With NHL's finances uncertain, Wings among teams taking 'conservative' approach to free-agency
Detroit — The draft is done. Now it’s off to the next check list for the Red Wings' offseason.
Unrestricted free-agency in the NHL begins at noon Friday, but what that’ll exactly mean for the Wings and other NHL teams is a question mark. Because of the current NHL economic landscape, with no fans amid COVID-19, no one is quite sure how aggressive teams will be in signing players.
The pandemic has forced a flat salary cap of $81.5 million for the foreseeable future. Many teams, already strapped near the cap ceiling, are shedding players.
It’s making for an unprecedented time in the NHL.
Because of those factors — and the fact the Wings still are in the beginning stages of their reconstruction — general manager Steve Yzerman expects to be cautious in his free-agent spending.
“I would say we’ll be relatively conservative,” Yzerman said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what the economic landscape in the NHL looks like in the next couple of years.
“I wouldn’t rule out anything. Again, it’s got to make sense, the contract has to make sense, what you have to pay the player, and the term depending on their age. We’re not opposed to anything.
"But it’s got to make sense.”
The Wings have ample space under the salary cap, but need to work out deals with restricted free agent forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi.
They acquired defenseman Marc Staal from the New York Rangers (along with a 2021 second-round draft pick), absorbing a contract the Rangers couldn’t keep.
There are several teams similar to the Wings, with ample cap space. But most other teams are watching their pennies, what with the flat salary cap and clouds on the economic horizon.
“There's just a lot of uncertainty around the league,” Yzerman said. “Nobody really knows what's going to happen on Oct. 9 with free agency What’s going to happen in the market.”
Yzerman preferred short-term deals with free agents last season, and that might be the way the organization goes this time around.
Yzerman signed forward Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth last off-season to two-year contracts, each plugging holes in the lineup.
Given the Wings had the NHL’s worst record this past season, there still are plenty of holes. Everywhere, up and down the lineup.
So the needs certainly are there, some more glaring than others.
Yzerman said the Wings will not be bringing back goaltender Jimmy Howard. So, the Wings definitely will be in the market for a goaltender to combo with Jonathan Bernier.
And make no mistake about it, there will be a glut of veteran goaltenders available.
Veterans such as Henrik Lundqvist (who seems destined to sign with Washington), Corey Crawford and Anton Khudobin, among many others, are looking for jobs.
“We have to wait until (Friday) to really get a good feel to where there’s a fit, the interest of these players and the parameters of contracts,” Yzerman said. “We’ll get a better idea.”
On defense, the Wings didn’t qualify Madison Bowey, making Bowey unrestricted, and they likely aren’t going to have top prospect Moritz Seider, who is playing in Sweden.
That leaves holes on defense, which Yzerman said Wednesday he’d like to address with one or two defensemen signings.
Whether one will be Livonia native Torey Krug, remains to be seen. Krug, 29, appears to set on leaving the Boston Bruins and testing the market. Krug had 49 points (40 assists) in 61 games last season, and his generally regarded as one of the best power play quarterbacks in the NHL.
The addition of Krug would benefit the Wings on and off the ice on many levels, given his skills and leadership. But is there a fit?
In his first time on the market, Krug is likely to command a big asking price. And given the state of the Wings — despite it being his hometown — would Krug want to play for a team deep in a rebuild?
Up front, Yzerman would also like to add a forward, or two, preferably on a short-term deal.
Vladislav Namestnikov, Carter Verhaege (non-tendered by Tampa this week) and Mattias Janmark might be a few forwards to keep an eye on.
So, there will be options, many players looking for jobs and possibly willing for less than what they would normally command. But will be teams even be interested with the discount prices?
“Is it going to be business as usual? Are teams going to be more conservative?" Yzerman said.
"I really don't know."