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.
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.
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.