It’s been a busy week for Steve Yzerman as he continues to trim the fat from his roster (mostly left by Ken Holland) and retool this team to his liking. The week started with a bang when he surprised the hockey world by acquiring Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Jonathan Bernier and a 2021 3rd-round pick. This was a move that had Detroit Red Wings fans excited for the future as Nedeljkovic stole the crease from Petr Mrazek down the stretch and into the playoffs.
After the first two days of free agency, Yzerman has made some key moves that are showing the transformation of this team. The most notable signing up front was Pius Suter (2 x 3.25M AAV) as he will push to be the full-time second-line center. Suter’s rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks resulted in 27 points in 55 games and while he will transition from playing significant minutes with Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat, there will be plenty of opportunity for him to flourish in this top six. It was also nice to see Yzerman reach an agreement with Michael Rasmussen (3 x 1.46M AAV) and I expect the big-bodied center to compete with Suter for that 2C position — if not, he will slot in nicely on the third line.
Jakub Vrana (RFA) | Dylan Larkin | Tyler Bertuzzi (RFA)
Robby Fabbri | Pius Suter | Filip Zadina
Vladislav Namestnikov | Michael Rasmussen | Adam Erne (RFA)
Givani Smith (RFA) | Frans Nielsen | Sam Gagner
For the time being, I put Nielsen into the 4C slot, but I feel like the front office will replace Luke Glendening with one more signing. Yzerman still has some work to do with a shade over 31M in cap space and four key RFA’s to sign in that forward group. Obviously, Vrana’s arrival at last year’s deadline brought a lot of energy onto this team and he will be a priority. But, the one player to keep an eye on is Bertuzzi — I think he’ll be back. There were some words of encouragement at today’s presser…
Small point, but it's worth noting that Yzerman brought up Bertuzzi's name ("Bertuzzi should be fully healthy...) when talking about increased production next season.— Ryan Hana (@RyanHanaWWP) July 29, 2021
Seems like he's confident that they'll get the deal done. #LGRW
The wild card(s) here involve center Joe Veleno and winger Lucas Raymond. Yzerman indicated both would have an opportunity to earn a job but that won’t be just given. Either could find their way into this lineup and bump a guy like Nielsen into that 13th slot, but the Wings aren’t going to give tiny minutes to top prospects just for the sake of having them in. If the Wings do add another forward like hinted at, that person would likely be the one to bump Nielsen instead.
[Editor’s Note: The same minute this story published, the Red Wings released that they acquired center Mitchell Stephens from Tampa for a 6th rounder. You can either slot him in as the 4C or the 13th forward]
Onto the defensive pairings where Yzerman made a splash before free agency by acquiring Nick Leddy from the New York Islanders. Some may have raised their eyebrows at this, but I kind of liked the move as Leddy ate up a ton of minutes for the Isles last season (21:35 TOI — second amongst Isles defensemen) and led their blueline with 31 points. It’s a low risk move for Yzerman as Leddy has just one year remaining with a 5.5M cap hit and could even be flipped at the deadline for asset(s). Another signing that intrigued me was that of Jordan Oesterle. This is a great depth move as he can stabilize the bottom pairing if needed and as a left-handed shot he is also comfortable playing on the right side.
Marc Staal | Filip Hronek
Nick Leddy | Moritz Seider
Danny DeKeyser | Troy Stecher
Jordan Oesterle | Gustav Lindstrom
I have Staal further up the depth chart than probably most, but when you look at last season, he and Stecher were their two most consistent defensemen not named Hronek. I think Hronek will have the chance to take that next step offensively this season and the stable defensive play of Staal will facilitate that. The one question mark before they get to training camp will be how much Seider will play? I’d like to think that he’s ready and can handle top four minutes for this team, but then again, you never know with Jeff Blashill. So, my gut tells me if he doesn’t intend on giving him every opportunity out of the gate, then let’s not waste any time here and make sure he’s getting a full slate of minutes in Grand Rapids.
The goaltending situation looks rather promising heading into the season after the addition of Nedeljkovic. He was in the Vezina conversation at times last year and even though it was just 23 games, he was an impressive 15-5-3 with a .932 SV% and 1.90 GAA. You have to love the fact that Yzerman got an up-and-coming 25-year-old on a team friendly deal (2 x 3M AAV) for simply a third-rounder (following Bernier’s contract with the New Jersey Devils).
Alex Nedeljkovic | Thomas Greiss
The Wings showed last season that they are a tough team to play against and the fanbase should be excited about what lies ahead for this team. Retaining some key veterans in Gagner and Staal will continue to prove beneficial in the locker room for the young group of players vying for full-time roster spots. Yzerman likely isn’t done with his offseason tinkering, but after two days we have a pretty good idea of how this roster will look to start the season.