Trade Deadline Thoughts: “I Like Our Team”

At last season’s trade deadline, Detroit general manager Ken Holland somewhat-famously declared “I like our team” in explaining why there wasn’t a need to make any moves to either gear up for a playoff run or sell off assets in preparation for missing the playoffs.

I strongly disagreed at the time, thinking the Wings were certain to miss the playoffs or lose in the first round and that they should be sellers to maximize profit from it. To a large extent, I was wrong, as that team was good enough to come one win away from advancing to the Western Conference Finals. That said, a second-round loss isn’t that far off from a first-round elimination and they still lost Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner and (to a much lesser extent) Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo for nothing over the summer.

This year it’s different. I won’t claim at all that the Wings should be sellers this time around, mostly because any of the assets I want them to sell come laden with no-trade clauses or were available for free on waivers and went unclaimed. Selling is not an option.

But we saw last night in New Jersey that this team is not poised to make a playoff run. Injuries have them decimated at center and, even when healthy, they have only three top-four defensemen.

This year, unfortunately, the problem is that prices seem to just be too high. By all accounts, every trade conversation Holland has starts with the other team asking for Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist. And that’s just not a cost worth paying, even if it leaves the team shorthanded for the stretch run.

This year, I’m totally fine with the Red Wings standing pat rather than overpaying to fill the gaps. Sometimes cost is just too prohibitive. I just hope we don’t see any “I like our team” comments if that happens, because Holland really should be able to see these flaws.

Red Wings Sign Nyquist to Two-Year Extension

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Tuesday the signing of forward Gustav Nyquist to a two-year contract extension.

As per team policy, financial terms of the deal were not formally announced. Reports immediately following the signing stated that the deal will carry a $950,000 salary cap hit.

In forty career NHL games across two seasons with the Red Wings, Nyquist has four goals and nine assists. He added two goals and three assists playing in all 14 of Detroit’s 2013 playoff games.

Nyquist was the last of the Red Wings’ free agents left to sign. The team had already brought back Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Drew Miller while adding Daniel Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss and Luke Glendening. Carlo Colaiacovo was a compliance buyout while Ian White, Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary were not brought back.

Detroit now has sixteen forwards on the roster heading into training camp. It is expected that two will be waived or traded to get the team down to fourteen forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies in time for the start of the season.

Red Wings Sign Andersson to Two-Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Tuesday the signing of restricted free agent forward Joakim Andersson to a two-year deal.

As per club policy, financial terms of the deal were not announced.

Andersson made his debut with the Red Wings during the 2011-12 season but established himself in the lineup with Darren Helm injured during the 2013 campaign. In 38 games mostly spent centering the third line, Andersson had three goals and five assists for eight points. He added another goal and four assists playing in all 14 of Detroit’s playoff games.

With Andersson’s signing the Red Wings have only Gustav Nyquist left to sign of their restricted free agents. Unrestricted free agents Damien Brunner and Ian White are not expected to return to the team, while Daniel Cleary‘s return depends on the team’s ability to move salary during the exhibition season.

On How to Get Daniel Alfredsson #11 and Other Jersey Numbers

I realize that most fans – most players, even – don’t care about sweater numbers a whole lot. I do, though, so I’ve been thinking about what hoops would need to be jumped through to get the Red Wings’ recent acquisitions assigned numbers that are familiar to them in Detroit.

Daniel Alfredsson is easy if Daniel Cleary ends up not returning, as his #11 suddenly becomes available. If Cleary does return, however, there are a couple options.

Alfredsson has always worn #11 professionally but he was forced to switch to #9 for the 1997 and 2004 All-Star Games and to #15 for the 1996 event. Of course, #9 isn’t going to be an option in Detroit but #15 could be. I’ve already advocated taking #15 from Riley Sheahan and assigning it to Anthony Mantha as it was his grandfather’s number, but Alfredsson will be done with it by the time Mantha might need it.

