Red Wings expect price to rise on remaining FA forwards

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Steven Stamkos wasn’t interested in continuing his career in Detroit.

We’ll see Friday if other prospective NHL free agents feel the same way — or not.

Beginning at noon, NHL unrestricted free agents can sign with any team out there in what should be a fascinating shopping spree.

The Red Wings are just one of many teams who are looking for an offensive upgrade, and there are a group of players who can help.

But none are like Stamkos, who decided Wednesday to remain with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the organization that drafted him and remains the centerpiece of a Stanley Cup-contending roster.

“At the end of the day, you gather as much information as you can to make the best decision for you and your family moving forward,” said Stamkos during a teleconference Thursday. “At the end of the day, after a lot of things, and a couple sleepless nights, I’m extremely happy with the decision I made. I’m kind of relieved to be honest that it’s all over.”

Stamkos met with four teams — the Red Wings were reportedly next in line — but chose  to remain in Tampa before the meeting ever took place.

Krupa: Red Wings need to focus on obtaining defenseman

So what now for the Red Wings?

General manager Ken Holland has almost $20 million of cap space to spend — although approximately half of that will go toward restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser, Petr Mrazek, Alexey Marchenko and Teemu Pulkkinen.

The Red Wings would also like to re-sign UFA forward Darren Helm, with both sides having continuing conversations the past few days.

Helm scored 13 goals last season while earning $2.125 million on his salary cap hit — and could well double that salary next season.

But who else is out there to replace Pavel Datsyuk as a top-six forward, and maybe some grit from the bottom two lines?

Forwards such Milan Lucic, Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, Loui Eriksson and Mikkel Boedker are all capable of providing offense and somewhat lessen the loss of Datsyuk (who returned to Russia, retiring from the NHL).

But with Stamkos returning to Tampa Bay, the price of these remaining forwards has likely increased — with many teams heavily in pursuit.

“There’s probably 10, maybe 12, teams who are doing the same thing we are doing,” said Holland earlier this week about the competitive marketplace. “There are 30 teams all trying to win. It’s a competitive business. With the salary cap, everyone has a chance.

“We have some cap space. We’ll see what happens.”

Helm, with his speed, penalty-killing ability, and defensive ability, would go a long way toward filling a hole on the bottom-nine forwards but the Red Wings wouldn’t mind adding more size.

A gritty, physical player such as Matt Martin, Jason Chimera or Steve Ott — all of whom could attract much interest Friday on the market — would help the Red Wings.

A veteran, top-four defenseman is also a primary need, but this free agent class isn’t brimming with any game-changers in that position.

Jason Demers, Dan Hamhuis and Brian Campbell are likely to receive offers far more than the Red Wings are willing to pay.

The Red Wings could go the trade route in the coming weeks, with players such as Jacob Trouba (Rochester) and Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills) both possibly available in a deal.

But both are young players who would command assets the Red Wings aren’t likely to part with.