2022 Free Agency: Day One Thoughts

The Red Wings were busy on the opening day of free agency, signing six NHLers, one draft pick, and agreeing to terms with one more player.

Eighth-overall pick Marco Kasper kicked things off, agreeing to his entry-level deal.  The contract was announced just after free agency opened, which wasn’t necessary, and feels like a bit of a troll by the Red Wings’ PR team.

Just after that, Andrew Copp joined Detroit.  He immediately slots in as the team’s second-line center.  As I said earlier, I wish his five-year deal was four years, but I don’t think that’s the end of the world.  If he’s playing out the end of his deal on the third line, having made way for Kasper on the second line, that’s not a bad place to be in.

Detroit was then linked to Olli Maatta, and by all accounts a deal is in place there but not finalized.  I like that move to shore up the left side of the defense with the departures of Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser.  I just wish they’d get it done.

Insiders linked the Red Wings to both Ben Chiarot and David Perron but the next deal announced was Dominik Kubalik.  I love his two-year, $2.5 million deal.  This is a cheap, short-term move with nothing but upside.

Chiarot, however, concerns me.  Four years at at $4.75 million cap hit feels like it will age horribly.  That said, the cap should start increasing so it may not hurt as much as it looks like right now.  There’s some hope there, but hope is not a strategy.

Perron rounded out the day at the NHL level.  This one leaves a bad taste in my mouth but doesn’t appear to be a bad deal.  After all this time, I just don’t like Perron.  Now maybe it’s time for the Wings’ opponents to not like him, too.

Detroit also signed Matt Luff and Austin Czarnik to two-way deals, joining previously-signed Steven Kampfer as likely Grand Rapids-bound.

My takeaway after this big day of signings is that there is probably a forward on his way out of Detroit.  Robby Fabbri is expected to start the season on IR but that still pushes one of Joe Veleno or Adam Erne out of the lineup, which seems less than ideal.  Erne, in particular, seems redundant now and I wonder if Steve Yzerman might end up shopping him around.

Because I’m a jersey number geek, my other takeaway is that there are going to be a lot of people looking for new numbers.  Perron is likely to get his usual #57.  Simon Edvinsson has been assigned #3 in development camp but it’s not his usual number so it probably goes to Maatta.  Chiarot and Kubalik have both been wearing #8, which is currently assigned to Jake Walman, so two of those three will need new numbers.  Additionally, Staal’s departure to the Florida Panthers opens up #18.  Will Lucas Raymond switch to his usual number or will Copp, who usually wears #9, take #18 instead? Or is that what Kubalik, who has worn it for Czechia, gets?

I’m going to say Perron gets #57, Maatta gets #3, Raymond switches to #18, Copp takes #29, Kubalik wears the #89 he wore in the OHL, and Chiarot takes #2 or #77.

Free Agent Kubalik Signs with Wings

Free agent forward Dominik Kubalik signed a two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

As per usual, financial terms of the deal were not announced, but the deal reportedly carries a $2.5 million salary cap hit.

Kubalik became an unrestricted free agent earlier in the week when the Chicago Blackhawks chose not to give him a qualifying offer, which would have made him a restricted free agent.  He is the second player in as many years to depart Chicago for Detroit under those terms, following Pius Suter.

Combined with the signing of Andrew Copp and the expected deal for David Perron, Detroit GM Steve Yzerman has added an entire line’s worth of forwards to the Red Wings’ lineup.  As such, is sure seems like someone from last year won’t be back in the Winged Wheel next season.

Red Wings Sign Center Andrew Copp

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of center Andrew Copp on Wednesday.

The deal had been rumored in the lead-up to NHL free agency opening.

While the team did not announce financial terms – as per usual – Copp’s contract reportedly carries a $5.625 million salary cap hit over five years.

That feels like a high number to me but it’s the same cap hit that Vincent Trocheck got from the New York Rangers – Copp’s now-former team – so it seems to be market value.  I do like that it’s “only” five years, as opposed to Trocheck’s seven-year deal.  I think it was probably GM Steve Yzerman‘s best option.  That doesn’t mean there’s not risk, though.