Alternately, we have a trio of switches that gets three players into “their” numbers. Cleary only wears #11 because it was what was assigned to him when he made the Detroit lineup as a tryout. The number he wore in juniors and at least once in the minors was #8. Justin Abdelkader currently wears #8 but, like Cleary, only because it was assigned to him. In fact, several years ago it was rumored that he requested to switch to the #89 he wore in high school but it never happened. So give Abdelkader his #89 and it opens up #8 for Cleary which opens up #11 for Alfredsson.

Do I expect it to go down that way? No, not really, I just like ways for players to have numbers that mean something to them rather than just randomly-assigned numbers.

Stephen Weiss is a little more of a problem. His #9 isn’t going to happen, nor is the #19 he wore during his rookie year. He wore both #12 and #14 with the Chicago Wolves but neither of those is available (Gustav Nyquist has said he has no intent to switch from #14 to the #89 he wore in college, which wouldn’t be possible if Abdelkader took it first anyway). Weiss wore #22 for Canada at the World Juniors but Jordin Tootoo won’t be giving that up (though he might end up being traded). Going the Mike Modano route and changing from #9 to #90 might not even be an option, as reportedly Tomas Tatar has requested to switch from #21 to #90.

I’ve got no answer for Weiss except maybe it’s time to find a new number. A bunch of numbers with #9 as one of the digits are open.

Speaking of people changing numbers, I haven’t seen anything confirming it but I fully expect Joakim Andersson to take the #18 abandoned by Ian White next season.

Red Wings Free Agency Recap: Day 1

The Red Wings made quite the splash as the NHL’s 2013 free agency period opened on Friday. Here’s the breakdown of what happened:

Arrivals
The big surprise to start the day was that longtime Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson would be spurning the Senators and joining the Red Wings for a (presumably) final run at the Stanley Cup. There’s a lot of drama around how he left the Sens but he arrives in Detroit on a $5.5 million deal. The base salary is only $3.5 million, so the final $2 million could apply to the Wings’ 2014-15 cap instead of the 2013-14 one. Alfredsson is penciled in to play the right wing on the second line as Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will be reunited on the top line.

Centering Alfredsson will be new addition Stephen Weiss. Signed from the Florida Panthers on a five-year deal with a $4.9 million cap hit, Weiss replaces the departed Valtteri Filppula. Detroit won a bidding war with the St. Louis Blues for the onetime Plymouth Whaler. The $4.9 million is a steal compared to the $6 million it was rumored Weiss was asking for.

Departures
As mentioned, Weiss replaces Valtteri Filppula, who signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning shortly after the Weiss deal was announced. Filppula reportedly was looking for first-line center pay and a first-line center role. He’ll be the number two center in Tampa behind Steven Stamkos, making $5 million per season for the next five years.

Though not yet signed by anyone else Damien Brunner seems to be out in Detroit. Red Wings general manager says he expects Brunner to go “in a different direction” for his next deal. The rumor is that Brunner is asking for guaranteed top-six minutes, something he couldn’t get with Detroit after falling to the third line (but having success there) late last season. There has been little buzz on where he might end up.

It seemed like Daniel Cleary was on his way out of Detroit but there are still rumors that the door is open for his return. The Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins were vying for his services but both teams dropped out. The Anaheim Ducks were also reportedly interested at one point. The Red Wings have continued to be reported as “in” on Cleary, to the extent that at one point it was thought he’d be back in the Winged Wheel by the end of the day. As of right now, Cleary is still on the market.

Defenseman Ian White – who no one expected to return to Detroit – is also still on the market with no apparent suitors.

Grand Rapids
The first of two Griffins-centric came when former Ferris State defenseman Chad Billins signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Calgary Flames. Billins spent all of last season on an AHL-only deal with Grand Rapids and was rumored to be a Red Wings target for a deal similar to what he took with Calgary.

