The second buyout window came to a close earlier this week and it was another missed opportunity for general manager Ken Holland to alleviate some of his salary cap issues. Of course, the most popular name circling the proverbial buyout rumours was veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, who has three years remaining on his contract with a $4.25M AAV. The flaws are definitely there with Ericsson’s game aside from the fact that he’s never been a consistent offensive contributor – the 33-year-old has never eclipsed the 15-point mark in his 10-year career with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps the most concerning part of Ericsson’s game would be his lack of foot speed (he was never quick to begin with) and how it doesn’t translate to the direction that the new NHL game is headed. At this point, Ericsson is so slow that I would bet money on Connor McDavid winning a foot race skating backwards. Holland currently has a total of nine defensemen under contract on the Red Wings roster heading into this season, and with young rising forward Andreas Athanasiou yet to sign, let’s explore the options to get this team salary cap compliant in October.
EXPLORE THE TRADE MARKET
It’s easy enough to sit here and say that Holland needs to pull the trigger on a deal – and maybe he has explored this option recently to no success – but, it’s the most likely of scenarios. Ericsson’s term and cap hit remaining make it extremely difficult to move, however, Kenny has pulled a trick out of his back pocket before by dealing Pavel Datsyuk to the Arizona Coyotes at the 2016 NHL Draft and there’s no reason to think he couldn’t pull off a similar move with a team that has plenty of cap space going into this year. Another team that comes to mind are the New Jersey Devils who will likely have a battle for a bottom pairing spot heading into the year — and oh yeah, the $18.7-million in salary cap space doesn’t hurt either. The Red Wings would likely have to retain some of Ericsson’s salary in any deal, but the upside of doing so now would mean less term on that retainer over three years as opposed to six years if they would have bought him out.
Mike Green is another veteran defenseman whose name will surface in trade rumours throughout the year as he is a pending UFA after the season. Of course, the Green contract won’t be easy to move without Holland having to tuck his tail between his legs and take on some of that $6-million in salary. The Wings find themselves in unfamiliar territory again this season after missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and moving Green will likely come down to the trade deadline because we know Kenny will want to keep his team competitive for as long as he can. A team like the Chicago Blackhawks makes sense here (although trading with a former rival doesn’t always have its allure) as they really lack defensive depth going into the year and they could balance out the books with winger Marian Hossa headed for the LTIR. Another team that comes to mind is the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, considering the health of Kris Letang is always wildcard – yes, they found a way to hoist Lord Stanley without him, but why not? The Pens always seem to be in the market for a defenseman come playoff time and last year was no different when dealing for veterans Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit. If Letang is out by the trade deadline again, then selling Green as a rental to an Eastern Conference contender doesn’t hurt my feelings, why would it yours?
Lastly, Riley Sheahan was a popular name at last year’s trade deadline despite having his worst year by far in a Red Wings uniform going goalless for 81 games and then lighting lamp twice on the final day of the season. At just 25, I think there is still plenty of interest out there around the league and it was bit puzzling why Holland didn’t send him packing at the deadline or the draft? There are a few players that could fill that fourth line role for the Red Wings at a cheaper cost than Sheahan – Tyler Bertuzzi and Ben Street had strong seasons in Grand Rapids – and perhaps the Wings don’t want to part ways with the 25-year-old, but teams will surely answer the phone. The most alarming stat to take away from Sheahan’s 2016-17 season was his 5v5 CF% of 46.1%, his lowest in the past four years and quite frankly that number has consistently dropped each of the past for seasons as well.
BURY A PLAYER IN THE MINORS OR ON LTIR
I’ll loop this option together because I think it serves a similar purpose. Johan Franzen is headed for LTIR, which barely keeps the Wings below the salary cap if they were not to sign AA back (but clearly that’s not an option). Now, hear me out, I think Holland could get away with Niklas Kronwall joining his fellow Swede on the sidelines too. Before you start screaming at your computer screen and yelling “he actually needs to be injured!” Kronwall as we know has been battling knee injuries for quite some time and practically played on one leg for part of last season. I’m not so sure that Holland can’t pull some punches here, considering Joffrey Lupul showed up in Toronto for Maple Leafs training camp last September with a presumably clean bill of health and the second some of his teammates commented on how great he looked, it was a couple days later that he was on a plane to California to hide out in his basement. Hey, maybe Lupul enjoys hanging out in a robe and sipping White Russians from a glass all day long, just like Jeff Bridges in the Big Lebowski? The point is, the Maple Leafs front office bent the rules a little bit and in Kronwall’s case he’s close to not being able to walk once he hangs up his skates for good.
Finally, what about putting Ericsson on waivers before the puck drops on the start of next season? Waivers go into effect 12 days before the start of the year and would give the Wings time to be salary cap compliant before the season starts. However, it is worth noting that if Ericsson were to go unclaimed, then the Wings would only save $1.025-million in cap relief. It may not be Ericsson’s first choice, but it may be the option that makes the most sense for Holland if he can’t strike a deal with a fellow GM this summer.