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Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman practices patience in free agency

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DETROIT — Steve Yzerman is practicing patience in his first year as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager.

On the opening day of free agency, the Hockey Hall of Famer and former Red Wings great made some subtle moves to improve his roster without saddling the rebuilding franchise with big contracts.

Detroit signed both center Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth to two-year , $6 million contracts and added goaltender Calvin Pickard with a two-year deal.

”We’re looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone that we spoke with,” Yzerman said Monday. ”Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know what we have within the organization.”

Yzerman is trying to turn around a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016, its longest drought since a five-year skid ended in 1984 when he was a rookie in Detroit.

The Red Wings have a core of young players, led by Dylan Larkin, to build around and a slew of prospects they hope are pushing for playing time in the NHL. Yzerman is counting on a trio of veterans to add depth as complementary players.

He is also reuniting with Filppula for a third time.

Filppula, who helped Detroit win the 2008 Stanley Cup, played with Yzerman with the Red Wings and was signed by him in Tampa Bay.

”It’s always important to feel like the team wants you,” the 35-year-old Finn said. ”I know Stevie from before and have a good relationship.”

Filppula had 17 goals and 31 points last season with the New York Islanders. He has scored 185 times and has 494 points over 14 seasons with Detroit, Philadelphia the Lightning and the Islanders.

Likely on the second or third line, he is expected to play center to allow Andreas Athanasiou to play on the wing.

”We had a hole in the middle,” Yzerman said.

Nemeth had one goal and 10 points last year in Dallas. The 27-year-old Swede has four goals and 35 assists over six seasons with the Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Detroit may have to replace Niklas Kronwall, a key player on the blue line, to make help on the blue line even more of a priority. Yzerman has said Kronwall, a 38-year-old defenseman, can take his time this summer to decide whether he wants to return to play for the Red Wings or retire.

”With the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts,” Yzerman said, ”it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”

Detroit signed Pickard to compete with Jonathan Bernier to be Jimmy Howard‘s backup and perhaps to give the team three goaltenders.

”Gives us a little bit of security,” Yzerman said.

Pickard is 32-50-9 with a 2.93 goals-against average during his five-season career with Colorado, Toronto, Philadelphia and Arizona. The 27-year-old Canadian was winless in four starts last season with the Coyotes.

Red Wings rebuild won’t be easy, but Yzerman is right GM choice

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Detroit Red Wings fans are right to rejoice. While the move’s been telegraphed for a while, this is indeed a good Friday for the Red Wings, as Steve Yzerman was officially named as their next GM.

Whether it was convincing Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman to sign team-friendly deals, or identifying the league’s general prejudice against smaller players to unearth draft day bargains, Yzerman* did such a great job with the Tampa Bay Lightning, that I’ve called him a magician and/or wizard on multiple occasions.

Even if you’re a vociferous defender of Ken Holland’s latter, sometimes-rebuild-resistant years, chances are, you’re probably very excited about Yzerman’s hiring. The team announced official titles for both Yzerman and Holland, if you like your updates especially granular.

So, to me and plenty others – not just Red Wings fans – this is a shrewd hire.

Still, if there’s one talking point that stands out as especially valid, it’s this: when Yzerman took over the Lightning, he already had an elite center in Steven Stamkos, and a future Norris-winning defenseman in Victor Hedman.

All due respect to Dylan Larkin (who had a strong season, and is only 22) and some other nice players, but the Red Wings don’t have foundational players at quite that superstar level. They do, however, have a pretty interesting setup. If Yzerman is as bright as he seemed to be in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings could really turn things around. All they need is some luck and patience.

Let’s get an idea of the path ahead for Yzerman.

On a Larkin

Look, there’s no shame in Larkin not being quite what Stamkos was in 2010, when Stevie Y took over in Tampa Bay. It’s easy to forget just how potent Stamkos was (the NHL’s most goals [156] and second-most points [283] from 2009-10 to 2010-11), possibly because a few catastrophic injuries briefly derailed his career.

