Since it was announced that Steve Yzerman would make his long anticipated return to the Detroit Red Wings as general manager, many have wondered what his plans are for this team’s rebuild. Will he use some of their cap space to make a big splash on the free agent market? Or, will he hold steady, exercise patience, and continue to harvest building blocks for the future through next month’s NHL draft? The possibilities are seemingly endless for Yzerman, as he’s once again been given the keys to the city and will have a clean slate to orchestrate his master plan for turning this franchise back into a contender.
Wings fans are excited (as they should be) and eager to see what their new GM will pull off this summer, and if we take a look at the free agents available—specifically the restricted class—there are a number of names that could push this team one step closer to playoff caliber. Of course, the biggest fish for GM’s around the league is Mitch Marner, but his price tag will likely be very steep and the number of draft picks that could follow as compensation might be too detrimental for a franchise to give up.
One name that seemingly carries the most interest in Detroit circles is Winnipeg Jets defenseman, Jacob Trouba. It’s easy to assume that Trouba would be a natural fit for the Wings, considering he was born in Rochester, Michigan and played his 2012-13 campaign at the University of Michigan too. The chips could all fall into place, right? There’s no question this move is possible, but the bigger question is at what cost?
Trouba will be a RFA on July 1 (and you can be sure Kevin Cheveldayoff will tender him a qualifying offer to prolong negotiations) and currently carries a cap hit of $5.5M. He’s already making a pretty penny for a 25-year-old blueliner, coming off a career year that saw him reach 50 points in 82 games — it’s safe to say he’s getting a raise.
Looking at the Wings’ roster construction, they have three UFA’s (Niklas Kronwall, Thomas Vanek and Luke Witkowski) that will account for $8.5M in cap space, plus the $10.037M in cap relief the team will gain by putting Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg on LTIR. Overall, the Wings will have north of $18M in cap space at their disposal this summer, assuming none of those veterans return to the lineup.
With all that being said, is there a logjam on the blueline and can Trouba fit in neatly under the cap? This is where things become complicated for Yzerman because of the Ken Holland effect. Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson are both 35 and have one year remaining on each of their contracts, so a buyout doesn’t make sense (but waivers might?). If Yzerman chooses to keep both of them on the NHL roster in some sort of mentoring role for the younger defensemen, then maybe Jeff Blashill will use them in a platoon situation?
Assuming that Daley and Ericsson remain on the roster, that leaves four spots up for grabs. Mike Green is certain to be back and healthy after struggling with a viral infection last season. That leaves 3 spots for Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Madison Bowey, Filip Hronek, and possibly Jared McIsaac. Additionally, the Wings will be adding Finnish defenseman Oliwer Kaski after the IIHF Worlds.
It seems crowded back there, but this is where the front office has to make some tough decisions. Holland was notorious for staying loyal to his veterans a little bit longer than he should have—and make no mistake, Yzerman may give Kronwall every opportunity to return for another season and the chance to hit 1,000 games before retiring as a Red Wing. But, I’m on the side of the fence that this shouldn’t happen for the sake of withholding a roster spot from a younger player and impeding their development at the NHL level.
When factoring in Trouba, every effort should be made to acquire him and it’s unlikely the Jets would facilitate a trade prior to July 1, unless it resulted in a major prospect from the Wings’ organization going the other way. What would that trade look like to be an enticing enough offer for the Jets’ front office to pull the trigger? Well, keep in mind that the Wings would simply be trading for Trouba’s rights to negotiate a new deal—which there is no guarantee he would sign in Detroit—but, it’s easy to point out that the Wings have a lot of draft capital over the next two seasons (18 total picks and a conditional pick).
Entering this June’s draft, the Jets only have three picks combined (second, fourth and fifth rounds), and it’s important to note that the Wings have four picks in the first two rounds this year. I’m willing to bet that Yzerman would have to part ways with at least two of those picks and possibly a prospect to lure Cheveldayoff into making the deal. The Jets have their own contract disputes to settle this summer as Nathan Beaulieu (RFA), Ben Chiarot (UFA), Bogdan Kiselevich (UFA), Joe Morrow (RFA) and Tyler Myers (UFA) will all enter negotiations. Considering that list, I can’t imagine the Jets keep all of them — including Trouba — and it’s plausible that the Wings could use some combination of their early round draft picks this year plus one or more of their young prospects to entice the Jets into making a deal.
