If I Was Steve Yzerman...My Approach To The 2021 Offseason (Part 1)
It’s been only two years, but boy have Steve Yzerman’s first two years been eventful. After the shock of the Anthony Mantha trade wears off, there will be a number of important decisions for Steve Yzerman and company to make this offseason. Keeping in line with my attempt to play GM in 2017 (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) and 2019, I thought I would come back again to offer up what I would do in Yzerman’s position.
A disclaimer - a lot of this is going to sound like word vomit. I’m laying out everything I am considering in my head in order to justify my decisions. Some of it is going to be based on my opinions/interpretation of statistics and some (or even all of it) may end up wrong! In 2017, I said I’d ditch Tyler Bertuzzi! That’s ok, we’re here for discussion. With that being said, let’s get started.
Where Are We Now?
Before we can really talk about what the Red Wings should do, we first have to understand where they are right now and what our goal should be. Our goal for this franchise is to build a sustainable, Cup-contending team. The hallmarks of this include acquiring as many ping-pong balls (draft picks) to maximize chances at landing elite talent, using those draft picks to acquire high-ceiling prospects, maintaining cap flexibility by not locking in non-elite players to long-term contracts, and by locking in our elite players early to contracts that span their effective prime.
Detroit is currently on track for another bottom-five finish this season and will pick in the top-10 for the fifth consecutive season. Heading in to the offseason, here’s Detroit’s current roster with their 2021-2022 projected Game Score Value Added (GSVA), which is Dom Luszczyszyn’s Wins Above Replacement (WAR) model. I’ve selected Dom’s model for the bulk of my analysis as his model annually ranks among the best public models at predicting NHL game outcomes.
If Detroit were to bring back this exact roster for next season, we can identify how far away Detroit is from being a Cup contender to give us our starting point for offseason moves. We can do this by comparing the average GSVA of a Cup champion as defined by Luszczyszyn.
Shown below is a graphic depicting how close the Red Wings are to having a Cup contending team with their current roster using their best players by GSVA. Blue indicates that a player is at or above the mean value for that position, white indicates that the player falls within one standard deviation below the mean, and red indicates that a player is below one standard deviation of the mean.
Alright most of you didn’t need me to state the obvious but yes, if the Red Wings were to run it back, they would have a grand total of 4 players that would not look out of place on a Cup championship roster. However, the good news is that the Red Wings are not stuck with this roster entering next season. Of the 29 players the Red Wings currently have on the active roster, taxi squad, and injured reserve, only 10 are under contract for the 2021-2022 season and the Wings have a projected $50,075,277 in cap space. With that being said, let’s navigate this offseason.
To start, here are the key dates for the offseason:
- July 9th - Last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final
- July 11th - Latest possible day for buyout period to begin
- July 17th - Deadline for Expansion Draft Protection List
- July 21st - Expansion Draft for Seattle Kraken
- July 23rd/24th - NHL Draft
- July 28th - RFA/UFA signing period begins/
Part 1 of this series will focus on the buyout period and expansion draft
Part 2 will focus on draft philosophy and the 2021 NHL draft
Part 3 will focus on the RFA/UFA signing period and offer sheet considerations
2021 Expansion Draft
This offseason, the Seattle Kraken will officially join the NHL which means another expansion draft. The rules are the exact same as the expansion draft for Vegas but to quickly rehash:
Teams have to the option to protect either 7 F/3 D/1 G or they can protect 8 skaters and 1 G. All players with No Movement Clauses (NMC) in effect for 2021-2022 must be protected. All players with two or fewer professional seasons are exempt and do not require protection. Teams must expose 2 forwards and 1 defensemen who meet the following criteria:
- Under contract in 2021-2022
- Played 27 or more games in 2020-2021 OR
- Played 54 or more games in the last two seasons/
If a player is an unrestricted/restricted free agent and left unprotected, Seattle will have the exclusive opportunity to negotiate a contract with that player between July 18th and July 20th. If they come to an agreement during that timeframe, that player becomes Seattle’s selection from that team. Otherwise, Seattle could still select the free agent without a contract in place and negotiate a contract afterwards or allow them to walk if they are a UFA. Based on Vegas’ expansion draft, it appears that if a team does not come to an agreement with an RFA during the exclusive negotiating period, they would still be able to select the RFA and own their signing rights based on what Vegas did with Teemu Pulkkinen, Griffin Reinhart, Oscar Lindberg, Brendan Leipsic, and Nate Schmidt all signing contracts after the expansion draft.