Larkin is fantastic, and stands as the sort of contract you’d build around: a 22-year-old star with a bargain $6.1 million cap hit running through 2022-23.

Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi showed great chemistry with Larkin late in the season, with Mantha in particular boasting the sort of pedigree that points to continued success. One of Yzerman’s early challenges will be to strike affordable deals with Mantha, Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou, three useful forwards whose contracts expire after 2019-20. Would the best deals come in earlier extensions, or would the Red Wings be wiser to wait? It’s up to Yzerman & Co. to decide, and getting good deals could be key if they want to build a winning core.

Early fruits of rebuild

While I’d argue that Holland dragged his feet multiple times when it came to the rebuilding process, the good news is that when Holland did act, he landed some nice building blocks. In trading away Gustav Nyquist, Nick Jensen, and especially Tomas Tatar, the Red Wings have really loaded up on draft picks, most of which land in the top three rounds.

The development processes are already underway for a few interesting prospects, particularly 2018 first-rounders Filip Zadina (sixth overall) and Joe Veleno (30th). The Red Wings once again pick sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, so it’s up to Yzerman to land another blue-chipper, even if Detroit doesn’t get the luxury of a more obvious choice like Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko.

Almost as important is that the Red Wings have loaded up on picks like they’re at Prospect Costco:

  • Last year, they had those two first-rounders, plus: two second-rounders, and three third-rounders to go with their normal set of choices (minus a fifth-rounder).
  • Via Cap Friendly’s handy chart, the Red Wings have two extra second-round picks and one additional fifth-rounder in 2019.
  • In 2020, they have an extra second and third-round pick. (The third-rounder could turn into a second-rounder depending upon the San Jose Sharks’ actions.)
  • They already have an extra third-rounder in 2021.

That’s a fantastic start, eh? Even the best drafting teams would admit that there’s a lot of “dart throwing” involved in drafting, so it makes sense to load up on those darts, especially when you get the added precision of picks in earlier rounds.

The Lightning were adept at finding quality talent off-the-beaten-path under Yzerman,* most notably identifying Brayden Point as a third-rounder (79th in 2014) and Nikita Kucherov in a second round (58th in 2011). If Yzerman can carry that success over to Detroit, even partially, the Red Wings could really make some exciting leaps.

Cleanup duty

Which brings us to the messier part.

For all of Holland’s accomplishments, he left behind a shaggy salary structure. There’s dead money (Stephen Weiss’ buyout lingers through 2020-21), scary contracts (Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser), and, erm, maybe too much of a “veteran presence.”

By that I mean this team is old, at least beyond the core. Niklas Kronwall is 38 with a (mercifully) expiring contract, both Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley are 35, and Mike Green is a very banged-up 33. DeKeyser is oft-criticized and not really a spring chicken, either, at 29.

The goalie duo is also creaky. Jimmy Howard was fantastic in 2018-19, but at 35, it’s still surprising that the Red Wings didn’t trade him, even with the understanding that they’d come calling during free agency time in July. Jonathan Bernier is 30 and his $3M cap hit doesn’t expire until after the 2020-21 season.

Most of those trends are disturbing, and while the Red Wings need more talent basically everywhere, the defense and goaltending likely need the most strenuous surgery.

The good news is that a significant chunk of those contracts aren’t lingering too long after Yzerman takes the reins. Kronwall is headed to free agency (or retirement?), while Ericsson, Green, and Daley come off the books after 2019-20. Howard’s extension only lasts through 2019-20, so maybe Yzerman will get trade value out of the veteran where Holland could or would not.

In the short term, and in the case of a few lengthier deals, there’s a significant mess to clean up. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t too dim, however.

Some pain for future gains

I’ve seen at least mild arguments to try to win now, with at least a portion of The Athletic’s Craig Custance piece (sub required) mentioning certain surprise stories in the NHL. And, sure, if the goal were only to make it back to the playoffs (and maybe even win a series), then speeding up the rebuild would make sense.

My guess is that mega-winner Stevie Y wants his best chance at a Stanley Cup, not merely getting the Red Wings to the playoff bubble.