Former University of Michigan forward Luke Glendening did stick with the organization. After spending last year on an AHL-only deal with the Griffins, he signed a one-year, two-way deal with Detroit today. He’s expected to stick with the Griffins next season but will provide additional depth if the Red Wings need a call-up.

Additional Moves
In addition to being in on Cleary, the Wings are reportedly interested in former Dallas captain Brenden Morrow. This makes absolutely no sense, so I have no idea why the team would be interested.

Detroit still has four restricted free agents to sign. Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Brendan Smith and Tom McCollum will be looking for deals but restricted free agents tend to sign after their teams are done with the unrestricted market, so it’s likely only a matter of time.

On top of those moves, the Wings will need to make at least one trade before the start of the season. After all of the RFAs are signed, the team will be maxed out at 50 player contracts and have 16 NHL forwards. If Cleary or Morrow were signed, there wouldn’t be room to sign all of the RFAs. Trade bait includes Cory Emmerton, Jordin Tootoo, Patrick Eaves, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson. Samuelsson has a no-trade clause but could be convinced to waive it if the alternative was to be buried in the lineup. The Wings are reportedly in the market for a top-four defenseman on the trade block.

Free Agent Preview Redux

A couple days ago I took a look at possible Red Wings free agent targets. Things have changed a little bit since then so I figure I’ll go over it again with just hours remaining before NHL free agency.

Centers
Vincent Lecavalier is now off the market after agreeing to a five-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers but a surprise addition is Mikael Grabovski, who was waived on Thursday by the Toronto Maple Leafs in order to be bought out. He’d be a great fit in Detroit, having had success playing with Pavel Datsyuk in Russia in the past. The two also share an agent, so there’s an “in” there. The issue is that his current $5.5 million cap hit – while more than the Red Wings would probably want to spend – really isn’t that bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a team that claims him on waivers before the Leafs even get a chance to buy him out, meaning he never hits the free agent market.

The Wings are supposedly still in on Valtteri Filppula but the local reports state he’s all but gone. I think he’s the best available fit for Detroit’s second-line center but I really don’t think he’s worth the money he’s supposedly asking ($5.5 million for five years).

Stephen Weiss plays a similar game to Filppula and he’s my third choice for the second-line center spot. He’s older and has accomplished less, and is supposedly asking for more money ($6 million/year), which he’s not worth. I wouldn’t pay him more than $4 million but given that his actual salary last season was $4.1 million, I don’t see him going for that.

Mike Ribeiro‘s name keeps coming up as an option for the Wings but I don’t see the fit. He probably wants a raise from his previous $5 million salary and his wife has been ranting about having to leave Washington, so he probably doesn’t want to move as far away as Detroit.

For some reason Matt Cullen’s name has come up as well. If the Wings sign him, it will be because they whiffed on all the other centers. He’s 36 and can probably be had for short term (two years) in the $3 million range. This signing would disappoint me so much. I’d rather see Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg split up (again), Johan Franzen shifted to center (again) or one of the kids being given a shot centering the second line than see Cullen signed.

Wingers
The Red Wings have been linked to Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson in recent days. I’ve long coveted him but would be shocked if he actually leaves the Senators. No idea what money he’s asking but it would be a one-year deal for the 40-year-old. I’d rather see Alfredsson signed for a year than Daniel Cleary brought back. Boston is also interested.

Damien Brunner is reportedly asking for $2.5 million per year, which I’d give him in a heartbeat. The concern is what he can do over a full season but I think he’s worth the risk at that relatively low amount. If he gets up to $3.5 million, then it’s something to worry about.

Daniel Cleary is apparently looking for a three-year, $9 million deal ($3 million cap hit). That just seems obscene to me. Given the Wings’ ability to fill his role from within via someone like Tomas Tatar, I don’t see a fit here anymore.

