When the Detroit Red Wings signed center Frans Nielsen to a six-year, $31.5 million contract in the offseason, the team never expected Nielsen to be able to replace Pavel Datsyuk. Frankly, nobody can replace Pavel Datsyuk. The Red Wings did, however, expect Nielsen to be worth the big money that they spent on him. So far, he has not met these expectations.
Nielsen was selected for his first ever All-Star game this season, which left plenty of hockey fans scratching their heads. Nielsen is an excellent defensive forward and penalty killer, but he is by no means a super star. In the All-Star game against the Metropolitan Division in which 16 goals were scored between the two teams, Nielsen was the only player on the Atlantic Division to not record a point.
In 50 games for the Red Wings this season, Nielsen has recorded 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points. At that rate, he is not on pace to score 20 goals and will likely fail to match his total of 52 points last season with the New York Islanders. Those numbers are underwhelming considering Nielsen’s salary.
Don’t get me wrong, Frans Nielsen has been a valuable player for the Red Wings this season. He has provided stability at the center position and the second line, has been a great penalty killer, and is arguably one of the best defensive forwards in the NHL. But for him to be making the money he is making, he needs to increase his offensive production for the Red Wings. His statistics do not reflect those of a player making $31.5 million over six years.
Yes, the Red Wings knew they would have to overpay to sign a player like Nielsen in free agency. Overpaying Nielsen was what Ken Holland had to do in order to keep his “rebuild on the fly” method alive. But it seems that this vision is beginning to crumble, as the Red Wings have finally fallen to mediocrity. Holland’s decision to overpay a 32-year old forward with his best years behind him certainly comes off as a desperate move in hindsight.
Nielsen’s offensive production may never live up to his salary, but on the bright side, his strong defensive play will still benefit the Red Wings throughout his six-year deal. Whether they will contend for a Stanley Cup during this timeline remains to be seen.