Believe it or not, free agency is far from over.
Big names like Nazem Kadri, Phil Kessel, Paul Stasny, and P. K. Subban are still free agents. While three of the four names aren’t the players they once were, the name recognition and level of production alone should warrant at least a few suitors. One of the names still out there is former Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg. The Swedish defenseman is coming off a solid season with the Stars, putting up 47 points on a team that scored far below league average. With 374 points in 552 games, Klingberg is one of the better offensive defensemen in the league, putting up similar stats to Mike Green’s tenure with the Washington Capitals.
Klingberg is an especially intriguing candidate. Jeff Marek on the 32 Thoughts Podcast mentioned a mutual interest between the Detroit Red Wings and Klingberg:
“Don’t know if Detroit wants to go really long-term with Klingberg but I still think that as push is starting to become shove with the defencemen it feels like Detroit may be the ultimate destination here.”
Think of Klingberg like a human Butterfly Effect. If he’s signed by the Red Wings, the resulting moves will have a series of massive implications on the organization and its direction from here on. Here are just a few to consider if general manager Steve Yzerman chooses to pursue the defenseman:
Implication #1: Trade incoming?
As it stands right now, the Red Wings have four right-side defensemen on the roster: Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, and Gustav Lindstrom. Now, realistically speaking, Klingberg’s production, pay, and time on the ice would all but prevent him from playing a third-pairing role. It’s quite clear that Seider isn’t moving from that top pairing, and if Klingberg is playing pairing two, the roster would force Hronek down to the third pairing.
Now, I’m no accountant, but paying your third-pairing defenseman $4.4M a year seems like poor money management. Additionally, playing Hronek on the third pairing would cut into his ice time and hamstring his production. It just doesn’t make sense from a logistical or practical standpoint. No matter where you stand on the “Hronek is good” or “Hronek is bad, actually” discourse, a Klingberg signing would imply that Hronek’s time with the Wings is coming to an end.
Implication #2: A gamble on the cap
In all likelihood, Klingberg isn’t going to sign for cheap. Dobber Hockey’s projection has Klingberg at just a hair over $7M/year. Sportsnet has him at $7.875M/year on an eight-year deal. Ideally, if Detroit is his true destination, Klingberg signs at a friendlier cap hit with a much shorter term. With that being said, it’s safe to assume his contract will land somewhere between $6.5M-8M/year. That’s a high price to pay, especially when players like Seider and Lucas Raymond will need extensions down the line.
A signing with a long term or high cap hit requires a bit of a gamble. As of right now, the salary cap is set at $82.5M per team. If the NHL reaches its revenue goal of $4.8B this season, the cap will increase by an additional $2M. As the league continues to grow, the cap will raise in turn. This will offer teams more flexibility with building rosters. This, of course, only happens if things go as planned. Gambling on salary flexibility can either net you a Tampa Bay Lightning-like experience or throw you into the gamble Kyle Dubas has to take every offseason with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Implication #3: It’s time to take the next step
Signing a high-tier offensive defenseman like Klingberg sends a clear message: the time to make a splash is now. If the roster additions of guys like David Perron, Andrew Copp, Ville Husso, and even Ben Chiarot weren’t enough to send a message, Klingberg would be like lighting off a series of fireworks that spell out “Playoffs” in big letters. Whether or not this is the “right” choice lies solely among your opinion with the rebuild. Is it time to start pushing ahead in the standings, or should they take one more year to acquire picks and prospects?
This signing would serve as a perfect indication that Yzerman has put faith in this team’s core. For upcoming UFAs like Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi, this is a sign that Yzerman wants to watch them thrive in a stacked Atlantic Division. While the team isn’t necessarily ready to rise to the top of the standings, having a guy like Klingberg on the roster would help to shore up the abysmal power play and develop a more lethal form of attack on the offensive end.
No matter where you stand on the Klingberg discourse, signing the defenseman is the equivalent of opening the floodgates on the roster. Who remains — and what happens after — lies solely on the judgment of Steve Yzerman. If he decides to keep the team as-is, it’s not a damning indictment on Klingberg or the team. Should he choose to sign Klingberg, it’s important to not think of this team as a playoff team right off the bat. The Klingberg del, should it happen, will come down to three things: cap space, vision, and the judgment of the Captain.