Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill on transitioning Andreas Athanasiou into the lineup. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Tampa, Fla. — Andreas Athanasiou was back playing hockey Wednesday, enjoying a game he loves. But if there was one thing Athanasiou learned from a contract stalemate with the Red Wings that cost him 10 games of the regular season, well, hockey isn’t all a game.
“It’s definitely a business,” Athanasiou said after his first practice of the season. “That’s what I learned the last couple of months. It’s been a little bit stressful, and I’m just happy now to be with the guys.”
Athanasiou signed a one-year contract worth $1.38 million Friday, and judging from all indications in practice, he will be in the lineup when the Red Wings play Tampa Bay on Thursday.
“He looked good, he’s a good skater and he trained hard in Europe and skated in Toronto (Athanasiou’s home),” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We have to see how he feels (at Thursday’s morning skate).
“We need a jolt, too. We’re hoping he can give us a jolt.”
A restricted free agent with no arbitration rights — which meant Athanasiou had no real leverage — Athanasiou and the Red Wings were far apart on a deal all summer, through the exhibition season, and into the regular season before the two sides came to an agreement last week.
There was talk of Athanasiou playing in Russia’s KHL, of playing with a team in Switzerland, or maybe joining Canada’s Olympic program.
Ultimately, though, returning to the Red Wings was the best option.
“Every decision I was making was carefully assessed,” Athanasiou said. “I was valuing everything with its high and low points and I made my decision.”
Andreas Athanasiou on accepting the business side of hockey. Ted Kulfan, The Detroit News
Through it all, Athanasiou insists there are no hard feelings toward the organization. Though not having much leverage, in a business sense, was disappointing.
“There’s not much you can do, you’re an RFA and it is what it is,” Athanasiou said. “We got the deal done and it’s over with now and in the past. The goal is to play in the NHL and when you’re restricted, there’s not much leverage you have. I learned a lot about the business and what the asking price was for me, and I’m happy to be back with the guys.”
By signing the contract, Athanasiou will be a restricted free agent again next summer — but having earned enough service time where he will have arbitration rights.
“The arbitrator will play a part and that’ll help,” Athanasiou said. “As long as I play good hockey and produce for this team, and we start winning games, the points will come.”
Though never asking for a trade, Athanasiou said he knows what the Red Wings were asking for from teams interested in possibly making a deal for him.
And he felt gratified about general manager Ken Holland’s asking price. The Red Wings were reportedly asking for a top young player in return, along with a draft pick, although there wasn’t much serious discussions with teams this early in the season.
“Just seeing what the value was and what he was asking for, I saw that,” Athanasiou said. “And that’s a good feeling.”
Athanasiou talked with Blashill shortly before reaching an agreement with the Red Wings, and again Monday in Buffalo, where Athanasiou drove down from Toronto to join the team.
The two struggled at times last season to find middle ground, with Blashill setting expectations and Athanasiou not satisfied with ice time. Blashill said Athanasiou will ultimately be used on both the power play and penalty kill, and is a top-nine forward.
Athanasiou understands, though, he must continually earn his ice time.
“We spoke about it a little bit,” Athanasiou said. “You have to earn your ice and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. No matter how much I get, I try to make the most of it. I’m never bitter about it and I’ll do the best with what I got and I’ll go from there.
“(We) definitely cleared some stuff for sure. It’s a big part of it. I’m a smart a kid and when I’m spoken to I listen and I try to learn from my mistakes and keep taking steps forward.”
Athanasiou was skating on a line with Frans Nielsen and Darren Helm on Wednesday, but Blashill wouldn’t commit to what his lines might look like against Tampa. Athanasiou also worked on a power play unit with Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk and Mike Green.
Blashill is hoping for a positive adjustment of Athanasiou into the lineup that is without a victory in five games (0-4-1).
“It’s not like he’s a new player,” Blashill said. “Whether it’s the power play or penalty kill, he knows our system. I’m hoping it’ll be an easy transition.”
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser (ankle) participated in the entire practice and appears ready to play for the first time since injuring himself Oct. 10 blocking a shot.
“I’m trying to see what the tolerance level is and seeing what I can do,” DeKeyser said. “I have to be able to skate hard and battle in the corners, not float around and playing soft.”
… Goaltender Jimmy Howard is expected to get his third consecutive start.
RED WINGS at LIGHTNING
Faceoff: 7:30 Thursday, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.
Outlook: The Lightning (8-1-1, 17 points) are off to the best start in the NHL. … RW Nikita Kucherov (11 goals) and C Steven Stamkos (20 points) are league-leaders in those areas.