled injuries and inconsistencies. This season should see him potentially eclipse 30 goals while making it above his current career high. By July 2020, it seems more than likely that he will be looking for a pay raise from his current $3.3 million contract.

Current Contract: $3.3 million AAV for 2019-20

Projected Contract: 5 years/ $4-6 million AAV

Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha
Detroit Red Wings right wing Anthony Mantha (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Andreas Athanasiou, LW/C

In 2017, Red Wings fans experienced the firsthand effects of a contract holdout. Athanasiou went the entire summer through the majority of October without a contract, eventually agreeing to a one-year, $1,387,500 million deal. In an effort to avoid arbitration and another holdout, the Red Wings offered a two-year, $3 million contract in the summer of 2018 to Athanasiou, who quickly signed. Last season, he was the second highest scoring forward for the Red Wings with 30 goals in 76 games.
This summer he and his agent, Darren Ferris, will look to cash in on another high-paying contract. Before that happens, he will need to prove himself and improve on his career-high 54 points.

Current Contract: $3 million AAV for 2019-20

Projected Contract: 4 years/ $5-6.5 million AAV 

Detroit Red Wings Jimmy Howard Andreas Athanasiou
Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard and Andreas Athanasiou celebrate (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Tyler Bertuzzi, LW

Bertuzzi has been a bright spot during some of the tougher parts of the last few seasons. He’s feisty, works hard, and gets under opponents’ skin. He slots in perfectly alongside Larkin and Mantha, helping him to collect 47 points in his first full season with the Red Wings. Bertuzzi is a special player to this franchise because of his grit and ability to score while getting into the tough areas of the rink. He has a never-give-up attitude, that serves as a catalyst for the rest of his teammates. His current contract nets him $1.4 million this season. If his current trajectory continues, he’s absolutely due for a pay raise. He’ll likely receive a bridge deal while the Red Wings work to manage their current assets.

Current Contract: $1.4 million AAV for 2019-20

Projected Contract: 2 years/ $2.5-4 million AAV

Tyler Bertuzzi
Detroit Red Wings left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY)

Current RFA Situation Could Predict Troubles Next Year

For the moment, other NHL teams are bearing the brunt of the RFA situation. Teams such as the Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, and Boston Bruins all have very important RFAs that still need to be signed. But why are these contracts taking so long? It’s fair to assume that the cap plays a huge role in contract negotiations. Once teams figure out their current contract situations, it’s likely that the vast majority of these RFAs will be signed. With that in mind, there will likely be a few that start out the year in the European leagues. This year’s offseason could be a sign of things to come in Detroit.

Each of these Red Wings players are due for a pay raise come end of the year, as should some others on the list of RFAs for the Red Wings. Which will only complicate things more for the team and Yzerman’s front office. There will be a lot on his plate, preparing for the draft in June, attending collective bargaining agreement meetings with the owners, and signing important young players to new contracts. But Yzerman has a strong track record for good contracts like those of Nikita Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy. As well as dumping poor contracts, like when he dumped Valtteri Filppula’s $5 million AAV with Tampa Bay.

This is a very important year for the Red Wings. Even if their roster isn’t close to contending, this is a year where players will seek to prove their worth as they vie for contract extensions. The Red Wings will be in an interesting spot at the end of the 2019-20 season. Expect to see Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Mike Green’s current contract money put to use signing these key players. Having said that, finding a replacement for Green and a potential replacement for goaltending over Jimmy Howard may prove to be a challenge. Johan Franzen’s contract, currently on long-term injured reserve, will reach its conclusion, as well, giving Yzerman more flexibility with free agency. Most of the team’s issues can be resolved one way or another, but it will require a lot of patience on our parts.