Copp put up points at a prolific rate in his short run with the New York Rangers last spring but never matched that during his tenure with the Winnipeg Jets.  Is the former indicative of what he can do with an increased role or an outlier?

My biggest feeling is that the deal seemed inevitable.  The Ann Arbor native played with Compuware, the USNTDP, and at Michigan.  But if this is a “local guy comes home” thing, it would have been nice to see a hometown discount as part of it.  The Wings have plenty of cap space now but raises will be due for a ton of players over the life of this deal.

Wings Select Nine Players in 2022 Entry Draft

The Detroit Red Wings completed their 2022 NHL Entry Draft on Friday, selecting nine players in total.

I’ve said it before but I’m not a big Draft guy.  When I draft over in the DFHL, I cram right before the draft and most of that information disappears from my head as soon as it’s over.  I really like Detroit taking Marco Kasper at eighth overall but aside from that, I don’t have strong feelings about any of these players.

That said, it feels like there’s a lot of Steve Yzerman signature picks here.  George Malik called Kasper “a very RED WINGS pick” (I can’t find the original Tweet or I’d link to it) and that makes a lot of sense to me. Big-ish guy, playing in Rogle, and a center at that.

That fourth-round set of Johansson, Lombardi, and Kilpinen screams Detroit.

It’s a little surprising that the team didn’t draft a goalie, but perhaps trading their third-rounder for Ville Husso was essentially drafting a goalie.

The one thing about this draft is there’s not a lot that really excites me.  That said, I probably would have said the same thing about the 2019 draft that brought Moritz Seider to Detroit (what I did say was that it gave me hope).  In all likelihood, none of these guys, even Kasper at #8, make an immediate impact.  And that’s disappointing.  Throughout the Wings’ rebuild, they’ve never been able to draft that one guy who comes in immediately and changes things.

But two years after being drafted, Seider finally made his debut and won the Calder in the process.  We’re going to have to be patient to see how this new set of Wings prospects pans out.

Wings Add Boughner, Westlund to Coaching Staff

The Detroit Red Wings announced the additions of Bob Boughner and Alex Westlund to their coaching staff on Friday.

Boughner had spent parts of the last three seasons as head coach of the San Jose Sharks before being let go last week.  Westlund spent the last five years as goaltending coach of the AHL’s Hershey Bears.

I can’t speak to the Westlund hire but I love bringing in Boughner to coach the defense.  I almost said as much when San Jose fired him but figured the Wings probably had someone else in mind for that role by that point.

I also really like that Detroit saw a change, with Boughner suddenly available, and moved to work with that new scenario.  It’s a gut feeling kind of thing, but under Steve Yzerman, it seems like the Wings’ front office is more awake than it was in the closing years of Ken Holland‘s tenure.

By that I mean that, under Holland, it felt very much like, no matter what happened outside of the team, the response was “This is the plan, we have a plan, we’re sticking to the plan.”  Hiring a guy who wasn’t even available until a week ago is not something I would have expected him to do.

Whether or not Boughner’s hiring will help…  I don’t know if he’s the right man for the job.  That doesn’t mean he’s the wrong man for the job, either.  Just that it was time for a change on the bench, and this is a change, and it’s going to take some time to see how it works.

Red Wings Name Derek Lalonde Head Coach

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Thursday evening that Derek Lalonde will be the team’s next head coach.

Lalonde replaces Jeff Blashill, who was let go by the team after the Red Wings missed the playoffs in six of his seven years behind the bench.

The move was somewhat expected, as it was Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman – then in the same role for Tampa Bay – who hired Lalonde as an assistant coach with the Lightning, his most recent role.

As my primary hope for the Red Wings’ next head coach was new blood, this move works for me.  I kind of would have preferred someone from Europe – Roger Ronnberg would have been interesting and Sergei Fedorov would have been entertaining – but Yzerman specifically said he wanted someone he was familiar with and this certainly checks that box.

