The Grind Line: Prioritizing the Red Wings’ Pending Free Agents

Between now and the start of the 2016-17 season, the Detroit Red Wings will have some tough decisions to make regarding their roster. Ken Holland has 12 pending free agents to deal with from the current team – six unrestricted, and six restricted.

Keeping all of their UFA’s could prove costly for the team. With a glut of promising talent playing in the AHL, Holland could elect to part ways with some of Detroit’s veteran players.

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, THW’s Red Wings writers discuss Detroit’s pending free agents and which player Ken Holland should make his top priority.

Jacob Messing: Danny DeKeyser

DeKeyser Red Wings
Danny DeKeyser (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

When Danny DeKeyser signed his first contract with the Red Wings, he was a highly coveted free agent after his final season at Western Michigan University.

During that last season at WMU, DeKeyser posted 15 points (2 G, 13 A) in 35 games and was declared the CCHA Best Defensive-Defenseman for the second straight season.

After going undrafted and signing with his hometown Red Wings, DeKeyser made an immediate impact on Detroit’s blue line. In his fourth season of action, he has continued to play a great defensive game for Detroit with a better plus/minus each season (plus-1, plus-10, plus-11).

DeKeyser has also continued to build his offensive game by setting a new career high each passing year in points, as well (1 point, 23 points, 31 points)

DeKeyser is off to a rough start to the 2015-16 season with just 3 points (1 G, 2A) through 10 games, a minus-2 rating and only five shots on goal. Part of the slow start can be accredited to Detroit’s slow start and surprising lack of shots on goal as a team.

Another reason for DeKeyser’s slow start is that his defensive partner, Mike Green, has clearly had trouble adapting to a new team after 10 seasons with the Washington Capitals. The plan was to have the defensive-minded DeKeyser be able to complement the offensive risky-style Green plays.

With just two assists through seven games, Green returned to the lineup Sunday afternoon and grabbed his third assist of the year. While it didn’t come with DeKeyser on the ice, it’s almost certain Jeff Blashill will try the two together once more when Kyle Quincey (ankle) finds his way back in the lineup.

If he can continue to build on both sides of his game, the smooth-skating DeKeyser will be a key free agent—restricted, thankfully— for Detroit at the end of the season.

Brandon Peleshok: Justin Abdelkader

Jake Allen
Justin Abdelkader attempts to put the puck past Jake Allen. (Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Although Justin Abdelkader’s production has slowed since the start of the year, he has still managed to put up seven points through 13 games this season. While his current cap hit is just 1.8M dollars per year, Abdelkader could be the free agent demanding the most money and term from the Red Wings. Perhaps that is why Holland appears eager to get the rugged winger signed to a new contract.

According to recent reports, the Red Wings and Abdelkader are closing in on signing a long-term deal, which could occur within the next few weeks. M-Live’s Ansar Khan speculates that the contract could run more than four years, with a cap hit north of 4M dollars. Should the deal come to fruition, the Wings will have locked up their (arguably) most important unrestricted free agent.

The 28-year-old native of Muskegon, Michigan experienced a breakout season last year. Abdelkader scored a career-high 44 points in 71 games, skating with Henrik Zetterberg and Gustav Nyquist for the majority of his season. He has proven himself a capable top-six forward and carved out a niche for himself in Detroit.

Abdelkader’s importance to the Red Wings extends beyond his offensive production, though. He plays the role of net-front presence on the team’s top power play unit, has an abrasive edge to his game and is one of the better two-way forwards on the club. Simply put, the Red Wings do not have another Abdelkader in their system.

[Related: Red Wings, Justin Abdelkader Closing in on Extension]

Tony Wolak: Petr Mrazek

Petr Mrazek Red Wings
Petr Mrazek (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Through 13 games this season, Petr Mrazek has been the best goaltender for the Detroit Red Wings. He is also scheduled to be a restricted free agent this offseason.

Through his brief career, the 23-year-old has posted a 23-17-2 record with five shutouts, a 2.26 GAA, and .921 save percentage. Mrazek has thrived in pressure situations and in-game when the Red Wings allow a higher than average amount of shots.

When Mrazek signs his next contract, he is expected to get a raise from the $737,500 he is making this season. Just how much depends on the term of the contract. If the Red Wings sign him to a bridge contract, Mrazek could be looking at a two-year deal worth $1.5-$2 million. If they want to sign him long-term, the contract could look more like a four-year deal with an AAV of just over $2.5 million, with the contract backloaded in years three and four.

Mrazek is the most important free agent this coming offseason because is the future in net for the Red Wings. They also need to sign other important free agents like DeKeyser and Abdelkader, so Mrazek’s contract needs to be carefully constructed to leave room for the others.

Of the two contract scenarios listed above, the bridge contract seems like the likeliest route the Red Wings management team will take.