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Are the Red Wings the frontrunners to land Steven Stamkos?

Upon the announcement that Pavel Datsyuk was forgoing the final year of his contract with the Red Wings to return home to Russia, Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland reported that he wasn’t overly optimistic that he’d be able to trade the final year of the deal to a lesser spending team. The Red Wings would be stuck with $7.5 million of dead money.

But Friday, Holland was able to pull off arguably the biggest move at the NHL Draft in Buffalo. He traded the final year of Datsyuk’s contract and Detroit’s 16th overall pick in this year’s draft to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for the 20th and 53rd overall picks, as well as centerman Joe Vitale.

Vitale played in just one game a season ago after dealing with concussion problems. He has one year remaining on his current contract for a cap hit of $1.2 million. However, should the Wings place him on long-term injured reserve at the start of the season, the dollar amount attached to Vitale will not affect the Wings’ cap space.

Photo Credit: Emily Riness/Flickr
Photo Credit: Emily Riness/Flickr

Beyond simply unloading the final contract year of a player no longer in the NHL, the Red Wings are signaling that they intend to aggressively pursue free-agent superstar Steven Stamkos, whose deal with the Steve Yzerman-led Tampa Bay Lightning expires this summer.

Because it would likely take a deal north of $9 million a season to convince Stamkos to come to Hockeytown, the Red Wings would likely need to make an additional move. They’d like to unload goaltender Jimmy Howard and his $5.3 million cap hit, but finding a team willing to take on his contract may prove difficult. Other names that have been mentioned as possible trade candidates are Gustav Nyquist ($4.75M in 2016-17) and Tomas Tatar ($2.75M in 2016-17), both who underperformed this past season after having been viewed as two of Detroit’s offensive leaders.

Photo Credit: Mel/Flickr
Photo Credit: Mel/Flickr

Even at 38 years of age, Datsyuk’s departure leaves a massive hole in a Detroit offense that struggled to score goals consistently last season under first-year coach Jeff Blashill. Acquiring Stamkos would give them the lethal scoring threat that they’ve lacked since Marian Hossa in his lone and fateful year with Detroit in 2008-09.

They’ll have competition, however. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres have also expressed interest in Stamkos. Despite their 30th place finish last season, the prospect of an Ontario native playing for the Maple Leafs could be enticing.

But the lure of playing for a team that has qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs 25 consecutive years in a row and who is moving into a brand new, state-of-the-art arena next year are major selling points.

The Red Wings were already rumored to be pursuing Stamkos this off-season. With the trade of Datsyuk’s cap hit, they just took a step closer to fulfilling that goal.

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