Somewhat interestingly, Lalonde’s coaching staff was not announced.  Alex Tanguay remains as an assistant coach with the team but assistant Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko were let go with Blashill.

This is just one in many dominoes to fall for the Red Wings this offseason, but it’s certainly a large domino.

On Blashill and Other Season-Ending Thoughts

The Red Wings ended their season on Friday night in New Jersey and entered the offseason with a slate of decisions to make about the direction of the team. It took under a day for General Manager Steve Yzerman to make the first one.

Jeff Blashill will not return as the team’s head coach.

The move comes in the form of the team cleaning house behind the bench. Assistant coach Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko will also not return.  It is believed – coach contracts are rarely made as public as player contracts – that none of the three were explicitly fired; instead their contracts were not renewed.

Assistant coach Alex Tanguay remains with the team.  The 2021-22 campaign was his first in Detroit.

Blashill, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman notes, never had much to work with as far as player personnel goes, taking the team over from Mike Babcock as the Red Wings entered their current rebuild.  There seems to be the thought that he’ll end up coaching back in the NHL sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, there’s already buzz that he could take over the Ferris State program in 2023.

For the Red Wings, though, answering the question of whether or not Blashill would return has just raised another; that of who will replace him.

I won’t pretend to have insight into what Yzerman might be thinking regarding that (turn to Bultman again for some options Yzerman might be considering).  My hope – and my expectation given Yzerman’s history – is that we won’t see someone from the NHL coaching carousel brought in.  No John Tortorella or Paul Maurice or Dave Tippett.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m equal parts curious and terrified of the idea of bringing Sergei Fedorov over from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, with all the baggage that would entail. I’d been on the Roger Ronnberg bandwagon for a while but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Whoever the new coach is, another big question for the summer is how similar the team he takes over looks to the one Blashill leaves behind.

Thomas Greiss is expected to depart as a free agent this summer, opening up the backup slot with the Red Wings.  Is the late-season signing of Magnus Hellberg, who made his Detroit debut in the season finale, a sign that he has the inside track on replacing him?  Hellberg himself is an unrestricted free agent, so he might not even return.  If Calvin Pickard leaves the organization and Victor Brattstrom returns to Europe, Alex Nedeljkovic would be the only returning goalie from Detroit or Grand Rapids, so upheaval is coming there.

On defense, it’s hard to see Danny DeKeyser – waived and unclaimed during the season – returning next year.  Mid-season waiver claim Olli Juolevi was largely ineffective in his time in Detroit and – as a pending restricted free agent – may not be given a qualifying offer, becoming unrestricted.  Jake Walman was good for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy deadline day trade and can reasonably be expected to return as a restricted free agent.

The biggest question mark of the current blueliners is Marc Staal.  Along with DeKeyser, he was named an alternate captain to start the season and the team appreciates his veteran leadership.  Though he’s not the player he once was, his performance didn’t drop as much as DeKeyser’s did, so there may be interest in bringing him back.

If Staal and Walman return, the Detroit blueline would be made up of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom, Staal, and Walman.  Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, could claim a spot out of training camp.

Even with the addition of Edvinsson, it’s hard to see that defense corps being much of an improvement over what the Red Wings had this year, so there may be appetite to let Staal (and/or Walman) walk to clear roster spots for upgrades brought in via free agency.

Up front there’s a similar situation.  Ten of the 12 forward spots are accounted for by returning players.  One of those is restricted free agent Filip ZadinaJonatan Berggren, who set a new Grand Rapids Griffins rookie scoring record this season, can also be expected to take up a spot.  That’s 12 just by letting pending restricted free agent Mitchell Stephens and unrestricted free agents Sam Gagner, Turner Elson, and Carter Rowney walk.

Like Staal, the team has appreciated Gagner’s veteran hand and may want him back next year.  Pushing Givani Smith into the 13th forward slot wouldn’t be the end of the world but it again means that there’s little room to add upgrades via free agency.

