NHL Free Agency opens in about 6 hours and the Red Wings are already expected to be active.
The league’s free agent interview period reduces some of the drama of July 1. We already know that Detroit has a verbal deal with Jonathan Bernier after calling on Carter Hutton and having Robin Lehner visit Detroit. We know they’ve talked to former Red Wings Thomas Vanek and Valtteri Filppula. We know they have interest in Carolina center Derek Ryan.
Filppula and Ryan come with a somewhat unexpected connection: According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, the Red Wings are interested in centers in case Henrik Zetterberg is unable to play this season.
That’s a bit to unpack so I want to break it down bit by bit.
This is the easy one.
I think I would have preferred 26-year-old Lehner over 29-year-old Bernier, as Lehner still has time to turn his career around and possibly become what Petr Mrazek was supposed to be for the Red Wings. That said, Bernier has stats that are similar to Jimmy Howard’s over the last several seasons and, with Howard a free agent next summer, it gives the Red Wings the option of trading him at next spring’s trade deadline if they’re out of playoff position.
This is a complicated one.
When his contract was signed, I don’t think anyone expected him to play it out. Then the CBA was rewritten to punish teams who had signed back-diving contracts. Since then, LTIR has been abused to circumvent that punishment.
If Zetterberg’s back is hurt again, it would be very easy for him to go on LTIR for the rest of his career. That said, when the Red Wings packed up for the summer, he said he expected to play in the fall. What could have happened between then and now that would change that?
Filppula or Ryan could just be an insurance policy, but it seems expensive and premature unless there’s something the team isn’t telling us at this point.
Bottom line is I wouldn’t want to see the Red Wings sign a Zetterberg replacement without knowing for sure that Zetterberg would be out.
I like Thomas Vanek. I don’t want the Red Wings to sign him.
Custance made the point that Vanek seems to make Andreas Athanasiou better. I agree. But I also think Athanasiou isn’t long for the Red Wings, so signing someone to make him better doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maybe you sign Vanek for a year and Athanasiou for a year and try to flip them both at the deadline? I don’t know.
The larger point is that Vanek takes up a roster spot. I already wrote about Mike Green’s re-signing leaving little room for “the kids” on the Wings’ blueline. If Vanek is signed, that gives the Red Wings 13 forwards on the roster (including Tyler Bertuzzi, who was in Detroit to end last season).
Yeah, they could send Luke Witkowski to Grand Rapids. Or Martin Frk. But all that does is open a spot on the fourth line or in the press box. Where’s the spot that Michael Rasmussen is supposed to compete for. Or Filip Zadina? Or Evgeny Svechnikov?
Vanek’s signing would only take one spot and they need a lot more open than that to get the kids playing time, but it would seemingly show that, once again, the organization is only giving lip service to the idea of a youth movement.
So what will we see when noon rolls around?
Bernier is the only “confirmed” signing. backup goalie is also the only position the Red Wings actually need to fill.
Vanek wouldn’t surprise me, based on the buzz and the fact that they wanted to bring him back last year. I hope not, though.
Anything beyond that would unnecessary, so I hope it’s a quiet day for Detroit.