The Grind Line: Grading the Red Wings’ Free Agent Signings

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. Rachel Anderson and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

In previous years, the Red Wings would make big waves with their free agent signings. This summer, however, only saw a couple ripples.

With the organization rebuilding, it didn’t make too much sense to go after expensive options like Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin. Instead, the Red Wings opted to make a few small moves to supplement their homegrown talent:

  • Valtteri Filppula – Two years, $3 million AAV (More)
  • Patrik Nemeth – Two years, $3 million AAV (More)
  • Calvin Pickard – Two years, $700,000 AAV (More)

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team grades Steve Yzerman’s recent acquisitions and the contracts that they signed. 

Tony Wolak: B

Much like he did at the 2019 NHL Draft, Yzerman certainly gave Red Wings fans reason to be curious once free agency opened up. 

While cases for signing Pickard and Filppula can be made, bringing in Nemeth does come as a head-scratcher. The Red Wings had a glut of defensemen already on the roster or pushing for an NHL job before the organization inked the 27-year-old Swedish blueliner. And that doesn’t even factor in a potential Niklas Kronwall return. 

Valtteri Filppula of the Detroit Red Wings.
Valtteri Filppula is back with the Red Wings after a few stops around the Eastern Conference. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Perhaps there’s more going on behind closed doors:

  • Does the organization truly believe that Madison Bowey, Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, and/or Oliwer Kaski can be NHL regulars next season?
  • Are Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green actually healthy?
  • Is Yzerman aiming to move someone who’s already on the team?

We’ll likely need to wait until September to get those answers. Until then, there may be another move or two up Yzerman’s sleeve.

As for expected roles, Filppula will likely center the third line, with Andreas Athanasiou moving back to the wing and flanking Frans Nielsen on the second line. Nemeth with pair with either Green or Filip Hronek in the top-four and Pickard will likely start 45-50 games for Grand Rapids and mentor Filip Larsson along the way. 

Overall, Yzerman deserves a B for his efforts. While the signings aren’t overly impressive, none come across as risky propositions. Each has a relatively high floor and no contract exceeded two years – something Yzerman preferred while negotiating last week. No one is celebrating these signings in the streets, though. 

Rachel Anderson: B

Yzerman didn’t really make many surprising moves during this season’s free agency period. He made safe moves, which makes sense considering the depth the team has in terms of prospects. The addition of another defenseman and return of Filppula are a little curious, however.

Patrik Nemeth of the Detroit Red Wings.
Patrik Nemeth will likely play in Detroit’s top-four during the 2019-20 season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As Tony mentioned, adding a defenseman is an odd move bearing in mind the amount of guys ready at the AHL level. It’s almost a given that Hronek will join the big club and Hicketts won’t be too far behind.

As far as Filppula is concerned, it’s deja vu. Not only is Yzerman very familiar with him as a teammate, but also from a management standpoint. By signing Filppula, Yzerman is mirroring his rebuild of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he had also previously signed the Finn. Yzerman clearly trusts his veteran ability and played it safe. We’ll see if Red Wings fans truly welcome him back.

A goaltender signing was a must have and with Pickard, I believe it was another safe selection. Harri Sateri and Patrik Rybar of the Grand Rapids Griffins had signed in the KHL and Liiga, respectively, earlier this summer. With Kaden Fulcher developing and Filip Larsson definitely ready, Detroit had to get a vet willing to play the tandem style.

Calvin Pickard of the Detroit Red Wings.
Calvin Pickard and Filip Larsson will be quite the pair in Grand Rapids this season. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Pickard has tons of experience floating between leagues and teams while maintaining good numbers. He’ll serve as a mentor mentor to Larsson in Grand Rapids.

Other moves can and will be made throughout the summer. But as for now, Yzerman is doing pretty well with the pieces he’s got. As training camp inches closer, the face of the team could be drastically different.

How do you feel about the Red Wings’ free agent signings? Share your thoughts below.