With the Tampa Bay Lightning putting the finishing touches on back-to-back Stanley Cups Wednesday night the 2020-2021 season has finally come to an end. It also means that a somewhat condensed and likely flurry of activity offseason is about to begin. One of the first landmarks is the opening of the buyout window, set for 48 hours from the awarding of the Cup or approximately later tonight. Teams will have until 5pm EST on July 27th to make the decision to buyout a player or not. With the expansion draft set for July 21st it could make for some interesting times over the next couple weeks as teams look to finish off their protection lists, draft boards, and free agency plans. For Detroit, per Cap Friendly, they have eight players who are eligible for a buyout: Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Robby Fabbri, Richard Panik, Vladislav Namestnikov, Danny DeKeyser, Troy Stetcher, and Thomas Griess. Let’s take a look at all eight and see if there are any strong candidates to join Justin Abdelkader on the buyout list.
First off, let us get the easy ones out of the way first. Larkin, Fabbri, Stetcher and Griess are locks to not be bought out. Larkin, Fabbri, and Stetcher are not on bad deals and still have plenty of value to where if the Red Wings wanted/needed to move on from either they could easily find a trade partner. Griess overcame a rough start to the last season to turn into a solid, if unspectacular, option in next and right now he is the only NHL caliber goalie they have under contract. Vladislav Namestnikov is close to a lock as well with only one year at $2.0M AAV left on his contract. The main reason I did not put him in as a lock is, if for some reason the Red Wings believe they need to open up Namestnikov’s roster spot, I am not sure what his trade value is at this time and in no way should the Red Wings be paying assets to get rid of anyone on this roster. Additionally the Red Wings are going to need to both fill out a roster and make it to the cap floor next season so buying out Namestnikov does not really make much sense, certainly not as much as maybe a few others might.
So with those out of the way that leaves just three players, DeKeyser, Nielsen, and Panik, as potential buyout candidates for Detroit. Time to Pro/Con this and see if it makes sense for any of them.
One year remaining at $5.0M. A buyout would save the Red Wings $3.0M in cap space this offseason at the cost of $1.5M in dead cap next offseason.
Buy Him Out
After coming into the league out of college and at one point being called the best defenseman from the red line back into his own zone by former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, DeKeyser has really seen his play drop off in recent years. This is largely due to a laundry list of injuries, particularly to his back, that have really sapped a lot of his physical abilities on the ice. It is very unlikely that he can even play a full 82 game schedule at this point in his career.
While DeKeyser’s physical skills have fallen off, his mental acuity and understanding of the game has not. He has never been the gifted athlete on the ice but he carved out a nice NHL career because of his ability to see/read the play in front of him and make the smart play defensively. With the Red Wings blueline looking to receive a major overhaul and Moritz Seider all but a lock to join the roster next season, having a steadying mind who can help the young defenseman learn to see the game at the NHL level on the bench and in the locker room with him would be a definite benefit. On top of that, despite his injuries and reduced mobility, Danny did find a way to turn himself around toward the end of the season and might just have enough left in his tank for one more go.
With the short term, lack of panic for cap space (the Red Wings currently project to have $48.1M in cap space going into this offseason), and a dearth of NHL caliber left handed defensemen on the roster there is really no reason to buy DeKeyser out.
One year remaining at $5.25M. A buyout would save the Red Wings $1.0M in cap space this offseason at the cost of $500K in dead cap next offseason.
Buy Him Out
He came in with the impossible expectation of trying to fill even some of the hole left by the retirement of Pavel Datsyuk. He obviously did not live up to those expectations or even the slightly less lofty expectations of the six years, $31.5M dollar deal he signed back in 2016. He was not an awful player at all his first three seasons with the Red Wings, hovering at/around a half point per game during that time. The last two seasons have been a different story all together though as he registered a total of 15 points in 89 games over the two years and routinely being healthy scratched. Moving on from Frans a year early could allow the Red Wings the keep an extra young player on their roster who is no longer waiver exempt and could be claimed if they are sent down.
Similar to DeKeyser, Nielsen is by all accounts a fantastic locker room guy whose presence who could help the younger forwards, particularly those like Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren who are looking to make the jump over to the US and play on the smaller sheet for the first time as professionals. This could mean sending Frans to Grand Rapids as Raymond and Berggren are likely to at least start the season in GR, but this would almost provide the same amount of cap relief as buying him out would without having the $500K in dead space for the 2022-23 season.
Similar to DeKeyser, the short term and lack of need for cap space relief this offseason makes it hard to justify buying out Frans. The fact they would get almost the same relief sending him to Grand Rapids without the dead space the following season makes it a near certainty that Nielsen plays out the last year of his contract with the organization.
Two years remaining at $2.75M/year. A buyout here would open up $2.26M in cap space this offseason and $1.46M the following offseason for the Red Wings at the cost of $933K in dead cap space for 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons.
Buy Him Out
The biggest benefit to buying out Panik (beyond the cap space that we have already established the Red Wings do not need) would be to open up a roster spot for one of the younger forwards like Giavani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov, Chase Pearson, or Joe Veleno to step into. Figuring out if these guys have what it takes to be an NHLer is more important for the team long term than giving a 30-year-old, career bottom six forward like Panik 12-15 minutes of ice time a night.
Unlike DeKeyser and Nielsen, Panik is still a viable NHL player who can contribute in a bottom six role. He is not going to net a ton of points but he is a good grinder who is reliable in his own end and puts in a solid effort every time he is on the ice.
With Luke Glendening, Sam Gagner, Valtteri Filppula, and Darren Helm all free agents this offseason the Red Wings would absolutely be better off keeping Richard Panik around for at least the next season and hope he can build up some late round draft pick trade value. At a minimum he provides a solid gatekeeper for young bottom six prospects like Smith and Pearson.
In the end, a buyout simply does not make sense for the Red Wings this offseason. None of the players who would even be considered for a buyout have a deal beyond two seasons and the Red Wings really do not need the cap space this upcoming season so adding dead space down the road a season or two for no real need this offseason just does not make much sense.