The Red Wings are getting into a dangerous spot in their rebuild.  To take advantage of the prime of Dylan Larkin‘s career, they will need to add pieces now.  Trotting out the same basic lineup behind a new head coach won’t do it (though having both Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana healthy at the same time would be a benefit).

If they can’t do that, realistically, this rebuild is going to take at least another three or four years and they should be looking at selling Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi or Vrana for assets that will make them competitive when Seider and Lucas Raymond are in their primes.  It might be a hard pill for Wings fans to swallow but it makes sense.

Wings Announce Initial 2021-22 Roster

The Detroit Red Wings announced their initial roster for the 2021-22 NHL season on Monday, making their final cuts by sending Riley Barber, Taro Hirose, and Joe Veleno to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The team also announced the termination Bobby Ryan‘s pro try-out, removing him from their roster.

As had been previously announced, Detroit is opening the season with 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies.

The most notable item in the team’s initial 23-man roster might be the inclusion of 2020 first-round draft pick Lucas Raymond, who practiced with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the team’s top line in preparation for the Red Wings’ season opener on Thursday.

While Ryan and Raymond may not have been fighting for the same roster spot, the fact that Raymond made the team while Ryan didn’t does seem to be a change for the Red Wings.  Under previous general manager Ken Holland, “the tie goes to the veteran” was a common refrain.  Current GM Steve Yzerman could have made room for Ryan at the expense of a number of younger players and the fact that he didn’t may show that veteran status won’t always be the tiebreaker going forward.

In addition to Raymond, 2019 first-round pick Moritz Seider will start the season in Detroit, though this was expected after his breakout campaign in the SHL last season.

One of the Red Wings’ young prospects who had been expected to challenge for a roster spot didn’t make it, with Veleno having been sent to Grand Rapids.  There’s an argument that Veleno could have been picked over Mitchell Stephens or Carter Rowney for a spot on the Wings’ fourth line and but one could also say he’s better suited playing top-line minutes with the Griffins than fourth-line minutes in Detroit.

It’s also important to note that, while this is Detroit’s initial roster, required to be set by 5:00 PM today, there is plenty of time between now and Thursday’s opener for things to change.  Notably, Adam Erne, Givani Smith, and Michael Rasmussen are all nursing injuries.  With only 13 forwards on the roster, a call-up will be necessary if more than one of them is unable to play.

Red Wings to Buy Out Nielsen

Per CapFriendly, the Detroit Red Wings have opted to use their second buyout window to buy out the final year of forward Frans Nielsen‘s contract.

The Wings have no use for Nielsen going forward, so to that extent is makes sense to just cut him loose now. That said, the team isn’t exactly hurting for cap space, so I’m not sure what the benefit is to spreading the cost of a buyout over two seasons rather than just burying him in Grand Rapids and eating the cap hit all in one year.

Of course, it could be just that I’m a lot more willing to dump guys in GR than Steve Yzerman is. I would have done that with Nielsen and with Justin Abdelkader last summer (at least for one more year). It seems like Yzerman might be doing the “honorable” thing and not forcing veterans to ride the bus in the AHL.

Either way, Nielsen is gone at little future cost to the Wings, with a roster spot cleared up.

This also means that, combined with the departure of Luke Glendening as a free agent, both of the alternate captains from Dylan Larkin‘s first year wearing the C for Detroit are gone.  My guess is that Sam Gagner and Danny DeKeyser will each wear an A next season.

Wings Sign Center Pius Suter to Two-Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of center Pius Suter to a two-year deal on Wednesday.

The deal reportedly carries a $3.25 million salary cap hit.

Suter comes to Detroit from the Chicago Blackhawks, who signed him as a free agent last offseason but did not give him a qualifying offer this summer, rendering him an unrestricted free agent.

Suter had a great rookie year – including scoring his first career hat-trick against Detroit – and I kind of love this pick-up, but I do worry that he could be Damien Brunner 2.0.  Even if he is, though, this seems like a low-risk, high-reward move, the kind that Detroit GM Steve Yzerman has mostly done well with since taking over the Red Wings.

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