Red Wings have opportunity for bold moves next offseason

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There were seven teams that did not qualify for the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoff field this past season. Over the next few days we are going to take a look at each of them to examine whether or not they are capable of bouncing back this upcoming season. We continue today with the Detroit Red Wings. 

During his Hall of Fame playing career Steve Yzerman was one of the driving forces behind the Red Wings’ climb out of the NHL’s basement.

He has a chance to lead a similar turnaround as an executive.

How bad has it been for the team in recent years?

They have missed the playoffs four years in a row. Their .275 points percentage from the 2019-20 season was the third-worst in franchise history. During this four-year playoff drought no team (including Vegas, which has only existed for three of those seasons) has won fewer games than the Red Wings’ 112.  It has been rough.

As a result, the franchise has been completely stripped down to its most basic foundation over the past two seasons. The bad contracts that littered the roster have either been jettisoned, bought out, or expired. All of that has left the team in a situation where it has almost no long-term commitments to worry about, and a massive amount of salary cap space to work with in the future.

[Related: Bertuzzi’s deal part of promising Red Wings’ offseason, flexible future]

As of this moment there are only eight players under contract beyond this season. Only one of those players (Dylan Larkin) is signed for more than two seasons (his contract expires after the 2022-23 season).

It has given Yzerman and the Red Wings a clean slate to work with. Now they can finally start building back up.

How will he do it?

Next summer could be big

This offseason was about piecing together a short-term roster with cheap, short-term free agent signings that could turn into a trade deadline assets. Players like Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Troy Stecher, and Jon Merrill. None of them figure to be long-term pieces, just like most of the current roster.

As of now, the Red Wings only have $29.9M in salary cap space committed to eight players for next season, per CapFriendly. You have to assume the youth movement continues into next season and some of those open spaces are filled with entry-level contracts and rookies, which would leave them a significant amount of salary cap space to fill out the roster.

That presents Yzerman and the Red Wings with a number of different options.

Go big in free agency?

Next year’s potential UFA class looks fairly deep, even when taking into account some (or many) will ultimately re-sign with their current teams. There is always a risk in going big in the free agent market, but the Red Wings would have the salary cap space to make a run at quite literally any player (or multiple players) on the market to complement their prospect core.

Unlikely as it may be, the RFA market should also be an option.

The Red Wings have had so many draft picks over the past two years (23 to be exact) and already have nine for next season with the potential to add several more at the trade deadline. Given all of those recent picks, as well as their massive amount of cap space, they should be at least willing to explore the possibility of giving up future picks and putting the clamps on another team for a potential offer sheet.

Take advantage of teams that need salary cap relief

All of that salary cap space can be weaponized in their favor to take advantage of teams that need salary cap relief. They already did that this offseason with the Marc Staal trade (netting them an additional second-round pick) and will have plenty of opportunities to do it again next offseason.

With so much cap space, no long-term commitments, and the potential for what will still be a young, cheap roster the Red Wings would be in a position to take on more undesirable contracts and accepting a dumping fee in the form of a quality draft pick or prospect for doing so.

With a flat cap there will no doubt be teams desperate to dump contracts and to pay a price for doing so. They can — and should — use that to their advantage.

The outlook

The Red Wings are looking at another season in the NHL’s basement. The biggest key for this season is that the short-term free agents work out individually to give them additional trade chips and they see progress from young players (Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek, any other rookies on the team).

They have one of the league’s best general managers, more salary cap flexibility than any team in the league, collected a bounty of draft picks over the past couple of years, have even more coming this year, and have three recent top-six picks (plus what almost certainly be another one in the 2021 draft) to hopefully build around.

They are still a long way from contention, but with the GM and resources (draft picks, prospects, salary cap space) at their disposal they are finally in a position to start building.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Coaching carousel leaves 10 NHL teams with new face on bench

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    The coaching carousel spun a little faster than usual across the NHL, meaning nearly a third of the league will have someone new behind the bench this season. And not just bottom-feeders making changes.

    Ten teams go into the season next month with a new coach, from Presidents’ Trophy-winning Florida and perennial playoff-contending Boston to rebuilding Chicago and San Jose.

    John Tortorella will try to whip Philadelphia into shape, Bruce Cassidy is tasked with getting Vegas back to the playoffs and Derek Lalonde takes his two Stanley Cup rings as a Tampa Bay assistant to his new challenge with the Detroit Red Wings.

    TORTS REFORM

    Philadelphia players knew they were in for some changes when Tortorella was hired, so they asked Cam Atkinson, who spent six years playing for the no-nonsense coach in Columbus.

    “I keep telling them like he’s a guy that’s going to change the whole dynamic of this organization,” Atkinson said.

    Tortorella has not shied away from saying a culture change is needed after a last-place finish and a decade with one playoff series win. There is likely not much he and players can do this year about a Cup drought that dates to 1975, but they can start with maddeningly inconsistent stretches of games that have plagued the Flyers for years, no matter the roster.

