Wings sign free-agent defensemen Trevor Daley, Luke Witkowski
Detroit — The Red Wings have their veteran defensemen.
Acting fast on the first day of free agency, the Red Wings signed Trevor Daley to a three-year contract worth $9.534 million ($3.178 per year average) and Holland native Luke Witkowski to a two-year deal worth $1.5 million.
“As we headed into free agency certainly one of the areas we really wanted to address was our blue line,” general manager Ken Holland said. “We’re adding two guys, two real character people to our lineup, two guys who’ll be great additions on and off the ice.”
Daley, who’ll be 34 in October, has been a key player on Pittsburgh’s two-time Stanley Cup-winning team the past two years.
He had 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) in 56 games with Pittsburgh last season — Daley missed time recovering from a broken ankle and also had arthroscopic knee surgery — but Daley played some of his best hockey in this spring’s playoffs, with 5 points (1 goal, 4 assists) in 21 games with a plus-7, plus-minus rating.
Daley (5-foot-11, 195-pounds) fills a glaring need for the Red Wings — a mobile defenseman who can skate with the puck, make a strong first pass, and is a respected veteran who can handle playing large minutes.
“One of his great assets is his skating,” Holland said. “We think he’ll be able to improve our defense, make our back end more mobile. He can play right defense, he can go back and get the puck and snap a pass and he can transport (the puck) it, or join the rush.
“We think Trevor adds elements to what we needed.”
Daley just finished a six-year contract (salary cap average of $3.3 million per) which he originally signed with Dallas.
Daley had positive conversations with Holland and coach Jeff Blashill, and felt the Red Wings were a good fit.
“Ever since I came into the league Detroit has set the mark of where teams should be,” Daley said. “For me, it was a no-brainer to try to be part of what they’re trying to do. I’m excited about it and it didn’t take me very long to agree to come to Detroit.”
Daley feels the Red Wings are close to returning to the playoffs after missing them for the first time in 25 seasons.
“Absolutely,” Daley said. “They suffered a lot of injuries last year. When you lose guys it’s tough to replace some guys. Depth is obviously a big key to winning.
“The league isn’t easy and it’s not getting easier. Staying healthy is a big part of it, for our team, for any team trying to get in (to the playoffs). I saw it firsthand the last two seasons, you get in and you give yourself a chance. Once you get in, all doors are open and you get on the right roll, the outcome is pretty exciting.”
Witkowski, 27, played for coach Jeff Blashill when the two were at Western Michigan in 2010-11 — and was a teammate of Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser (Macomb/Western Michigan) for three seasons (roommates for one year, Witkowski said).
“I’m very grateful for everything Tampa provided for me and the opportunity they gave me,” Witkowski said. “But to come back to Michigan and play for the Red Wings is a dream come true.”
Witkowski may have an edge in earning one of the final roster spots by his ability to play forward.
When the Lightning were battered with injuries last season, Witkowski played right wing — and has done it throughout his career.
“Some games I’d be going one shift playing right wing and next shift I was playing right defense,” Witkowski said. “The transition is not as difficult for me. I like playing both positions. My skating helps me able to do that.”
With Tampa last season, Witkowski played in 34 games with four assists and a minus-1 rating, while accumulating 58 penalty minutes.
Witkowski brings a physical edge to the Red Wings, who were missing that after trading away Steve Ott at the deadline in March.
“He plays tough, hard, and he knows how to play the game,” Holland said. “It’s not only fighting, it’s being able to make the other team know that it could be a tough night and when the other team wants to play a certain way, you’ve got the ability to respond.”
Said Witkowski: “I’d like to think I’m a great teammate, I stick up for my team, and I enjoy doing it.”
The Red Wings acquired goaltender Tom McCollum from Calgary for a conditional 2018 seventh-round draft pick.
McCollum, 27, was a 2008 first round draft pick who left for Calgary as a free agent last season.
McCollum had a 12-2-1 record in 18 combined games with Stockton and Charlotte in the AHL, and Adirondack in the ECHL.
In three games with the Red Wings, McCollum is 1-0-0 with a 2.96 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.
McCollum ranks among the all-time leaders in Grand Rapids Griffins history in games played (226, first), wins (103, second) and saves (5,653, first).
The Red Wings signed center Turner Elson to a one-year contract, likely for the Griffins.
Elson, 24, was limited to 13 games last season because of injuries in San Antonio, with 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) and 12 penalty minutes.
The season before, Elson (6-foot, 195-pounds) matched his AHL-best with 30 points (14 goals) with 59 penalty minutes in 63 games for Stockton.
Elson made his NHL debut April 9, 2016 for the Flames in Minnesota, and had an assist.