The other option is an offer sheet and we all know how much GM’s love to dish these out...NOT!
Offer sheet compensation has been set for 2019/20— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) May 3, 2019
$1,395,053 or below: None
$4,227,438-$6,341,152: 1st, 3rd
$6,341,153-$8,454,871: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
2 1sts , 2nd, 3rd
$10,568,590+: 4 1sts
Above is the offer sheet compensation set out for each salary range, so this gives us a good idea of what the Wings might have to give up if they decide to force the Jets’ hand on Trouba. Ultimately, it comes down to how much the Wings’ front office thinks that the 25-year-old is worth. It’s tough to point out a comparable contract because this was simply a bridge deal for Trouba and he and the franchise are right back to square one just like last summer. However, if we look around the league, we can deduce that he will be in for a raise based on other right-shot defensemen in a similar age category.
Tyson Barrie comes to mind after finishing the regular season with 59 points in 78 games and being an integral part to the Colorado Avalanche’s second-round run in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Barrie will enter the 2019-20 campaign on an expiring four-year, $22-million deal. He turns 28 in July and it’s safe to say he will be seeing at least $6-7M AAV on his next contract.
Torey Krug just turned 28 in April and finished the regular season with 53 points in 64 games — his third straight 50-point season. The Boston Bruins defenseman will enter the final year of his four-year, $21-million deal in 2019-20, and he too will likely be in for a raise from his $5.25M AAV.
Trouba draws similarities to both Barrie and Krug from an offensive perspective on the blueline, but I think what could set him apart is his size. At 6-3 and over 200 pounds, he has a significant size advantage over both players, standing no taller than 5-10. Trouba skates well and closes the gaps between opposing forwards in his own zone and with his heavy, right-handed shot, this makes him a very capable two-way defenseman. This is a combination of skill that the Wings have missed for quite some time—Kronwall’s physicality has remained, but he hasn’t reached the 40-point plateau since the 2014-15 season—and when I look down the list of players on the backend, I see a lot of stay-at-home types.
One final stat to keep in mind when comparing Barrie, Krug and Trouba, is their WAR (wins against replacement). Using Evolving Wild’s model, we can look at the goals for rate on offense and the expected goals against rate on defense to paint a better picture. Trouba contributed 1.1 wins above replacement, Barrie 1.3 and Krug led the trio at 1.8. From this, we can see some similarities in each player’s on-ice performance. Call me crazy, but Trouba will have more of an impact in the Wings lineup than people realize.
It’s entirely possible that an offer sheet for Trouba will require the opposing GM to dish out at least a first- and third-round pick as compensation. But, that might be wishful thinking because in year’s past we’ve seen these types of scenarios get egregious and still, the team with the player’s rights simply ponies up to match the offer.
Consider that in July 2012, Shea Weber was a RFA for the Nashville Predators, and the Philadelphia Flyers came swooping in with an offer sheet valued at 14 years and $110-million (the new CBA would never allow for a contract length of this magnitude). At the time, it made Weber the second-highest paid player in the NHL behind Alexander Ovechkin. With his defense partner, Ryan Suter, signing a 13-year deal with the Minnesota Wild, GM David Poile decided to hold onto Weber because he didn’t want to lose two high-caliber blueliners.
The point is, if Yzerman and the front office truly want to make a play for Trouba and pluck him out of Winnipeg, then it will likely take a little bit more than what they want to pay for him. I’m thinking in the $6.4-$8.4M AAV range (EDITOR’S NOTE: The contract projections from Evolving Wild have Trouba is projected $7.34 million AAV for a 5-year term) and if you ask me, why not? You have a perfect opportunity to add a player that just turned 25 a few months ago entering his prime and brings that coveted right-handed shot into the lineup. Trouba finished with 50 points (13th at the position), 18 power play points (T-15th at the position) and a respectable 49.98 CF% (per Corsica).
Yes, there are prospects on the way like Cholowski, Hronek and McIsaac, but Trouba can step in and play big minutes right away. The future looks bright in Detroit and the cap space is starting to open up more and more to give Yzerman an opportunity to put this team back on the map. Trouba in a Wings uniform would be just what the doctor ordered.