    BIG MO

    The Panthers were the league’s best team in the regular season last year but struggled in the playoffs before losing in the second round to cross-state rival Tampa Bay in five games. That was enough for general manager Bill Zito to decide to move on from interim coach Andrew Brunette and hired seasoned veteran Paul Maurice.

    The expectation is to get back to the playoffs and compete for the Cup, and having Maurice at the helm was one of the factors that made power forward Matthew Tkachuk pick Florida as his trade-and-sign destination.

    “He’s got high hopes for our team,” Tkachuk said. “He sees us playing in a certain way that’s going to make us successful. And he’s done it. He’s been around the NHL a long time, been a very successful head coach and somebody that I’m really looking forward to working with.”

    PLAYOFF ROTATION

    Bruins GM Don Sweeney fired Cassidy after a seven-game loss to Carolina in the first round despite Boston’s sixth consecutive playoff appearance.

    Vegas had already fired Peter DeBoer, making him the scapegoat for an injury-riddled fall from the top of the Western Conference that ended with the team’s first playoff miss in five years of existence. The Golden Knights quickly turned to Cassidy, who like Maurice brings experience and gravitas to a franchise with championship aspirations.

    “I think we’re very fortunate as an organization to have him as our coach,” center Jack Eichel said. “Every single person I’ve spoke to about them, they said the same thing: that he’s got a really, really great knack for the game and to able to make adjustments and he understands things. Very, very competitive — wants to win, has won a lot of hockey games over the last few years.”

    The Bruins replaced Cassidy with Jim Montgomery, a hockey lifer getting a second chance after being fired by Dallas in December 2019 for inappropriate conduct. Montgomery sought and received help at a rehab facility and got a big endorsement from the staff with St. Louis, the team he was working for as an assistant.

    “He’s a winner,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I think guys are going to thrive on that energy.”

    The Stars completed the circle by hiring DeBoer, who has coached two teams (New Jersey in 2012 and San Jose in 2016) to the final and is on his fifth stop around the league.

    “This is a tough league and it’s a tough one to coach in and you have to be able to handle situations,” GM Jim Nill said. “I know Pete can do it.”

    LAMBERT ISLAND

    Lane Lambert served as an assistant under Barry Trotz with Nashville, Washington – where they won the Cup together – and the Islanders. When Trotz was abruptly fired after New York missed the playoffs for the first time in his four seasons on the job, his right-hand man got the gig with his endorsement.

    Longtime executive Lou Lamoriello thought his team needed a new voice. But Lambert isn’t that new, and his familiarity with the Islanders keeps some continuity.

    “Barry was great for our team, and having Lane as an assistant, he had lots of say, as well,” forward Mathew Barzal said. “As a group, we all have a good relationship with him, so I think it’ll be an easy transition for our team.”

    MORE NEW VOICES

    The final coaching change of the offseason came in San Jose, with ownership and interim management firing Bob Boughner and his assistants before Mike Grier took over as GM. Grier hired David Quinn, who most recently coached the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics after spending three years with the Rangers.

    Rick Bowness, the Stars’ interim coach when Montgomery was fired who helped them reach the final in 2020 and was not brought back, joined Winnipeg. He immediately made an impact by stripping Blake Wheeler of the Jets captaincy.

    The other new coaches – Lalonde in Detroit and Luke Richardson in Chicago – are not expected to make such big waves.

    Richardson, who briefly was acting coach for Montreal during the 2021 final when Dominique Ducharme tested positive for the coronavirus, is overseeing the start of a long-term rebuild by the Blackhawks. Lalonde was Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pick to help end the storied franchise’s playoff drought.

    “He believes in what he’s preaching, which I think is great walking into a new locker room,” captain Dylan Larkin said. “He’s made a great impression on the guys.”

    Islanders agree to terms with Mathew Barzal on 8-year extension

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    Mathew Barzal has agreed to terms with the New York Islanders on an eight-year extension, a move that keeps the franchise’s top forward under contract for the balance of his prime.

    The deal is worth $73.2 million with an annual salary cap hit of $9.15 million, according to a person with knowledge of the contract. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the team did not announce terms.

    Barzal has led the team in scoring, or been tied for the lead, every season since he became a full-time NHL player in 2017-18. He has 349 points in 411 regular-season and playoff games for the defensively stingy Islanders, who qualified for the postseason three consecutive times before an injury- and virus-altered last year.

    “We feel recharged,” Barzal said recently. “We feel like everybody had good summers and worked hard, and we got that excitement back.”

    Barzal, now 25, is coming off putting up 59 points in 75 games. The offensive star will now be asked to round out his game.

    “I’m a fan because Mat has the ability to raise his game and to be a special player,” general manager Lou Lamoriello told reporters at the team’s practice facility on Long Island. “And now, with this contract and our faith in him, (it) puts that responsibility on him. We’re trusting that. It’s up to him to respond to that.”

    Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

    Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
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    OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

    The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

    Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

    The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

    Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

    Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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    CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

    The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

    The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

    The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.