The Wings are reportedly among the many teams interested in ex-Flames captain Jarome Iginla. He’s another I’d love in Detroit (having hated him in Calgary for years) but I don’t think it’s a fit. Unless the Wings lose out on Brunner, they’re not looking for a scoring winger (I know, I said I want Alfredsson anyway) and Detroit wasn’t on Iginla’s list of acceptable trade destinations when he moved on from Calgary at the trade deadline. Maybe the prospect of a whole season with the Wings would be better than just closing out last season, but I don’t see it.

Defensemen
The Red Wings have seven defensemen under contract already after cutting loose Ian White and Carlo Colaiacovo but for some reason Tom Gilbert’s name has come up. The Minnesota Wild buyout is a right-handed shot, which the Wings could use, but it’d necessitate Detroit moving one of their current d-men and I don’t see a move available.

Similarly, both Marek Zidlicky and Andrew Ference have been rumored as targets for the Red Wings. Specifically, it’s been stated that bringing in one of them would make Kyle Quincey expendable. I don’t see a market for Quincey so I don’t know how the Wings would dump him. I’d be very confused if Detroit signed a defenseman, I think they’ll look to make a trade if they want to upgrade.

Free Agency Preview 2013

With the 2013 NHL Entry Draft completed, focus around the hockey world turns to the league’s free agents.

We’ve hit Canada Day, the traditional start to NHL free agency, but it will be a quiet day this year as the new CBA has pushed free agency back to July 5 to avoid this week’s holidays in the United States and Canada.

With a couple days before unrestricted free agent signings begin, I figured I’d take a quick look at where the Red Wings sit right now.

Overview
With pending restricted free agent Jakub Kindl having been signed last Friday, Detroit currently has 21 players signed for next season and roughly $8.2 million remaining in space under the salary cap. The 21 players include forward Tomas Tatar, who spent most of last season with the Grand Rapids Griffins but is expected to join the Red Wings full-time next season (and has also requested a jersey switch from #21 to #90, reportedly). Not included are any of Detroit’s seven pending free agents.

External Targets
Now-former Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier is the only external target I’d really like to see the Red Wings bring in, even at the cost of internal options, and I don’t expect him to come cheap. He’s reportedly asking for $5 million per season for five years. The $5 million I think is entirely appropriate (much more so than Valtteri Filppula requesting that amount, which I’ll get to shortly) but the term worries me. I’d hate to see the Wings lose out on him because of term, though. The contract he was just bought out of carried a $7.727 million cap hit and carried through the 2020 season.

Nathan Horton (Boston) and Viktor Stalberg (Chicago) are other names that Detroit is being associated with, as well as Stephen Weiss (Florida). Horton has injury concerns and Stalberg is entirely unproven, I have no interest in them. Weiss has local ties, having played with the Plymouth Whalers, and I like him if the Wings are unable to land Lecavalier or retain Filppula, but he has to come at a good deal. He carried a cap hit of $3.1 million on his last deal with an actual salary of $4.1 million, I’d hate to see the Wings give him more than $4 million annually.

Mike Ribeiro (Washington) and Michael Ryder (Montreal) are also options but will likely want more money and/or term than Detroit is willing to offer.

Unrestricted Free Agents
The aforementioned Filppula is Detroit’s highest-priority unrestricted free agent. There were rumors that his rights might be moved during the draft, ending his tenure with the Red Wings. As that didn’t happen, it would appear that the two sides are still working on a deal to keep Filppula with the team that drafted him. He’s reportedly asking for five years at $5 million or more, which is an obscene amount for a player who’s scored twenty goals once (though he came close with 19 in his last contract year). He’s likely to get it in the open market as there’s a weak free agent pool this summer. I think he’s gone and I’d rather give his money to Lecavalier anyway.

Both the Red Wings and forward Daniel Cleary have said they’d like to work our a deal but I just don’t see a roster spot for him. At 34 he might be convinced to come back at a discount to the team that resurrected his career following the Great Hockey Stoppage of 2004-05 but even if he signs for $1 million annually, I don’t see a spot for him unless the Wings move players out before the start of the season. They may have to do that anyway (more on that below) so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Cleary brought back on the (relative) cheap but I expect him to head elsewhere.