For more information on the expansion draft and what other teams’ protection lists might look like, please check out the expansion draft series from Peter Flynn available here.
Displayed below is the list of players who are exempt from needing protection as well as the players who meet the above criteria to be exposed.
One of the unheralded benefits of the Mantha trade is that it brought in a forward under contract for 2021-2022, Richard Pánik, allowing the Wings the option of protecting Vladislav Namestnikov. Previously, the Wings would have had to leave two forwards on the right side of that list exposed which would have meant Namestnikov and Nielsen (assuming that none of the current RFA’s are extended prior to the expansion draft). With the addition of Pánik, the Wings can now protect Namestnikov and satisfy the exposure requirement with Pánik and Nielsen.
Shown below is my proposed protection list using CapFriendly’s Expansion Draft tool following the 7/3/1 protection scheme.
The final decision for me came down to Adam Erne or Evgeny Svechnikov. Believe it or not, Erne is just 18 months older than Svechnikov. Given Erne’s recent play and Svechnikov’s injury history, I have to lean toward protecting Erne.
With this protection list, I believe Seattle would have three courses of action. Seattle could use their exclusive negotiating window to negotiate with one of Detroit’s unprotected UFA’s such as Bobby Ryan or Jonathan Bernier. Option two would be to use that window to negotiate with one of Detroit’s unprotected RFA’s such as Givani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov, Taro Hirose, or Gustav Lindström. Option three would be to negotiate a deal with Detroit to select a specific player in exchange for future trade considerations. With the players I’ve left unprotected, I don’t feel compelled to use option 3 to steer Seattle in a specific direction. My suspicion is Seattle opts for option two and selects Evgeny Svechnikov.
Summary: Seattle selects Evgeny Svechnikov
2021 Buyout Period
The ordinary buyout period formally begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Finals concludes and runs for a total of two weeks. During this time, the Wings can buyout as many players as they want. Outside of this period, the Wings could gain additional opportunities to buyout players if any of their five RFA’s with arbitration rights elect to file for arbitration. Those filings would trigger a 48-hour window after settling that would allow the Wings the opportunity to buyout another player. The CBA allows for a team to make three of these types of buyouts over the lifespan of the CBA. To date, the Wings have not used any of their three post-arbitration filing buyouts under this CBA.
I believe the Wings have two potential candidates for a buyout - Frans Nielsen and Danny DeKeyser. With the timeline for this season, there is likely to be some overlap between the ordinary buyout period and the expansion draft. As a result, I don’t think any decisions on a buyout would occur until after the expansion draft happens on July 21st. Based on my expansion draft protection list above, I think it’s highly unlikely either DeKeyser or Nielsen are selected by Seattle.
Last season, Steve Yzerman sent mild shockwaves through the Red Wings fanbase as he elected to buyout the remaining three years of alternate captain Justin Abdelkader’s contract. From that buyout, the Wings will carry the following cap hit for Abdelkader’s contract through the 2025-2026 season.
DeKeyser has one year remaining at $5 million and Nielsen has one year remaining at $5.25 million. This season, both players found themselves on waivers as the Red Wings as the Wings elected to rotate in some of their younger prospects. Displayed below is what a buyout would look like for both players per CapFriendly.
At this stage, the incentive for a buyout would be to free up a roster position for a younger player. I don’t believe a buyout of either or both players would significantly impair the Red Wings ability to leverage their remaining cap space for future deals like we saw this past season. And while there’s not necessarily a “pressing” need to buyout either player, I think it makes a lot of sense to buyout Nielsen given the influx of young forwards that should compete for a roster spot next season. There’s an opportunity for Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, Lucas Raymond, and others to compete for a roster spot and I imagine Nielsen will want the opportunity to pursue ice time elsewhere as opposed to sitting in the pressbox. I won’t buyout DeKeyser as he’s a bit more expensive in 2022-2023 than Nielsen and at this point in time I can’t definitively say the Wings have three LD better than him on the roster.
Summary: Buyout Frans Nielsen.
At this point, Detroit has lost Evgeny Svechnikov to the Seattle Kraken and has elected to buyout Frans Nielsen. Part 2 of this series will focus on the upcoming 2021 NHL draft.