The free agent market dries up pretty quickly when you realize that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky likely wouldn’t find much of a lure to join a rebuilding team in a cold weather city (heck, “Detroiters” even got canceled).

So, instead of chasing mid-tier free agents and settling for mid-tier expectations, Yzerman should use his clout to absorb another rebuild year or two. Doing so would raise the ceiling on this rebuild, for a few reasons:

  • Most directly and obviously, tanking for an even better pick in 2020. If you look at the teams who regularly contend, virtually all of them required high-end talent found early in drafts.
  • Rather than giving valuable playing time to long-in-the-tooth veterans, why not let younger players learn on the job? You might just get an idea of what you have in, say, Michael Rasmussen. Difference-making players are hitting the NHL earlier and earlier, so why not find out which players can actually make a difference?
  • Allow the Red Wings to be a short-term receptacle to clear cap space, with Detroit taking a bribe, whether that means quality draft picks or useful players. See: the Coyotes landing an important scorer in Vinnie Hinostroza in exchange for keeping Marian Hossa‘s contract warm. Yzerman could even call up his buddies in Tampa Bay and offer to absorb the final year of Ryan Callahan‘s contract ($5.8M cap hit). Boy, Anthony Cirelli and/or Mathieu Joseph would look nice with a winged wheel …
  • Going further, getting more cap space means that the Red Wings could position themselves to land better players in trades than they’d likely entice in free agency. Perhaps teams would ready for the expansion draft by sending good, would-be-exposed players to Detroit for something? Maybe the Hurricanes would sour on Dougie Hamilton, or something similar would happen with P.K. Subban, considering his hefty $9M price tag? Could the Red Wings echo former exec Jim Nill in being the next team to say “Why, yes, we’d love to take Tyler Seguin for 25 cents on the dollar, thank you.”

***

This isn’t an easy job, and again, some of this comes down to luck. Still, it’s easy to see why Red Wings fans are excited.

Make no mistake about it, though: Yzerman has his work cut out for him. It could be the fun sort of work that you’d get from tinkering with a car in the garage, and it should be fascinating for those of us who are dorks when it comes to studying how teams are put together.

* – And his staff, including current GM Julien BriseBois. We could have a lengthy, basically impossible-to-resolve discussion about who was most responsible for the great building in Tampa Bay, but it would be pretty fruitless. And, really, wouldn’t all smart GMs want to surround themselves with other smart people?

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.

Keith chuckles at son Brady Tkachuk’s fight with Red Wings’ Ericsson

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For many parents, seeing their kids suffer through pain hurts more than personally experiencing it.

But when it’s sort of losing a fight in a lower-stakes kind of way, maybe you can chuckle? At least, maybe you do when you’re Keith Tkachuk, and you’ve raised two true hockey ragamuffins in Brady Tkachuk and Matthew Tkachuk. Chances are, Keith’s probably more preoccupied with getting his sons not to obnoxiously dangle their mouthpieces out of their mouths.

(And, yeah, maybe to make sure Matthew doesn’t get hosed on his second contract.)

Anyway, Keith was on hand to see – and chuckle at – Brady, the younger of the two NHL Tkachuk kids, getting into a fight with Jonathan Ericsson of the Detroit Red Wings. It’s probably fair to say that Ericsson got the better of Brady, but judge for yourself in the video above this post’s headline, via Sportsnet.

Judging by Hockey Fights’ listings, the family fight counts are now unofficially:

Brady: Three. He’s a rookie, so he’s clearly endearing himself to opponents already.

Matthew: Seven through three seasons.

Keith: 51 fights during 1,201 regular-season and 89 playoff contests.

Considering the temperaments of the Tkachuk brothers and father, chances are we’ll see more scuffles for both Brady and Matthew before they hopefully enjoy retirement as much as Keith seems to be enjoying it. And then there can be aggravating, skilled Tkachuk grandsons.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Red Wings at Oilers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Off the ice, it feels like there’s never a dull moment for the Edmonton Oilers.

