The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years this season. They were also sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in a long time when they traded away Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott, Tomas Jurco, and Brendan Smith.
The team enters relatively foreign territory as they begin their offseason much earlier than they and Red Wings fans are use to, with plenty of questions to be answered.
In order to get back into playoff contention, the Wings will need to make more moves this offseason. If they want to sign free agents they will need to move more players. Here are five moves the Wings should make to get back on track next season and for the future.
5. TRADE GUS NYQUIST
Gus Nyquist bursted on to the scene during the 2013-14 season when he scored 28 goals and added 20 assists in 57 games. He followed that up in 2014-2015 with 27 goals and 54 points in his first full season at the NHL level. The goose was officially on the loose.
Since that time, Nyquist has failed to reach the 20 goal plateau. He’s scored just 29 goals combined over the last two seasons.
He was once thought of as a power play threat, more than half of Nyquist’s goals in his rookie campaign came on the man-advantage. However, he’s mustered just nine power play goals since the start of the 2015-16 campaign.
Nyquist needs to be traded while he still has value, he led Detroit with 36 helpers and finished with 48 points, second only to Henrik Zetterberg on the team. If the Wings are able to move him, they may be able to get a few picks such as a second- or third-round in this year’s draft, or next.
4. TRADE JONATHAN ERICSSON
Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson needs to be traded ASAP. He has become a turnover king in the defensive zone. Teams also seem to score a lot when he is on the ice as well. According to puckalytics, Ericsson has a 2.56 GA/60 (Goals against per 60 minutes) when on the ice last season. Compare that to a defenseman such as Kevin Shattenkirk of the Washington Capitals, who had a 2.03 GA/60 this season.
Ericsson finished the season on injured reserve when he fractured his wrist on February 9 against the Capitals. He finished the season with just one goal and 8 assists with a plus/minus rating of -2.
Ericsson would be a great addition to a team that needs defensive depth, but who will take his contract?
Ericsson has a no-trade clause that takes effect next season which will make it extremely hard to move him. If they can get him to waive that they will free up another $4.25M in cap space (over the next three seasons).
There is also the always interesting buyout option with Ericsson for the Red Wings. If Detroit were to buy out the remaining $12.5M of his contract, it’d be a total cap hit of $8.33M over six seasons, which is roughly a $1.64M average annual cap hit.
If the Wings are able to move Ericsson and his contract then they will be able to go after other defensemen in free agency. However, if they cannot find a suitable partner to trade with and don’t feel he can no longer help the club moving forward, buying out the remainder of his contract is a route to explore.
3. RE-SIGN TOMAS TATAR
Tomas Tatar is now a restricted free agent that the Detroit Red Wings must re-sign only for the right price. He led the team in goals this season with 25 in 82 games. He is a valuable piece moving forward that the Wings could use on their second line in the future. Tatar is capable of scoring 25-30 goals a season when he has the right complement of players around him.
Obviously, Tatar will want a pay raise. He made $2.75M this season and that number will have to go up if Detroit plans to keep him. If another team decides to throw an offer sheet at Tatar the Wings will either need to match it or let him go.
Tatar is still young at 26 years old. He has scored over 20 goals each of the last three seasons which is big for a Wings team that struggles to put the puck in the net (24th in goals per game this season).
2. TIME TO TRADE SHEAHAN
(Sigh) Where do we start? It’s safe to say Riley Sheahan under-performed this season, scoring only two goals, both of which came in game No. 82 of the season. He will always be remembered as the last Red Wing to score at the Joe Louis Arena. But he will also be remembered as the player who went 81 games without a goal.
Sheahan was thought of as a player that could score 15-20 goals a season, especially after scoring 14 goals during the 2015-16 campaign. He finished this year with 13 points in 80 games and a plus/minus rating of -29, which was the worst on the team.
Sheahan next year is set to make just a little over $2M and will become a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018. If the Wings are able to move him they could possibly get a third- or fourth-round pick at best after his production this season.
At age 25, Sheahan still has time to develop and some teams could look at that as a positive note but his time in Detroit should be over.
1. KEEP ATHANASIOU, LET HIM PLAY
Andreas Athanasiou is another Detroit Red Wing that is a restricted free agent. Athanasiou is a player that the Wings must keep and build around. He is a part of the young corps that the Wings need moving forward, along with Anthony Mantha.
Athanasiou only had a cap hit of $628K this past season so it shouldn’t be hard to negotiate a contract with him or match an offer sheet thrown at him.
He has great speed and puck-moving abilities. He finished second in scoring on the team with 18 goals (29 points) in 64 games, doubling his goal and point output from the year before. Athanasiou still has a lot to learn after his first full season in the NHL, especially on the defensive end. But he has the capability of scoring a goal fast when needed.
Detroit head coach Jeff Blashill tried to not overwork the 22-year-old “Double A” throughout the season and accelerate his development. Of all the Wings players to play in a minimum of 50 games, only Drew Miller and Luke Glendening averaged fewer minutes on the ice than Athanasiou (13:28 aTOI). Look for that number to gradually rise next season as well, barring any injuries or setbacks in development.
He has the ability to develop into a solid top-6 forward on any team in the NHL and the Wings can’t afford to lose him.