Wings’ plan gets veteran boost with Jonathan Bernier, Thomas Vanek, Mike Green
Detroit -- The rebuild the Detroit Red Wings have been preaching lately got sidetracked Sunday.
They re-signed defenseman Mike Green, 32, to a two-year contract worth $10.75 million ($5.375 million per year cap hit), and added forward Thomas Vanek, 34, (one year, $3 million) and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, 29, (three years, $9 million, $3 million cap hit).
Many Wings fans were a bit confused, since the signings of Vanek and Green, in particular, could take away roster spots for young players such as forwards Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadiina or Evgeny Svehnikov, or defensemen Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek or Libor Sulak.
But general manager Ken Holland insisted Sunday the Wings can mix the veterans with the young players on their way to the NHL.
“As we go forward over the next year or two, and we’re trying to transition from older people, it’s important we’re competitive,” Holland said in a conference call. “It’s important we’ve got some veterans around our kids, and at the same time, it’s important that our kids are going to get an opportunity.
“We believe we can make both things happen.”
Holland is looking long-term, but would still like to see this particular roster contend.
“The hope is we can hang in,” Holland said. “The longer we can hang in, the better the environment is for everybody, for the fans, our players, especially for our younger players.
“My focus is probably a little bit down the road, (but) hopefully we can hang in and be in the playoff race. In order for that to happen, some of the young people that were on the team last year need to take another step. We need some of the veteran players to play at the same level or a touch better.
“Dealing with young people, there’s no track record. If all those young people can take a little step, we can be relevant. If not enough of those players take a step forward, or take a step backward, it’s going to affect our ability to compete.”
Vanek, 34, is a 6-foot-2, 214-pound left wing who had 24 goals and 32 assists (56 points) in 80 games between Vancouver and Columbus last season.
The year before, Vanek had 15 goals and 23 assists in 48 games with the Wings before being shipped to Florida at the trade deadline.
Vanek has a no-trade clause in this contract, and must give his OK to waive it.
Vanek had good chemistry with linemates such as Andreas Athanasiou, Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm and Gustav Nyquist in the past. The Wings will hope that offense can be re-ignited.
“He was very popular in the locker room; players looked up to him,” Holland said. “We signed him to score goals but he’s as good a playmaker as he is a goal-scorer. Big body, he’s going to be good on the power play, he’s a net-front presence.
“He can create some scoring chances.”
Bernier, 29, will back up Jimmy Howard, but now also gives the Wings options moving forward with regard to Howard.
At the trade deadline, Howard could be a valuable bargaining chip to a team needing a quality starting goaltender.
But, given the Wings’ lack of organizational depth in net, the Wings could also offer Howard, 34, an extension.
In Colorado last season, Bernier, 29, was 19-13-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
“We need to be strong in goal and we think with Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier, we’re going to have a good 1-2 punch in net,” Holland said.
One of the better offensive defensemen on a very slim free-agent market, Green elected to stay with the Wings, though he possibly could have gotten one extra year from another team.
Green has a no-trade clause in his contract until Feb. 1, 2020.
Green had 33 points (eight goals, 25 assists) in 66 games last season. If Green had left, the Wings didn't have anyone readily available to replace him from an offensive standpoint.
Green had neck surgery in late March but all indications are he’ll be ready to start training camp in mid-September.
“He played the most minutes on our team, close to 24 minutes a night,” Holland said. “His skating is a strength for him, and in a league that is heavy on speed and mobility, those are his strengths and his assets.
“He can go back and get the puck. He can join the rush. He wanted to be in Detroit, he likes it here, and likes his role on the team.”
The Wings have three important restricted free agents – forwards Dylan Larkin, Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha – who will need new contracts this summer.
Athanasiou is the only player of the three to have arbitration rights, ensuring a deal before mid-August. It’s likely the Wings will try to work out a longer-term deal with Larkin.