Detroit – Being part of another Original Six team appealed to goaltender Jonathan Bernier.
But what seemed to intrigue Bernier even more was the opportunity for playing time.
Bernier, 29, signed a three-year contract worth $9 million with the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday as NHL free agency got underway. With goaltender Jimmy Howard, 34, only having one year left on his contract, Bernier sees an opportunity to put down roots in Hockeytown and perhaps return to being a No. 1 goalie.
“For me I didn’t want to be in a position where I played 15-20 games,” Bernier said Sunday. “I want to come in and have a chance to play as much as possible, obviously depending on my play. “But I just thought it was a great opportunity that me and Jimmy can battle for games.
“I know Jimmy a little bit, playing against him, and we’re going to push each other to bring this team back into the playoffs.”
The fact Howard only has one year left on his contract was a factor.
“It was,” said Bernier, who was 19-13-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage last season in Colorado. “I had some other teams that were kind of in the same situation. I could have stayed in Colorado, as well – Varly (goalie Semyon Varlamov) had one year left – but I just decided to move on.
“I’ll be 30 (in August) but my body feels like I’m 25. I know how to take care of my body better than when I was younger. I’m more mature now, I’ve been through ups and downs in my career, and I know how to handle a lot more situations now.
“It was very appealing to come to Detroit and be part of something special. There’s a lot of history in this organization and this town and I’m excited to be part of it.
“I’m happy for me and my family to be able to stay at last three years, and hopefully more, in one city.”
Bernier has played in Los Angeles, Toronto, Anaheim and Colorado. Returning to an Original Six organization was also important.
“It’s always unbelievable to play for a team like that,” Bernier said. “I experienced it in Toronto and there’s no experience like it.
“They (Red Wings) always had great teams. They didn’t make the playoffs last year (two years), but they had an amazing run before that. When we played them this year, they weren’t missing much. They have pretty much everything, sometimes it’s just executing on the ice for 60 minutes.
“They’re really not that far (from making the playoffs).”
Green healthy, ready
Defenseman Mike Green had opportunities elsewhere, but re-signing with the Wings felt like his best option.
Green, 32, signed a two-year deal worth $10.75 million ($5.375 million cap hit) to forego unrestricted free agency and remain with the Wings. Green has a no-trade clause until Feb. 1, 2020.
“I love it there in Detroit, I really do,” said Green on Sunday. “I love the organization, I love the culture, love the guys. There’s a lot that weighed on my decision to stay, and yes, it’s easy at times to go somewhere else, especially with the transition that’s going on in Detroit, but I feel I can be useful in the next couple of years to help the younger guys develop quicker and speed up the process.”
Green’s season ended in March when he needed surgery on his cervical spine. But Green said Sunday the rehabilitation has gone smoothly and he’ll be ready for the start of training camp in mid-September.
“I’ve gone through rehab, talked to the doctors, and everything has gone beyond what we’ve expected,” said Green, who expects clearance for contact just before training camp. “I’ve been training full-throttle. I feel great.”
‘It was a good fit’
The Wings also brought back veteran winger Thomas Vanek, signing the forward to a one-year contract worth $3 million.
Vanek, 34, was impressive two seasons ago with the Wings (15 goals, 38 points in 48 games), before being dealt at the trade deadline to Florida.
Last season, Vanek (6-foot-2, 214-pounds) had 24 goals and 32 assists (56 points) in 80 games between Vancouver and Columbus.
“I loved it there, it was a good fit,” said Vanek of his time in Detroit. “I really liked the whole culture of the organization and the guys were great.
“We tried to make it work last year (sign a new contract) but it didn’t work out, so I’m happy it did this year.”
Vanek has moved around extensively in his career, so the no-trade clause he has in this contract – he’d have to waive it to be dealt at the trade deadline – was important.
“I’m not going to lie, you want to finish with the team you started (the season) with,” Vanek said. “I understand the business side of it. I get it. But having the option for myself this year is great.
“At the same time, I’m hoping it won’t come to that and we’ll be in the mix and we can add.”
The Wings hope Vanek can reignite great chemistry he had with Andreas Athanasiou on the ice, and some of the young players the organization is counting on.
“I’ve done that for the last two or three years, getting to know the young guys, and if they want some advice, I’ll give it to them,” Vanek said. “In Detroit I did that with AA, Mo (Anthony Mantha), Larks (Dylan Larkin) – all those guys. They are great players. The good young kids we have, (Michael) Rasmussen, (Filip) Zadina, I’ll be there to help them as well.”
The Wings signed forwards Wade Morgan and Chris Terry, defenseman Jake Chelios (Chris’ son), and goaltender Harri Sateri, to minor-league deals.