Connor McDavid is admonishing anonymous teammates for a perceived lack of buy-in. Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli continues to make … interesting moves, with Mikko Koskinen‘s extension being an eyebrow-raiser, and Ryan Spooner being a tragicomic waiver addition.

It’s almost easy to miss the actual on-ice product of a team fighting for a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Oilers risk heading into the All-Star break on a three-game losing streak, as they fell 5-2 to the Flames on Saturday and 7-4 to the Hurricanes on Sunday.

McDavid and the Oilers face a Red Wings team that’s currently tied for last place in the NHL with 43 standings points. There’s plenty on the line, including Koskinen playing in his first game since signing that extension, so we’ll see how Edmonton responds on Tuesday.

[GAME PREVIEW]

What: Detroit Red Wings at Edmonton Oilers
Where: Rogers Place
When: Tuesday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings-Oilers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinGustav Nyquist
Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAnthony Mantha
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningAndreas Athanasiou
Jacob De La RoseChristoffer EhnJustin Abdelkader
Niklas KronwallMike Green
Dan DeKeyserNick Jensen
Jonathan EricssonFilip Hronek

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

OILERS

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Connor McDavid – Jesse Puljujarvi
Jujhar KhairaLeon DraisaitlAlex Chiasson
Ryan Spooner – Colby CaveKailer Yamamoto
Milan LucicKyle BrodziakZack Kassian
Darnell NurseAdam Larsson
Kris RussellMatt Benning
Brandon ManningAlex Petrovic

Starting goalie: Mikko Koskinen

Ken Daniels (play-by-play) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Rogers Place in Edmonton.

MORE: Oilers bet on Koskinen with three-year extension

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.

WATCH LIVE: Capitals host Red Wings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals with coverage beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Capitals and especially Red Wings probably wouldn’t admit this – at least on the record – but both teams should be pretty happy about where they are right now.

For the defending Stanley Cup champions, it’s a familiar place. Through early ups and downs, the Caps have mostly shook off an expected Stanley Cup hangover, finding away to grab the Metropolitan Division lead. Also familiar: Alex Ovechkin keeps lighting the lamp, as the prolific sniper already has 22 goals (to go with 36 points) in just 29 games.

If the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs began on Tuesday, the Red Wings would be on the outside looking in. Even so, the Red Wings have 32 standings points coming into their game against the Capitals, placing them 10th in the East. That’s not half-bad when you realize that this team is very much in a rebuilding process, whether they like it (and accept it) or not.

[Speaking of which, is coach Jeff Blashill part of that future?]

Sure, the Red Wings will be underdogs in this contest. They’d already carry that role out of context, but that’s especially clear being that they’re wrapping up a back-to-back set after beating the Kings 3-1 on Monday.

Washington would be foolish to take Detroit lightly, however. The Red Wings are 4-2-1 in their last seven games, enjoying solid seasons from Dylan Larkin (29 points) and Gustav Nyquist (27).

Can the Capitals take business at home? Find out on NBCSN.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Detroit Red Wings at Washington Capitals
Where: Capital One Arena
When: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 6:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Red Wings – Capitals stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RED WINGS

Gustav Nyquist — Dylan Larkin — Justin Abdelkader

Thomas VanekFrans NielsenAndreas Athanasiou

Tyler BertuzziLuke GlendeningMichael Rasmussen

Christoffer EhnJacob De La RoseMartin Frk

Niklas KronwallMike Green

Jonathan EricssonNick Jensen

Trevor DaleyDennis Cholowski

Starting goalie: Jonathan Bernier

CAPITALS

Alex Ovechkin — Nicklas BackstromT.J. Oshie

Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovBrett Connolly

Chandler StephensonLars EllerDevante Smith-Pelly

Dmitrij JaskinNic DowdTravis Boyd

Michal KempnyJohn Carlson

Dmitry OrlovMatt Niskanen

Christian DjoosMadison Bowey

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

John Walton (play-by-play) and AJ Mleczko (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.