The noon ET free agency period is now more than five hours gone and a majority of the signings are complete around the league. While there’s still lots and lots of time before the Wings are done putting together their roster for the season opener, the majority of their steps have already been walked and... well I think Ken Holland probably ought to check the bottom of his shoes after this one.
So What Happened?
First off, the Wings didn’t even get us to noon before making the first signing, which was very efficient if you ask me. How’d they pull that off? Well because it was Darren Helm being brought back for 5 years and $3.85M per season.
Up next, Holland re-inked Alexey Marchenko to a bridge deal: two years and $1.45M AAV is the price for the youngish Russian who established himself last season.
The first real big signing for the Red Wings was former Islanders center Frans Nielsen, who got six years and $5.25M AAV, along with two years of NMC and then a limited no-trade.
Things went silent for a bit after that, apparently while the Wings took a shot at Matt Martin, only to strike out when he went to Toronto for four years and $10M.
Not long after losing the Matt Martin Sweepstakes, we got something of an off-the-wall signing with Detroit grabbing recently bought-out Thomas Vanek for 1 year and $2.6 million.
Finally, after Ken Holland held a presser where he said they were just about done, we got absolutely blindsided by Steve Ott’s 1-year, $800K deal.
So Where Do We Stand?
Once you factor in the known LTIR deals, which will add cap space and roster room, the Red Wings’ additions today leave them with approximately $9M in cap space with 15 healthy forwards, 5 defensemen, and two goalies on the roster (including waiver-exempt Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, and Dylan Larkin, but none of the defensemen Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, or Ryan Sproul).
Detroit will need to use all of that cap space and likely more on re-signing RFAs Petr Mrazek and Danny DeKeyser, and will also have a decision point on RFA Teemu Pulkkinen coming. NHL signings other than that will have to wait unless something else happens.
That’s...uhhh... Too Many Forwards (and not enough D-Men)?
Why yes it is! I knew I could count on you, the intelligent, attractive WIIM reader to notice that 15 forwards is too many and five defensemen is too few, even if all the RFAs are brought back; that just makes it two too many forwards and one D-man too few.
I’m not much of a poker player, but if I were, I’d be doubling down on the concept that the Red Wings are planning on moving some of their depth for defensive help. The addition of Vanek adds a top-6 caliber scoring winger in case they have to move a valuable lineup piece for a guy while the addition of Ott gives a cheap option who is...
Well he’s older than Tyler Bertuzzi, I guess. I don’t know. I don’t like the Ott signing and I’m not going to try to sugarcoat it with some half-assed talk of him being good in the room or an agitator on the ice. He’s cheaper than Drew Miller, I guess.
We don’t have any inside track on what’s available out there in trades, but Kevin Shattenkirk is still on the block in St. Louis with his 1-year deal. Winnipeg has yet to sign RFA Jacob Trouba, Colorado is in the same boat with Tyson Barrie, and Anaheim is rumored to be looking to move Cam Fowler to give themselves room to keep unsigned RFA Hampus Lindholm. Minnesota has also been rumored to be in the market to trade a defenseman and they don’t yet have Matt Dumba re-signed.
Any one of these teams is the kind of team that would be looking for scoring forwards and it looks a whole lot like Detroit either already has those kind of guys on decent deals (Tatar & Nyquist) or have them in terms of untapped potential (Mantha, Athanasiou). Not having room to keep everybody certainly looks like a commitment to moving some of them out for help.
Where Does Everybody Fit?
Honestly, I’m still at a point where I can see a plan out there for the Wings forming, but it can go so many directions that getting lost in the weeds trying to place people into the lineup right now isn’t going to be productive. Here’s what I do think makes sense though:
Frans Nielsen - Honestly, his numbers suggest he’s better-suited to be Detroit’s top center than Henrik Zetterberg right now, even if he’s not an ideal #1 guy. This should give the Wings flexibility to give Dylan Larkin the opportunity to take that job from him if he can avoid sophomore slump problems, but also be sheltered in times when it’s clear he might need a break.
The worry I can’t get away from with Nielsen is that his deal is two years too long and, despite wearing Filppula’s old number, he reminds me more of Stephen Weiss. I am praying that doesn’t happen again, but forgive me for being a little gunshy about it.
Thomas Vanek - I like this signing and think he fits anywhere on the top three lines and on the top power play unit. In fact, I might limit his 5-on-5 minutes to bump up how many power play minutes he gets. If this sounds oddly like what I’d have planned for Teemu Pulkkinen, that’s because it is. Not that Vanek is what displaces him or that he’s who is displaced by Vanek, but that’s his specialty.
Darren Helm - Helm has been tried in a lot of different roles and the only one he’s ever truly wowed me in was lower-line defensive center/winger. Helm makes the puck go the right direction on the ice, but not necessarily into the net as often as he should. He’s basically hockey’s version of the reason you say “Drive for show, putt for dough.”
Steve Ott - I’d fit him into a suitcase and put him in the cargo hold of a plane bound for Iceland if I could. I’m honestly terrified of a Miller-Glendening-Ott fourth line for the Red Wings. Ott’s value is entirely contained within intangibles in which I don’t necessarily believe. I promise not to use him as an ultimate proof-of-concept, but it’s hard to justify his spot on an NHL team anymore.
If I had to grade today for the Red Wings, I struggle to pass them. They did do enough to break us completely out of this “this is the same team as last year!” worry we were in, but the Vanek signing doesn’t save that entirely, considering Helm was the first contract of the day. It felt like one step back, one imperfect step forward, one real good gamble, and then one banana sundae made with moldy walnut shells chucked at you from the window of a speeding Chevy Caprice.
The Wings have a lot of time and there are obviously moves still coming. I think Detroit is a better team now than they were two days ago, but I’m worried how much better they will be in October and again how much better they’ll be able to make themselves for the future. Kenny still has plenty of work to do, that’s for sure. I think an unpanicked-but-certainly-worried incomplete grade is appropriate here.