The offseason in Detroit got off to an exciting start, when the Red Wings announced on April 19th that Steve Yzerman was coming home, and taking the reigns as the team’s new general manager. While that is a tremendous step in the right direction for the Red Wings to get back to where they want to be, Yzerman’s first summer in his new position is a critical one for the direction of the team.
There are some contracts coming off the books before next season begins, prospects to be evaluated, the draft, free agency, and a buyout period to prepare for. To say that Mr. Yzerman has a lot on his plate already would be an understatement.
First and foremost, the NHL Draft begins on June 21st. For the second straight year, Detroit holds the sixth overall pick, and the scenarios regarding what they can use that pick for are endless. While the ideal scenario would likely see the Red Wings find a perennial defenseman that they can build the back end around, it may not play out that way.
After consensus number-one defender in the class Bowen Byram, it’s a steep drop-off in talent before getting to names such as Victor Soderstrom and Thomas Harley. This will likely be a situation much like last year, where the team selected Filip Zadina. Sure, the team has a fair amount of prospect depth at forward, but Yzerman will want to be sure not to under-value the sixth pick in the draft. Plenty of talented forwards should still be available, such as Alex Turcotte, Kirby Dach, Peyton Krebs, and possibly Trevor Zegras. The general thought across the league seems to be that any of these players will improve the direction of the team they are drafted to, possibly even immediately.
Unless a team has one or more players file for arbitration, teams are only allowed to buy contracts out during a period beginning June 15 (or 48 hours after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals). If a player’s contract is bought out, however, it doesn’t just simply go away. In fact, Detroit’s salary cap is actually still affected by two buyouts from years past (Stephen Weiss and Xavier Ouellet). When a contract is bought out, his age comes in to play. If he is under the age of 26, the team is only on the hook for 1/3 of the amount remaining on the contract, which is then spread out evenly over the course of twice the remaining length on the contract. If he is 26 or older, the team is responsible for 2/3 of the remaining amount, which is then also evenly spread out over twice the remaining amount of years. Detroit’s salary cap still sees a $1,666,667 hit for the Weiss buyout for each of the next two years, and Ouellet’s buyout dings the team $216,667 next season before reaching its conclusion.
With almost $2 million already hanging in the balance from past buyouts, it will be interesting to see if Yzerman decides to pull the trigger on any more buyouts. He has shown in the past that he is not afraid to make such decisions, as he promptly bought out the enormous contract of Vincent Lecavalier (which had seven years remaining on it) during his time with Tampa Bay. That move will cost Tampa Bay $1.76 million in salary cap space every year until 2027.
The Red Wings certainly have some buyout candidates on the roster. Names like Jonathan Ericsson (one year, $4.25 million remaining), Trevor Daley (one year, $3,166,666), Darren Helm (two years, $7.7 million) and even Justin Abdelkader (four years, $17 million) will likely at least be discussed. Whether or not any players are actually bought out remains to be seen, but Yzerman will certainly at least visit the idea.
In-House Clean Up
Before we get to free agency, Yzerman will need to clear up two things: 1) the amount of money that the team will actually be able to spend in free agency. 2) the direction of the team leading up to the free agent period. To figure out how much money the team will have in free agency, they will need to decide which of their own free agents will be brought back, and which will not. Considering the fact that Thomas Vanek, Niklas Kronwall, and Luke Witkowski are the team’s only NHL free agents, this decision may be fairly easy. For lack of a better way to put it, the only person on that list that should even be considered for possibly playing in Detroit next year is Kronwall. But, even that is murky. Injuries have piled up for the career-long Red Wing, and the line for defensive prospects in Detroit is getting fairly long. My best guess is that Kronwall will retire, and both Witkowski and Vanek will be thanked for their time, and will be playing elsewhere next season.
In order to retain the rights to their restricted free agents, Yzerman will then need to determine which are worth keeping in the organization. The list of RFA’s is as follows: Martin Frk, Dylan Sadowy, Axel Holmstrom, Dominic Turgeon, Libor Sulak, Joe Hicketts, and Patrik Rybar. Unless they are signed to the NHL roster (which is possible for some depending on how things shake out), these players will receive qualifying offers on two-way contracts, which don’t affect the NHL salary cap. More often than not, teams at least offer their RFA’s a qualifying offer. This at least allows the team to maintain the player’s status as an RFA in their system, even if the qualifying offer is rejected by the player.
This could be the fun part of the offseason… for other teams across the league. There are plenty of big names preparing to hit the open market this year, including Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Matt Skinner, Joe Pavelski, and many more. Due to salary cap restrictions and the general direction of the team, it seems quite likely that Detroit will be standing on the sidelines in the case of the high profile free agents this season. Once the initial wave of signings across the league comes to an end, would it be terribly surprising to see Detroit sign a Brian Boyle or Brandon Tanev type player to fill out the roster if the price is right? No, not at all. But, don’t get your hopes up about seeing the team pulling in a big haul in free agency.
All in all, it’s an exciting time to be a Red Wings fan. The general direction of the team is heading in the right direction, but it might be another year or two before the moves that are made in the offseason are truly headline-worthy.