You know the story by now. In 2018, the Detroit Red Wings selected winger Filip Zadina with the sixth pick of the 2018 draft, making him their highest draft choice (at the time) since 1990. The Czech winger was projected by many to be one of the first four players off the board, so when the Red Wings were able to hand him a jersey and hat on the draft stage, it felt like an absolute win for a franchise that had just completed its second playoff-less season.
Fast forward to today, coming off of the news that Zadina has signed a new three-year deal with the Red Wings, and the enthusiasm from the 2018 draft has mostly died off. At 22 years old, fans and pundits from around the NHL have already begun to label him as a “bust” and somebody that Detroit would be better off finding a new team for him to play for. When you Googled his name throughout last season, you would quickly find a handful of articles from various sites discussing why the young forward no longer fits in with the Red Wings’ ongoing rebuild. With just 24 points in 74 games last season, it’s fair to say that everybody, even Zadina himself, was disappointed with how that season played out for the young forward.
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But now Zadina is under contract for the next three years. His new deal carries a $1.825 million cap-hit – a raise from his previous rate, but a number that is not going to handicap the Red Wings as they look to dish out new deals to the likes of Dylan Larkin, Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond over the next two years. But make no mistake: while this deal is pretty inconsequential in regards to the 2022-23 season, it will not silence the noise that surrounds this player.
If Zadina going to sign another deal with the Red Wings when this one is over, he’s going to have to earn every single penny over the next three years.
Zadina Has Not Lived Up to Expectations
The thing about Zadina in comparison to other first round draft choices the Red Wings have made since the rebuild began is that the hype around the pick was instantaneous. He was an offensive dynamo during his days in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and all expectations were that he would become a top-line, pure offensive talent in the NHL.
Following the draft, Zadina would then spend the next season and a half in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Grand Rapids Griffins, collecting 25 goals and 51 points through 80 games. Though he was quite streaky at that level, he was called up to Detroit late in the 2018-19 season, and then again about a third of the way through the following season. Through his first two stints in the NHL, the forward showed some promise with 9 goals and 18 points through 37 games. It was obvious that he had things to work on, but the talent was equally evident. It was really quite easy to be excited about what this player could be for the Red Wings as the rebuild progressed and, eventually, concluded.
But here we are now, and the narrative around Zadina is drastically different. There may not be a more polarizing player on the roster; the fandom seems to be evenly split between people that believe he is on the verge of a breakout campaign, and others that believe that breakout is never coming. However, considering all the details of his new contract, it seems that the Red Wings’ front office seems to still have faith in this player, even if they’re also keeping their options open.
Red Wings Front Office Shows Belief in Zadina
When discussing the timeline of the Red Wings’ rebuild, general manager Steve Yzerman mentioned Zadina as a player that could “take another step” and help push the rebuild towards its conclusion. That was before Yzerman and Zadina agreed to a new deal, but even that comment showed that the GM hopes that this player can be a part of the solution, rather than just another piece he trades away for future assets. After all, successful rebuilds aren’t built exclusively on the backs of 19 and 20-year-olds that become stars in their first season; they’re also built on 21, 22, and 23 year-olds that put it all together after years of uneven play. It’s become something of a cliché to say this, but development for most players is non-linear.
At a price point of $1.825 million, there’s a real opportunity for this deal to provide surplus value for the Red Wings. Consider that Adam Erne has a cap-hit of $2.1 million this season, and he more than likely is on the outside looking in when it comes to securing a spot on Detroit’s retooled roster as anything more than an extra forward. If Zadina can take another step like Yzerman mentioned, he’s going to far outproduce the value of his deal. Even if he tops out as a 40-point guy in the NHL, there are teams paying other players way more for the exact same production.
But make no mistake: this new deal with its three years of term is not an invitation for Zadina to take his time. With all of the new additions to Detroit’s roster, it is expected that he will begin the season outside of the top six, likely on the third line with center Pius Suter and newcomer Dominik Kubalik. To get back into the top six, Zadina will need to produce with the consistency he never found last season. Furthermore, the Red Wings have at least two forward prospects (Jonatan Berggren and Elmer Söderblom) that could/should be knocking on the NHL’s door this season, so if Zadina isn’t producing, Detroit should be able to find someone who will.
A three-year deal may seem like a source of security, and to some extent it is. It gives Zadina a sense of financial and logistical security as he begins the phase of life where people tend to get married and maybe even start a family. It also gives the Red Wings some cost-control as big-money deals start appearing on their books.
But the three-year deal is also something of a bet. It’s a bet that Zadina will finally breakout under a new coaching staff. It’s a bet that all of the talent added to the roster will help bring out the best in a player that was once their top prospect. It is also a bet that, if the situation does not improve, the term remaining on his deal will entice another team to give him a shot if a fresh start is warranted.
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The team is better now and boasts legitimate depth on the roster and in the pipeline. There’s a new head coach in town, and now Zadina has some sense of security after signing this deal. All of the excuses have been addressed. Now it’s time for this player to assert himself as part of the solution, just as his GM hopes he will be. The next time we talk about Zadina signing a new contract, we’ll either be talking about him signing with a new team, or we’ll be talking about how he earned a multi-million dollar extension after finally realizing his potential.
It’s officially put up or shut up season for the Red Wings’ most polarizing player.