Red Wings Overhaul Lineup with Surprising Free Agent Signings

The Detroit Red Wings made more than a splash in free agency on Wednesday – they made waves. 

In all, the organization signed eight free agents, including:

  • C/LW Andrew Copp
  • LD Olli Määttä
  • LD Ben Chiarot
  • RW David Perron
  • LW Dominik Kubalik
  • RD Mark Pysyk
  • RW Matt Luff (Two-Way)
  • C Austin Czarnik (Two-Way)

What’s notable about this bunch is that they represent a clear step toward contention. While the Red Wings aren’t bonafide Stanley Cup contenders, there’s a good chance they push for a playoff spot next season – something they haven’t done since 2016.

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Additionally, they brought in leaders to insulate the young, rebuilt team. Määttä, Chiarot, and Perron combine for three Stanley Cup rings and five total Stanley Cup Final appearances. Copp is also well-respected around the NHL as a high-character teammate.

With that being said, let’s dive into how these players fit into Detroit’s suddenly deep depth chart. 

C Andrew Copp: Five Years, $5.625M AAV

The Ann Arbor-native and University of Michigan alum has come home. After a career year in which Copp produced 53 points in 72 games, the 28-year-old center signed a five-year contract with the Red Wings. 

Detroit Red Wings forward Andrew Copp
Andrew Copp skating with the New York Rangers. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Copp is expected to slot in as Detroit’s second-line center. There, he’ll have Jakub Vrana on his wing in place of former highly productive teammate Artemi Panarin. 

In addition, It’s reasonable to expect that Copp will contribute to Detroit’s penalty kill. He was among the league leaders in shorthanded ice time last season, though his shot-suppression and goals-against numbers were not particularly impressive. Still, there’s reason to believe he can thrive under Detroit’s coaching staff.

Between Copp’s high character and recent playoff performance (14 points in 20 games), he could fit in very well with Detroit’s young forward group. The question is, though, can Copp continue to produce at a 0.70 points per game pace?

LD Olli Määttä: One Year, $2.25M AAV

Make no mistake, Määttä is a younger Marc Staal. He’s a defensive defenseman that doesn’t contribute much offensively. He’ll also be a go-to blueliner for defensive zone draws and the penalty kill.

Määttä’s one-year deal will make him an unrestricted free agent (UFA) once again next summer. It should be noted that Jordan Oesterle will also be a UFA, and Jake Walman will be a restricted free agent next year as well.

LD Ben Chiarot: Four Years, $4.75M AAV

This was a bit of a surprise. The Red Wings signed the blueliner to a four-year deal that may not age particularly well.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Ben Chiarot
Ben Chiarot during his time with the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

That said, Chiarot is a fantastic conundrum. Like Määttä, he’s tabbed as a defensive defenseman, but his underlying possession numbers aren’t great.

After joining the Florida Panthers at the trade deadline, Chiarot performed well skating next to MacKenzie Weegar on the team’s top pair, with the duo sporting an impressive five-on-five expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) of 58.26 percent. But in the playoffs, he skated primarily with Aaron Ekblad. With Ekblad, he looked adequate, but the pair’s xGF% was not good – a paltry 40.24 percent.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect Chiarot to line up next to Moritz Seider on Detroit’s top pair, in what could be a vaunted defensive duo. The two will likely play together on the penalty kill as well.

RW David Perron: Two Years, $4.75M AAV

The veteran forward may be 34, but Perron still has a lot to give. Pencil him in on Detroit’s revamped second line alongside Copp and Vrana. This trio will provide some sorely needed secondary scoring.

Concerned about his production? Consider this: In all situations, he has averaged over a goal per 60 over the last three years. For reference, Perron’s 1.42 goals per 60 last season was tied with Brad Marchand and Timo Meier for 42nd-best among NHL forwards who played at least 200 minutes.

In addition, Perron will be a massive upgrade for Detroit’s power play, which only converted 16.3 percent of its man-advantage opportunities last season. He shoots right and has a dangerous release from the flank.

LW Dominik Kubalik: Two Years, $2.5M AAV

This one was a surprise, too. With news swirling that the Red Wings were tracking toward signing Perron, the team announced that they had inked Kubalik to a two-year deal.

Detroit Red Wings forward Dominik Kubalik
Dominik Kubalik skating with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After being non-tendered by the Chicago Blackhawks, Kubalik unexpectedly became a free agent just before the market opened. Now, he’ll join a Red Wings team on the rise, which also happens to feature three of his countrymen: Vrana, Filip Hronek, and potential linemate Filip Zadina.

In addition to being a solid middle-six wing, Kubalik is also dangerous on the power play with a lethal left-handed shot. 

At this point, it’s fair to say that the Red Wings have three scoring lines and two quality power play units. The team hasn’t been able to roster this amount of above-average depth in a long time.

Red Wings’ Revamped Depth Chart

After factoring in all of Wednesday’s signings, Detroit now possesses an impressive roster. The depth chart below outlines how the team could line up on opening night.

LW C RW
Tyler Bertuzzi Dylan Larkin Lucas Raymond
Jakub Vrana Andrew Copp David Perron
Dominik Kubalik Pius Suter Filip Zadina
Michael Rasmussen Joe Veleno Oskar Sundqvist
Adam Erne    
LD RD G
Ben Chiarot Moritz Seider Alex Nedeljkovic
Olli Maatta Filip Hronek Ville Husso
Jake Walman Gustav Lindstrom  
Jordan Oesterle Mark Pysyk  

Note that Robby Fabbri is expected to start the year on injured reserve after tearing his ACL late in the 2021-22 season.

Compared to last year’s squad, the Red Wings should score quite a bit more and be able to ice a stronger team defensively. New coach Derek Lalonde may not have the Tampa Bay Lightning at his disposal, but he won’t have an inexperienced, rebuilding team either.

Final Word

Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings certainly made waves on Day 1 of free agency. This is the first time we’ve really seen Yzerman spend freely since taking over as general manager in 2019.

Today’s signings are also indication that the Red Wings are pushing for a playoff berth next season. I won’t be convinced otherwise.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.