Damien Brunner is the big wild card of the UFA bunch. He says he wants to come back and Detroit wants him back but how do you value a player who has half an NHL season under his belt? I wouldn’t mind throwing him a three or four year deal for Filppula’s old cap hit of $3 million but, like Filppula, Brunner has a chance to get paid on the shallow open market. Brunner is the only Detroit UFA I’d be disappointed if they lost out on.

Ian White is Detroit’s last unrestricted free agent and it’s already known that the team won’t offer him a contract, nor should they. He should have been dealt at the trade deadline, as he only played a grand total of two games after that date anyway.

Restricted Free Agents
With Kindl signed, Brendan Smith is Detroit’s lone defensive RFA. He’s not going anywhere, the Red Wings will match offers for any of their RFAs this season. I don’t think Smith should get much more than Kindl’s $2.4 million cap hit but he’ll probably get somewhere between that and the $3.775 that Kyle Quincey makes. Smith hasn’t proven himself so the Wings would be paying for potential if they hit the high end of that range, which always happens with players coming off their entry-level deals.

Gustav Nyquist falls into that scenario. As a projected top-six forward, he’s got a lot of potential to get paid for. He hasn’t shown (because he hasn’t had the opportunity) that he can play on a top line consistently, though, so I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a deal under $2 million, in the Justin Abdelkader range.

Joakim Andersson is in much the same position as Nyquist but seemingly has less offensive upside. On a team loaded with bottom-six forwards, that doesn’t give him as much leverage. $1.3 million?

Buyouts / Trades
Even assuming the Wings retain only their restricted free agents and don’t bring in anyone new – thus losing Filppula, Cleary, Brunner and White with no replacements – the team will still have 24 players on its roster heading into training camp. Someone won’t be coming back.

Mikael Samuelsson is a frequent mention as a possible candidate for a compliance buyout, which would get his $3 million off the books. He’s got a no-trade clause so this is the only way the Wings could be rid of him, but he may not be eligible for a buyout as he spent much of the 2013 season injured and injured players can’t be bought out. If he’s injured all year next year that’s not a problem as he can go back on long-term injury reserve but it’s tough to count on him being hurt the whole time. Samuelsson is probably the fan consensus as the most likely buyout.

Todd Bertuzzi is another buyout candidate with a NTC and a $2.075 cap hit. I have to think the team would prefer to keep him but might buy him out if Samuelsson can’t be dumped.

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo is almost assuredly gone, whether by buyout or trade. General manager Ken Holland was reportedly looking to move him during the draft but apparently didn’t find any buyers. The thought on Colaiacovo has been that he’d been a relatively cheap veteran guy for a team to pick up, so there would be trade interest. If no trade is found, he’ll probably be bought out, so we should know what happens to him by July 3 (the last day a player can be placed on waivers with enough time to clear before the July 4 buyout deadline).

Jordin Tootoo is like Colaiacovo in that the team seems open to trading him. They probably won’t buy him out, though, so if a deal comes along that works they’ll take it but if not they’re fine keeping him.

Cory Emmerton could be this year’s Mattias Ritola. The Wings likely won’t try to move him until they know whether or not they have to as the season gets closer. If they can’t move him, they’ll lose him for nothing on waivers in October.

Red Wings Re-Sign Defenseman Kindl

The Detroit Red Wings agreed to terms with defenseman Jakub Kindl on a four-year contract on Friday.

As per club policy financial terms were not announced, however the deal is reportedly worth $9.6 million for an annual salary cap hit of $2.4 million. His previous salary was $1.05 million.

Kindl, coming off a breakthrough season that saw him solidify a role on the Detroit blue line, was set to become a restricted free agent on July 5.

