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Red Wings Have Work to do with Signings of Tatar and Athanasiou

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes
One BILLION dollars [evil laugh]
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Now that free agency has died down and the teams have largely spent their loads of cash on the unrestricted free agents, the Wings turn inwards to lock up the remaining pieces. Let’s take a look at what’s going on around the RFA signings and some early roster hints:

First off, Xavier Ouellet signed yesterday to a two-year deal with an AAV of $1.25M, a move widely being considered Ken Holland’s best signing of 2017 so far. With that, we’ve got only Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou as expected roster regulars left to get RFA deals (Robbie Russo and Martin Frk also remain unsigned, but the former isn’t expected to be a regular yet and we’ll get to the latter in a little bit).

With that said, the signings of Tatar and AA will give the Red Wings 23 men on their roster. Bump that number down to 22 and assume Johan Franzen’s LTIR space and the Wings have about $6.2M left to get those two deals done and also have the space to call up the 23rd man (a forward).

According to Craig Custance at The Athletic (paywall), that’s going to be a real tough ask based on what could be coming.

On Athanasiou

Per the Custance article, AA’s agent and the Wings are expected to resume talks on Wednesday for what should be a pretty simple deal. AA is coming off his ELC but doesn’t have arbitration rights. The challenge here for the Wings is getting an effective bridge deal to keep the AAV low before Athanasiou can get arbitration rights and the higher leverage that goes along with those. For Athanasiou knowing he has very little leverage other than a holdout which would get him excoriated by the old boys’ club, a one-year deal would earn him those arbitration rights and the opportunity to turn his next RFA deal into something slightly more lucrative.

I’d be willing to bet the Wings are very against that, considering they’ll have both Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin coming off their ELCs next summer.

For salary projections, we have two pretty good models to look at, one from Matt Cane projects $1.9M and the other from Evolving Wild has $1.98M. I think we can use those with perhaps a bit more premium added on a two-year deal because AA’s production is pretty similar to the kind of output that got Riley Sheahan $2.075M, except that AA did it with almost 60 fewer games played in the two years leading up to his contract.

On Tatar

Tatar is going to be trickier and his arbitration rights are a little scarier for the Wings. He’s 26 now and if he gets to arbitration, the Wings won’t have the option of taking a two-year deal. This could keep his AAV on a one-year deal down, but generally players don’t come out of arbitration hearings feeling very good after a GM has done his job explaining how little the player should get paid. Allowing Tatar to go to arbitration is essentially dooming yourself to the necessity of trading him prior to the deadline in order to salvage value before he walks in UFA (which perhaps isn’t exactly the worst scenario).

Tatar’s salary projections come between $4.3 and $4.5M from the two previously-linked models, but Custance points out Tatar’s asking price could start at six and also that a decently close comparable comes in for Mike Hoffman who got four years at $5.185M per from the Senators. I think we can responsibly look in that range while hoping he settles for something closer to Gustav Nyquist’s four-year, $4.75M AAV deal. I’d be pretty happy with a four-year deal that stays below $5.3M or so, but wish in one hand and crap in the other...

The Roster Shakeout

The problem we’re running into here is that the Wings left themselves about $7.5M to sign three players and it’s looking like that’s going to be the rough pricetag for two of them. Ansar Khan had an interesting tidbit today about the battle for roster spots:

Some thoughts:

  • It does appear as though Witkowski will be slotting into the Ott spot after all.
  • Ben Street is an interesting name on the list of roster competitors.
  • I think the Witkowski spot probably hurts Bertuzzi’s chances of coming up as a more-skilled sandpaper guy.
  • We’re back to the annoying “if” game we were playing last year in terms of having a guy on the roster we don’t want in the lineup most nights and thinking it’ll be fine IF he doesn’t play too much (and we all know how that turned out last year too).
  • Martin Frk would be a real interesting consideration as the (very) poor man’s Thomas Vanek: a heavily-sheltered guy meant to be a power play specialist.

Honestly at this point, what might be working the most against Svechnikov earning the roster spot is that he makes about $200K more than Street and Bertuzzi and the need for cap space might come down to having to count on Luke Glendening not being ready to start the season for the exact amount of time it takes for somebody else to hit LTIR and magically make space. It’s also possible that Ryan Sproul’s offseason surgery could make just enough room to squeeze a player through via LTIR exemption.

The elephant in the room to all this is still the factor that the Wings are spending more than $9.2M in cap space on a goaltending tandem and apparently all the trading partners have picked up other options on the dance floor by now. Holland being able to move a goalie would make a lot of things make more sense. At the very worst, he could go the nuclear route and save a little over $300K in cap space by bringing up Jared Coreau to replace a multi-million-dollar goalie who somehow cleared waivers (or he could save a bunch more were that goalie claimed).

If nothing else, it might make more sense of the team’s recent reacquisition of Tom McCollum for goaltending depth.

All-in-all, the deals for Tatar and AA will get done and the Wings will find a way to be cap compliant somehow, but it will be very interesting watching how things will spin out with a very tight cap situation. We’ll keep you posted as things develop. Thanks and LGRW!