Red Wings’ free agent plan at odds with rebuild

Getty
4 Comments

When it comes to putting together their team, the Detroit Red Wings seemingly still believe they can eat their cake and have it too.

It’s fantastic if you can accrue futures and ice a competitive team, but GM Ken Holland’s plan hasn’t exactly worked like gangbusters lately. The Red Wings have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two straight seasons, and before that, they were dispatched in the first round three seasons in a row.

PHT readers have generally disagreed with this one foot in, one foot out style of management.

In August 2017, 70.36 percent of PHT readers voted in favor of a long rebuild for Detroit. Then, in late March 2018, about 73.36 percent of PHT readers believed that Ken Holland wasn’t the right choice to lead a rebuild.

So … yeah, that’s a pretty strong majority of people who questioned the Red Wings’ direction.

Still, there had been promising signs lately. Holland showed some serious aptitude in a key rebuild area by landing a bounty of draft picks for Tomas Tatar. Between deals for Tatar and Petr Mrazek, Holland loaded up on five draft picks.

Better yet, the consensus is that Detroit landed one of the best hauls of the 2018 NHL Draft, including a strong first round where they landed Filip Zadina with the sixth pick and expected mid-first-rounder Joe Veleno with the 30th choice. It seemed like the rest of the weekend went swimmingly, a notion that Detroit Free-Press chronicles here.

This is all fantastic stuff, and Zadina wasted little time in delighting Red Wings fans.

So, the signals are all there, right: the Red Wings are finally turning the page?

Eh, maybe not completely. MLive.com’s Ansar Khan provided a detailed free agent update for Detroit on Thursday, and if most of those situations come to fruition, there’d be some mixed signals. In particular, the belief that the Red Wings might not just give contracts but term to aging veterans is more than a little troubling.

Via Khan, here are some possibilities:

  • The Red Wings seem close to bringing Mike Green back with a two-year deal.

Now, that’s not the end of the world. Green continues to provide offense from the blueline (exactly a point every other game in 2017-18 with 33 in 66 contests), and the Red Wings aren’t exactly teeming with quality defensemen. At 32, Green isn’t ancient, and he wouldn’t rank as a scary 35+ contract.

Green probably qualifies as “an old 32,” though. Injuries have frequently been an issue for the scoring defenseman, and his neck issues are a significant concern. The 2018-19 season will already mark his 14th NHL season.

It’s not as though Green would be the only “seasoned veteran” on defense. Niklas Kronwall is 37 and hurting. Both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 34, and each are signed through 2019-20. As of this writing, Danny DeKeyser is the baby of the non-prospects group at 28, and Detroit probably wishes he wasn’t signed at $5M clip through 2021-22.

Woof.

  • Detroit appears to be one of the frontrunners for goalie Jonathan Bernier, who is no spring chicken himself at 30.

Again, term is where you furrow your brow a bit. Khan reports that the Red Wings might offer Bernier a three-year contract.

That’s quite a bit of term for an aging backup. Now, there’s the possibility that the plan could be to transition the starting job from Jimmy Howard to Bernier, as Howard is entering a contract year. Maybe the Red Wings envision a platoon situation both now and in the future.

Look, Bernier is one of the better goalie options in a shallow market for netminders … but what’s the upside here, really?

  • Finally, Khan reports that the Red Wings might make the nostalgic decision to sign Valtteri Filppula.

For one year, you could make that argument, but Khan reports that a potential deal would be for two seasons instead. For a marginal forward who is already 34 years old.

(Yes, Filppula really is 34 already. Life moves fast, gang.)

***

It’s possible that none of these situations work out. For one thing, Khan reports that Green is hoping for someone to offer up three years.

Loading up on middling veterans would be fine if the gameplan was to give a bunch of players one-year deals as stopgaps while prospects marinate in junior, the NCAA, and the AHL. There’s no denying that the Red Wings like to bring their blue chippers along gradually.

Possibly handing out two or three years of term inspires some discouraging thoughts, however.

Will these veterans serve as an excessive barrier to up-and-comers gaining valuable NHL experience? The Red Wings run the risk of locking themselves into purgatory with moves like these: being too competitive to land more high first-rounders, yet not good enough to contend.

Now, the painful truth is that someone must fall in that range in any given season. The Red Wings are just increasing their odds of being stuck in limbo.

At least there’s still time for them to change their minds, or for those free agents to do it for them by signing elsewhere.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.