Detroit – For a change, there’s some real big names in the NHL unrestricted free-agent class this year. Some big names who are definitely looking for greener pastures.
And in the restricted free-agent pool, there are even bigger names, young stars who are the foundation of the NHL.
There has been speculation all season that teams will present offer sheets to some of these RFAs, never mind the truly expensive cost of doing so (as much as four first-round draft picks).
And then there are the Red Wings.
With a bit more than $12 million in salary cap space, the Wings can be aggressive if they wish. They have defensemen Niklas Kronwall (contemplating retirement) and Luke Witkowski as UFAs, but neither will take a significant amount of that $12 million. (UFA Thomas Vanek is not being asked back.)
But with the Wings smack in the middle of a rebuild, and not yet likely in position to contend for a playoff spot, general manager Steve Yzerman will be careful about how he spends and who he goes after.
“I’m going to make some calls,” Yzerman said before the start of this week’s interview period. “There are players we’re interested in. You get a feel for, one, if they have any interest in coming in Detroit, and then, with the (contract) parameters, what they’re looking for, and basically get a feel for that.”
The Wings aren’t likely to be shopping among the expensive free agents, given what their own situation looks like – and the fact those big-name free agents aren’t likely to want to come to an organization still far from championship-contending status.
But there might be a second-tier free agent who could be a good fit.
“I’m not going to sign a free agent just to sign a free agent,” Yzerman said. “The player has to fit what we’re trying to do. The term (of the contract) and the value (of the contract) have to fit.
“I can’t tell you how active we’re going to be. But we’re certainly going to reach out to players and agents of guys who could fit into what we’re doing.”
The Wings could use help in a variety of positions – foremost, a quality defenseman and some scoring punch.
With Vanek not returning, it would be useful to replace one veteran offensive player with another. It would be nice to get a quality No. 2 center, but those are few and far between, not necessarily available in this class, and they don’t come cheaply.
In terms of defense, the Wings have quantity (at least for another year) if not necessarily quality, and could use an upgrade.
And what about those prized RFAs?
Though there are names there who could obviously help the Wings and make them better now and into the future, the consequences could be impactful if the Wings were to extend an offer sheet to the likes of Mitch Marner, Brayden Point, Kyle Connor (Clinton Township) or Patrik Laine.
The Wings also have forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha entering restricted free agent status next summer, and defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek in 2021, so they need to be mindful of that.
Still, there are players out there Monday who could help the Wings. Here are 10 of them.
Unrestricted free agents
Gustav Nyquist, left wing, 28, 5-11, 185 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: (Detroit/San Jose) 22 goals, 38 assists, 60 points in 81 games.
► Outlook: You can almost hear the groans coming from Red Wings fans. Yes, the Wings dealt Nyquist to San Jose at the trade deadline for a pair of draft picks, and Nyquist played well for the Sharks (11 points in 20 playoff games). San Jose wants to keep Nyquist but is strapped salary cap-wise. Nyquist was drafted by the Wings, deep down probably didn’t want to leave the organization, and it would be easy to see him return Monday. He would fill a need for the Wings and was having a fine season when he was dealt. But Edmonton (with former Wings GM Ken Holland), Columbus and Chicago are other teams linked to Nyquist, who will have his pick of teams.
Jake Gardiner, defenseman, 28, Toronto, 6-2, 203 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 3 goals, 27 assists, 30 points in 62 games.
► Outlook: The Maple Leafs would like to keep Gardiner but won’t be able to with salary cap issues. Playing under the glare of the spotlight in Toronto hasn’t helped, where every mistake is magnified, but Gardiner is at the stage of his career where he could positively impact a team like the Wings. He’ll likely play better away from Toronto.
Anders Lee, 28, left wing, N.Y. Islanders, 6-3, 230 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 28 goals, 23 assists, 51 points in 82 games.
► Outlook: This is the longest of longshots. Lee could very well re-sign with the Islanders, where he’s the captain. But coach Jeff Blashill was impressed with Lee at the world championships, and he would be a great on- and off-ice presence for the Wings as currently constructed. Lee probably will be looking for a team closer to contender status, though.
Valtteri Filppula, 35, center, N.Y. Islanders, 6-0, 196 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 17 goals, 14 assists, 31 points in 72 games.
► Outlook: The Wings like to bring back former players and Filppula has been close to returning a couple times. Again, it could be a decent fit. Filppula had a fine season with the Islanders and could return there. But if he doesn’t, he would supply the Wings with a steadying veteran presence. He’s versatile and would upgrade their forward core.
Joonas Donskoi, 27, right wing, San Jose, 6-0, 190 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 14 goals, 23 assists, 37 points in 80 games.
► Outlook: The Sharks aren’t going to be able to retain Donskoi, who had a career-high with 37 points. There’s some potential there, and he’d strengthen the Wings, but is he going to ever reach the 20-goal mark? The Wings would be interested, but for how much?
Tyler Myers, 29, defenseman, Winnipeg, 6-8, 229 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 9 goals, 22 assists, 31 points in 80 games.
► Outlook: Myers would be the top-pair defenseman the Wings are looking for, but it’s difficult to see this match happen. Myers is being recruited by several contenders for a long-term deal with a lot of money. As much as Myers could help the Wings, he isn’t likely to age well – not the swiftest player around – and this could be a contract that gives a team buyer’s remorse eventually.
Anton Stralman, 32, defenseman, Tampa Bay, 5-11, 190 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 2 goals, 15 assists, 17 points in 47 games.
► Outlook: Yzerman signed Stralman in Tampa five seasons ago, and Stralman has been a steadying force in the Lightning lineup. He could stay in Tampa for less money. If he doesn’t, Stralman would provide the same steadying influence to a Wings’ defense that was in total flux last season.
Micheal Ferland, 27, left wing, Carolina, 6-1, 217 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points in 71 games.
► Outlook: Physical power forward who appears to be coming into his own, Ferland could be a popular player Monday and earn himself quite a bit of money. Maybe more than the Wings would ultimately want to fork over, but Ferland would be a quality addition, and he’s only 27.
Restricted free agents
Mitch Marner, 22, right wing, Toronto, 6-0, 175 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 26 goals, 68 assists, 94 points in 82 games.
► Outlook: OK, let’s have fun with the last two. What if the Wings go shopping in the RFA market, and are willing to give up draft picks to make a deal? Marner is only 22 and isn’t close to reaching his potential. His on-ice instincts are generally considered to be among the best in the NHL. It would take something upward of $11 million per season on a 7- or 8-year deal, but heck, maybe it would be worth it for the surge it would provide to the lineup and the energy to the fan base. Still, Toronto would likely match the offer.
Brayden Point, 23, center, Tampa Bay, 5-10, 166 pounds
► 2018-19 stats: 41 goals, 51 assists, 92 points in 79 games
► Outlook: Same as Marner – it seems like wishful thinking. But Yzerman knows the Tampa salary cap situation intimately, and the Lightning are going to need to be creative to secure Point. He’s one of the NHL’s best two-way centers already, and is coming off a monstrous scoring season. A combination of Larkin and Point up the middle would be a great nucleus for the upcoming years. It would take a lot of money, and the length of the deal could prove tricky for the Wings’ own salary cap in the future.