The Bad and Worse of Striking Out in Free Agency

That the Red Wings struck out in their search for a right-handed defenseman on the free agent market is bad, there’s no denying that. It’s also something that can be explained, though.

Sometimes there’s no amount of money you can throw at a player to make them sign with you. We saw that in 2012 when Ryan Suter and Zach Parise chose the Minnesota Wild over Detroit because it was closer to home for them. Sometimes you do everything you can and it’s just not enough.

Worse, though, is then compromising and making a signing for the sake of making a signing, as the Red Wings appeared to do today. For weeks the story was that they wanted a right-handed defenseman; that they wanted to upgrade. The names weren’t always the same, sometimes it was Dan Boyle and sometimes Matt Niskanen. And then they missed out on Boyle. And Niskanen. And Anton Stralman. And the left-handed Christian Ehrhoff.

As the list of players spurning Detroit grew longer, the goal seemingly changed. It no longer became about getting a right-handed defenseman or an upgrade but about signing someone, anyone, for the sake of making a signing.

With the signing of Kyle Quincey, Detroit has not found a right-handed shot (something that could have been done by simply not signing anyone and promoting Ryan Sproul from Grand Rapids). The blueline has not been upgraded as it’s the exact same septet as skated there last season.

Bad is not being able to draw in free agents. When you’re not a destination, you have to do more to pull people in. We saw that in 2008 when the Chicago Blackhawks had to overpay to bring in defenseman Brian Campbell. In that case, money was enough. Sometimes it takes something else.

Worse is not knowing what the something else is.

“We made pitches to a number of defensemen,” general manager Ken Holland said. “For a variety of reasons, they opted to go elsewhere. I don’t know why they’re not coming here.”

The NHL now has an interview period prior to the opening of free agency. It’s no longer a matter of throwing your best cash offer out there on July 1 and hoping it’s good enough, you’ve got an opportunity to sell the player on your team.

But it works both ways. GMs have the opportunity to talk to players, see what fit they’re looking for, see what makes them tick. And if July 1 comes around and you’re left saying that you don’t know why a player isn’t coming to your team, it means that you didn’t do your job in the lead up to free agency.

Author: Clark Rasmussen

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.

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