Free-agent options will be limited for Red Wings

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It used to be that the first day of unrestricted free agency was filled with anticipation and excitement for Detroit Red Wings fans.

Not so much anymore.

If you’re a Red Wings fan, there’s a good chance you won’t miss much on Saturday, when free agents can begin signing with other teams.

There are a few reasons for that.

The Wings have three key restricted free agents to sign this summer: Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou and Xavier Ouellet.

Currently, they are only $8 million under the salary cap (they have approximately $67 million committed, with the cap being $75 million) and six spots open on the roster. Tatar, Athanasiou and Ouellet will fill three of those spots.

This free-agent class isn’t all that great, anyway.

And, let’s face it: The Red Wings aren’t a prime destination right now for many free agents, even though they’re moving into the new Little Caesars Arena.

The Red Wings’ best plan appears to be signing a veteran free agent or two to one- or two-year deals, to strengthen the roster. Then, if the season goes poorly, as it did last season, Detroit could easily deal them for draft picks at the trade deadline.

General manager Ken Holland did just so in March, trading Thomas Vanek, Brendan Smith and Steve Ott for multiple draft picks, which were used last weekend at the NHL Entry Draft.

Holland likely will go that scenario again, looking for inexpensive free agents who are willing to sign on a short-term deal.

The defense is a primary area of concern, and options are limited for the Red Wings.

They probably will not get into the bidding for Kevin Shattenkirk, the lone marquee defenseman in the free-agent class — although many scouts hardly view him as an impact defenseman.

The Red Wings would have some interest in Smith, but it’s likely he’ll re-sign with the New York Rangers this week and not enter the free-agent market.

Trevor Daley is a defenseman whose name was linked to the Red Wings at the Entry Draft.

But Daley, who’ll be 34 when the season starts, might be able to secure a multi-year deal from another team that loses out on signing Shattenkirk.

Daley was limited to 56 games last season with five goals and 14 assists (19 points), and a plus-7 plus-minus rating, while averaging 20:23 of ice time per game.

Many teams aren’t likely to offer Daley a multi-year contract, which makes the Red Wings’ odds of securing him to a small-term, low-risk deal that much better.

The same could also be said of defensemen Dan Girardi (New York Rangers), Ron Hainsey (Pittsburgh), Brian Campbell (Chicago), Michael Del Zotto (Philadelphia) and Dmitry Kulikov (Buffalo) — players who might get passed over and would circle back to short-term contracts.

One forward to keep an eye on would be Vanek.

Signed to a one-year contract worth $2.6 million last summer, the Red Wings got great results as Vanek had 15 goals and 23 assists before he was dealt to Florida at the deadline (Vanek had two goals and eight assists in 20 games in Florida).

The concern, though, is Vanek only brought back a third-round draft pick at the deadline from Florida, and isn’t likely to fetch more next season, when he’ll be 34 at the trade deadline.

Qualifying offers

The Red Wings tendered qualifying offers to restricted free agents Tatar, Athanasiou, Ouellet, Martin Frk, Brian Lashoff and Robbie Russo, retaining their rights.

The team didn’t qualify goaltender Jake Paterson, making him an unrestricted free agent able to sign with another organization.

Paterson, 23, was a 2012 third-round draft pick who only played two games in Grand Rapids, mostly spending his pro career in Toledo (East Coast League).