Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman searching for specific needs in free agency

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — How busy will the Red Wings be Wednesday when unrestricted free agency begins in the NHL?

Busy, with an asterisk, you could say.

The Wings will likely be busy working with their own UFAs — largely, forwards Sam Gagner, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm and Bobby Ryan — about potentially returning.

If negotiations with any, or all, of those forwards don't produce results, then the Wings will aggressively hit the market looking for replacements.

"We'll talk to our own free agents for sure," general manager Steve Yzerman said after the NHL Entry Draft. "We'll continue to stay in touch with them."

Sam Gagner had seven goals and eight assists in 42 games last season.

Ironically, Glendening, Gagner and Ryan were the only right-shot forwards in the Wings' lineup.

Without them, it creates a further imbalance and would force the Wings to work the free-agent market.

All three, especially East Grand Rapids native and alternate captain Glendening, have shown an interest in returning to the Wings.

“Right shots are a bit of a concern for us,” Yzerman said. “Our three right-shot forwards are unrestricted free agents, and we have definite interest in all three of them. Between now and (start of free agency), we’ll decide if we can get something done. Can we get something done with any of those guys or do we go beyond the 28th (Wednesday) and see what else is out there?”

Yzerman identified the right-shot forwards and two left defensemen, although one of those left-defense holes was filled Sunday with the re-signing of Marc Staal, as specific needs.

The Wings could use one more defenseman as depth — if it's a left-handed shot to even the roster, so much the better — possibly shuttling between the NHL and minor league affiliate Grand Rapids.

The trading of left-shot defenseman Jon Merrill (Grand Blanc) and Patrik Nemeth at the deadline created holes the Wings have now adequately filled with Staal and trade acquisition Nick Leddy.

To a lesser extent, the Wings would like to find a natural center to man the middle of the second line. Those are harder and more expensive to come by, and there aren't many available.

Yzerman is also confident forwards Robby Fabbri and Vladislav Namestnikov can fill the center role, as they did last season.

"We have some flexibility with Vlade, who played in the middle, and even Robby Fabbri, who played a little bit (at center) last year," Yzerman said. "We have the flexibility to move those players into the middle or back to the wing."

There's also a train of thought, although slim, that Yzerman might leave some roster spots open, waiting to see how Swedish forwards Lucas Raymond and Jonathan Berggren look in training camp.

"The other option is we don't fill those spots and we see how Jonatan Berggren does, we see how Lucas Raymond does and any of the other guys for that matter," Yzerman said. "We've got to fill three spots up front and that includes our own players."

Here's what the unsigned forwards bring to the Wings:

Gagner: He was a versatile player for coach Jeff Blashill and is respected around the locker room. Gagner is a classy veteran who showed he was capable of playing a good two-way game, and isn't likely seeking too much of a raise on the $850,000 he earned last season. Gagner, who'll be 32 on Aug. 10, might see the Wings as the best fit out there.

Glendening: The 32-year-old has been with the Wings his entire career since signing as an undrafted free agent out of Michigan. He's grown into a respected leader in the locker room and is a tremendous influence for young players in the organization. One of the best faceoff players in the NHL, Glendening continues to be one of the better defensive forwards in the league. It'll be surprising if Glendening doesn't re-sign with the Wings. Still, this might be Glendening's only opportunity for free agency, and he had a fine season. Certain teams might be willing to pay much more than the Wings might.

Helm: The 34-year-old has spent his entire career with the Wings, but he appeared willing to accept the fact it might be time to head elsewhere this summer. Helm is coming off a deal that paid him $3.85 million last season, and he isn't likely to come close to that figure with the Wings or with another team. The Helm, Glendening, Adam Erne line was among the Wings' most consistent last season.

Ryan: He started his Wings career with four goals in his first three games, then only scored three goals the remaining 30 games he played before triceps surgery ended his season. Ryan is 34, and his leadership and influence around younger players is impressive. The Wings need offense and Ryan's declining production was distressing. You wonder if Ryan might be a good fit on a contending team looking for a specific, veteran need.

Twitter: @tkulfan