It is no secret that the Red Wings are looking to upgrade their blue line. It is also no secret that with the defensemen free agent pool looks like someone forgot to add chlorine to it for a while that upgrade is going to have to come in the form of a trade. The two big names reportedly available are St. Louis' Kevin Shattenkirk and Winnipeg's Jacob Trouba. Either one would certainly upgrade the Red Wings defense but at what price? Both players are going to cost a lot in terms of assets to acquire them as well as cap dollars to keep them long term. Trouba is currently a restricted free agent and rumored to be looking for a deal around 6yrs/$36M while Shattenkirk is in the last year of his contract and will likely need at least $7M per season on a long term deal to not test the market.
Because of the cost in assets and long term cap dollars I decided to look around at the rest of the NHL and see if I could find any other options the Red Wings might have to bolster the blue line. Along with St. Louis and Winnipeg, I did not consider Anaheim for this as we have already talked at length about Cam Fowler and Hampus Lindholm. What I did find is four teams...Columbus, Calgary, Minnesota and Carolina ...with enough depth at defenseman and a potential desire to trade from that depth to improve their roster and/or clear cap space. Let's take a look at the rationale and a couple possible trade targets for each team individually.
Of the four teams the Blue Jackets are probably the least likely option for the Wings. Columbus certainly fits the criteria of a team with a lot of depth at defense and a need to upgrade their forwards. Also, while they are certainly not likely to trade Seth Jones they do need to clear some cap space in order to re-sign him this offseason. According to General Fanager they have $3.9M in cap space and rumors say Jones could get something similar to the 6yr/$30M deal Morgan Rielly recently signed (UPDATE: He just signed for 6yrs/$32.4M leaving Columbus with $42k in cap space). This coupled with the fact they have Zach Werenski waiting in the wings means either Fedor Tyutin or Jack Johnson likely gets traded. While I would not hate Jack Johnson on the Red Wings, the fact is that Columbus is not going to want to take back a lot of unburiable cap space in return. This means the Wings would have to deal from their prospects and picks and would potentially create a cap issue for themselves. Of course, if the Blue Jackets cannot open up the cap space and some team puts in an offer sheet on Jones it is possible that the price for Johnson comes down enough to make it worthwhile for the Red Wings.
The Flames are in a different boat than the Blue Jackets. They have plenty of cap space and only have a few roster spots to fill, especially after they re-sign restricted free agents Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan. While forwards are a need, despite the recent trade for Brian Elliott the Flames could use another goalie as well. Unfortunately they do not have the same kind of depth at defense as Columbus. At first glance Dennis Wideman is a viable target for the Red Wings, especially when you consider his contract only has one year left on it. I could see a scenario where a one for one swap of Jimmy Howard and Wideman works out well for both teams. Of course in that scenario Wideman did not run over a referee, get suspended indefinitely for it, have that suspension overturned by an arbitrator and then have the NHL appeal that decision to the U.S. District Court. None of this would involve the Red Wings if they were to trade for Wideman but it would prove to be a distraction to the player and the team. On the other hand adding Wideman would give the Wings a defenseman who has registered 40 or more points (Mike Green led the Red Wings defensemen with 35 points this past season) four times in his career.
Of the four teams I brought up, Minnesota is probably the one most likely to move a defenseman this offseason. They have six relatively solid defensemen and added college standout Mike Rielly during the season. Of those seven, only restricted free agent Matt Dumba is not currently under contract (he is a restricted free agent). After Tomas Vanek disappointed and was bought out Minnesota is in real need of forwards. They are rumored to be one of the front runners for Minnesota native Kyle Okposo and while adding him certainly would help they are going to need more. Right now the Wild has seven free agent forward spots to fill, just over $14M in cap space and their three top forward all past the age of 30. It is very likely Minnesota will look to parlay one of Dumba, Marco Scandella or Jonas Brodin into a really good forward prospect or two this off season.
Carolina, in my opinion, is in the best position of all four teams to make a trade involving a defenseman. At $24.6M they have a boat load of cap space to take on salary if needed. More importantly they have six defensemen currently under contract with another one, Ryan Murphy, as a restricted free agent and two more, Haydn Fleury and recent draft pick Jake Bean, waiting in the wings. Of those nine defensemen only two, James Wisniewski and Ron Hainsey, are over the age of 25 and they are both in the last year of their contracts. The Hurricanes could elect to go in any number of directions if they chose to use their defensive depth and cap space to get themselves another young quality forward this offseason and make a serious run at a playoff spot. With Noah Hanifin already in the NHL along with Justin Faulk and Bean right behind him, Carolina may decide that they can afford to move Haydn Fleury for a top end forward prospect or two.
No matter who the Red Wings decide to acquire it is going to cost them so really good players and/or prospects. While I would love to get Shattenkirk or Trouba, I am just not sure the Wings can afford to pay what it is going to cost to acquire and keep them right now. The good news is there are potentially other options available.