Appearing in 41 of the Red Wings’ 48 games this season, Kindl scored 13 points and was a +15 – good for second on the team behind Pavel Datsyuk. He played in all 14 of the team’s playoff games, adding five more points while going +4.

Kindl was Detroit’s first-round selection in the post-lockout 2005 NHL Entry Draft, where the Red Wings selected 19th overall.

With Kindl signed, the Red Wings have approximately $8.2 million in salary cap space remaining for the 2013-14 season. Restricted free agents Brendan Smith, Joakim Andersson and Gustav Nyquist are expected to return while unrestricted free agents Valtteri Filppula, Damien Brunner and Daniel Cleary are less certain. Unrestricted free agent defenseman Ian White will not be back with the club.

On the Sum of the Parts

Something about this year’s Detroit Red Wings team and what they accomplished will never really add up.

This Red Wings team was not constructed to make a long playoff run. I’m not certain that they were constructed to make the playoffs at all.

This is a team that lost Nicklas Lidstrom and Jiri Hudler and replaced them with Carlo Colaiacovo and Mikael Samuelsson. That added Jordin Tootoo to an already bottom-heavy forward unit.

This is a team that, midway through the season, had Justin Abdelkader dragging down Pavel Datsyuk on the top line.

You look at the team, you see the gaping holes in the lineup. You see rookie mistakes all season. You see an inability to close out even the worst teams. And yet they ended up one win from the Western Conference Finals.

Things that seemingly shouldn’t have worked did.

Abdelkader and Datsyuk ended up clicking, with Abdelkader looking like he belonged on the top line.

Colaiacovo outplayed Ian White, a top-two defender in 2011-12, to get the sixth defenseman’s spot after Danny DeKeyser (himself acquired midseason) went down to injury.

Tootoo and Samuelsson (and Todd Bertuzzi) were outplayed by rookies like Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson and left out of the lineup.

I’ve said my piece on the Red Wings’ organization’s preparation (or lack thereof) for the playoff run. The team had holes that should have been addressed. For the final weeks of the season, however, the individual players elevated their respective games to overcome that.

The sum of the parts was briefly greater than the whole.

I don’t think we can count on that going forward. The holes are still there. But for a few short weeks, it was kind of awesome to see what these players could do.

On the Idea of 2013 as a Rebuiding Year

Should the Red Wings lose tonight, expect to see a lot of comments along the lines of “For a rebuilding year, just taking the Blackhawks to Game Seven should be considered a success.”

Yes, that this Red Wings team has come this far is something to take as a small victory. For large portions of the season, including the last two games, Detroit has not been a good team. Without a great run to close out the season, they wouldn’t have even made the playoffs, so to have upset the second-best team in the West and to take the league’s best team to a Game Seven is admirable.

We shouldn’t mistake Detroit’s reliance on youth to make that run as rebuilding, however.

Brian Lashoff made a home for himself on the Detroit blue line this season. Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson established themselves on the team’s third line. Justin Abdelkader improbably found his way to the top line. Brendan Smith finally found his way into a regular spot on defense.

And most of that only happened because of the ridiculous number of injuries the team suffered this season. Only Smith’s spot in the lineup was planned last summer.

A rebuilding team does not sign Mikael Samuelsson or Jordin Tootoo as free agents. A rebuilding team reserves those spots for Nyquist and Andersson, who only were called up because Samuelsson and Darren Helm spent most of the season injured.

A rebuilding team doesn’t sign Carlo Colaiacovo on what should have been the eve of training camp. Lashoff would have been allowed to earn the spot he inherited when half of Detroit’s blue line was injured within the first three games of the late-starting regular season.

A rebuilding team unloads expiring contracts at the trade deadline, getting whatever value they can for players who won’t be back next season. This means Daniel Cleary is gone. Ian White is gone. Even Valtteri Filppula is probably moved.

Whether it ends tonight or not, Detroit’s run this postseason has been impressive.

Just don’t call it a rebuilding year.