Red Wings Free Agency Primer
At Noon today, the NHL's new year officially starts. Rosters are reset and all contracts that had been set to expire are now officially off the books. It's the beginning of the NHL's free agency period where teams may sign any unrestricted free agents to deals or restricted free agents to offer sheets. It's also a time for arbitration elections and for the $71.4M salary cap to become official.
So what can we expect? Well we can expect a bunch of people to get paid more money and term than they should be, same as every year. What we might be able to see this year which has a lot of people excited is a run of offer sheets. There's been a certain buzz around the hockey world about teams being afraid of such sheets. We saw that happen yesterday as the Blackhawks traded Brandon Saad to Columbus or just prior to the draft as Boston dumped Dougie Hamilton to Calgary.
Up until yesterday's buyout of Stephen Weiss, many of us were expecting the Red Wings to be quiet. Now? Who knows. The wings have just enough space to do something stupid. Before we get there, let's look at where we stand.
The Cap Situation
Currently, the Red Wings' roster features 10 forwards under contract who played significant time with the club last season, 8 defensemen, and two goalies.
|Pavel Datsyuk||Niklas Kronwall||Jimmy Howard|
|Henrik Zetterberg||Jonathan Ericsson||Petr Mrazek|
|Joakim Andersson||Kyle Quincey|
|Johan Franzen||Jakub Kindl|
|Tomas Tatar||Danny Dekeyser|
|Darren Helm||Alexey Marchenko|
|Justin Abdelkader||Brian Lashoff|
|Drew Miller||Brendan Smith|
This list represents Red Wings players who are under contract for next season already and (aside from Mrazek) are waiver eligible. Here we have 10 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies. The standard roster size is 23. Essentially what the Red Wings are missing is four forwards, but it's not quite that simple.
|Dan Cleary||Gustav Nyquist|
|Erik Cole||Tomas Jurco|
|Marek Zidlicky||Teemu Pulkkinen|
|Jonas Gustavsson||Landon Ferraro|
|Kevin Porter||Louis-Marc Aubry|
|Andy Miele||Mitch Callahan|
The standard roster setup is made up of 14 forwards, 7 defensemen, and two goalies. For the sake of ease, I'm going to do what General Fanager is doing with the Wings at present and move Brian Lashoff out of the Wings' lineup (he will have to clear waivers for this, but I don't believe he'd have a problem doing so).
Based on this assumption, the Red Wings need four forwards to fill out their roster and about $14.4M to spend filling those spots.
Restricted Free Agents
With the current needs, the Wings could fill their ranks solely with people already in the organization. Here are their unsigned RFAs as of this morning:
|Gustav Nyquist||Tomas Jurco|
|Teemu Pulkkinen||Landon Ferraro|
|Mitch Callahan||Louis-Marc Aubry|
|Nick Jensen||Jared Coreau|
The Red Wings will be able to match any offer signed by one of these players to another club or claim draft pick compensation. Out of the group, Gustav Nyquist is the most-important player, but with the amount of cap space the Wings have, I don't feel that a team will try to snag any of these guys. The thing with offer sheets is that you still have to give sensible deals, so the only way they work is when you've got a team crunched by the cap. The Red Wings aren't. Anything is possible, but it would be strange to see a team try it with any of the Wings' RFAs.
Of these RFAs, it's likely that the four forwards to complete the squad are Nyquist, Jurco, Pulkkinen, and Ferraro. Callahan and Aubry (if re-signed) will have to pass through waivers, but they're not above anybody on the depth chart. Jensen will fight for a spot in camp, but he's likely Grand Rapids-bound. Coreau isn't going to beat out Mrazek or Howard.
I'll admit that I was surprised by the $2.75M AAV given to Brendan Smith yesterday, but I think it's reasonable to expect that the combined cap hit for the RFAs who will make the lineup will probably come in between $5.5-7.5M. This leaves the team with between $7-9M in cap space to make changes to what will be a full roster.
Targets & Options
The Wings have talked a lot this spring about the need for a big top-six scoring forward and a solid two-way top-three defensemen. The options in free agency are not great, but there are a number of players who may garner interest. Here's an incomplete list:
Alexander Semin (RW): The right-shooting "enigmatic" sniper was bought out by Carolina yesterday. It's possible that with his buyout cash, he'll be able to accept taking a short lower-money deal to get back on track and once more prove that he can contribute positively to a team. Adding him to Datsyuk's wing could produce amazing results.
Martin St. Louis (RW): The 40-year old sniper has anything but size, but he can score. I don't think he's a good fit, but him being here is a testament to how weak this FA forward class is. He's like re-adding Damien Brunner only shorter and older.
PA Parenteau (RW): The Canadiens bought him out this week. The guy's got some talent, but I don't see him being the kind of guy to make it worth bumping a younger player out of a spot for.
Matt Beleskey (LW): The Michigan native big winger put up career numbers playing with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. He's going to cash in somewhere. I'm honestly terrified it's going to be in Detroit. Personally, I think he's the next Bryan Bickell.
Mike Green (D): The right-shooting 29-year old puck mover decided not to re-sign with the Washington Capitals and is likely the jewel of this free agent class. Being the jewel, he's likely to get a contract longer and larger than six-years and $6M. I think the term is the problem here. Green certainly improves the Wings' ability to move the puck from the back end, but he's been injury prone and if he can't be a top-pairing guy for that term, then the Wings are better off looking elsewhere for that.
Christian Ehrhoff (D): The other oft-injured free agent spurned the Wings' interest last year to sign a one-year deal with the Penguins. He's got some gas left in the tank, but it's not certain how much.
Cody Franson (D): The former Predator and Maple Leaf is mobile, big-bodied, and a right shot. It's also likely he's looking for top-pairing money and a pretty long deal. This guy could very well be worth the gamble, as he's been able to put up positive possession numbers in tough usage for a bad Leafs team. He's a bit of a gambler position-wise, but he gets the puck up ice.
Paul Martin (D): Another Pittsburgh FA D-man was a key part of the Penguins defense for the last several years, but he's starting to break down physically. Martin is likely another player who is going to get more term than I'd be willing to commit to a player his age.
Below this list, there are a number of potential gems, but nobody who really sticks out immediately as a top-six scoring forward or a top-three defenseman. Looking at it this way, it's no wonder people don't expect the Wings to be terribly active.
There's nothing saying the firewagon trade train that has run through the NHL in the last week has to stop just because free agency opens. However, if there is anything on the trade front, we're not being told what it is. Ken Holland has been "kicking tires", but the last we've heard about any potential trade was that the team was no longer interested in pursuing a deal for Dion Phaneuf. Today is generally a day for free agent signings, so there's a good chance we don't hear anything about player movement until muddy cap situations get a bit worrisome for teams as the regular season approaches. Look for August-September trades to get interesting.
We'll be around all day keeping an eye on the trackers and trying to report all the pertinent stuff. We'll use the comments of this post as an open thread where we'll share the kind of things we see.
As a reminder, please be VERY CAREFUL about sourcing any rumors you see. Today is a field day for trolls who like to make fake accounts and for wannabe insiders who throw mounds of shit at the wall in hopes of having it stick. If you see something from an account that sounds fantastic, please check out the feed first. If it looks like a well-known insider, make sure they have a verified checkmark. If you've never heard of the person making the claim, then please don't share it.
Thanks and LGRW!