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Detroit Red Wings Free Agency Preview

I know. You’re still down about a certain 26-year old who happens to be one of the best pure goal scorers of this generation not making this July 1st a memorable one. You’re still shocked and/or flipping tables about the Oilers trading Taylor Hall for a defenseman that has outscored just five out of 122 defenseman that played 4000 minutes in that span. You’re still trying to trade Shea Weber for P.K. Subban on NHL 16 and keep getting rejected.

It seems like Wednesday’s flurry of activity will steal the thunder (no pun intended) from July 1st’s coverage of the free agent frenzy, but on the Red Wings’ side of things, it just opens up another set of possibilities. When the Red Wings made a deal to shed Pavel Datsyuk‘s contract, it was clear they wanted to spend the money on more than just one player and were looking to add a couple new faces to their group, presumably forwards.

Signing the main target, Steven Stamkos, would’ve brought back memories of the summers of old in the pre-salary cap era and be a signature signing that Ken Holland hasn’t had since Marian Hossa. He would be called on to lead the next troop of young Wings back to glory and be a huge draw in the Pizza Pizza Bowl when the team takes the ice there in ’17-18. Those dreams are now dashed with him staying in Tampa Bay, leaving $18 million in cap space just waiting to be spent. Here’s where the Wings could go on the UFA front to improve the group.

Detroit Red Wings Free Agency Preview

Top Targets

Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders
Age: 32
Previous Contract: Four years, $11 million ($2.75 million AAV)
Last season: 20 goals, 52 points in 81 games played

Nielsen has occupied the second-line center role for the Islanders gradually making his mark in the NHL as  one of 12 players born in Denmark to play the game. Renowned for his playmaking ability, he’s scored 40+ points five consecutive 82-game seasons, with his best seasons coming in more recently in 2013-14 (25 goals, 58 points) and this past season. His 20 power play points (seven goals) were second on the Isles and would’ve tied for second on a Wings unit that was putrid nearly all season long before finishing 13th after a late season surge. He’s been known to be a durable player, suiting up for 75+ games five times in the last six full seasons and all 48 games of the shortened 2013 season.

Defensively, Nielsen won 52.4% of his draws in the defensive zone last season but has never really been a special face-off man in his career (48.1%). His possession numbers are nothing special at 51% CF%, but in tie-game situations, he was second on the team to Kyle Okposo at 53% CF%. The Herning native also logged the second-most penalty killing time among Islanders centers and could aid in that department in Detroit which finished 14th at 81.5%. Blocking 92 shots, he led the Isles forward core. It may be concerning to give a player two years over 30 a multi-year deal when he hasn’t exactly been dynamite offensive player, but at the right price and term, he could be a viable and consistent playmaker in Detroit’s top six helping the team generate more offense from the under performers last season. Rumors have swirled that he turned down a $5.5 million contract from the Isles, suggesting he’ll be an expensive one to reel in.

Kyle Okposo, New York Islanders
Age: 28
Previous contract: Five years, $14 million ($2.8 million AAV)
Last season: 22 goals, 64 points in 79 games played

A former 7th overall pick in 2006, Okposo seems to have come into his own the past three seasons. Occupying the top line with John Tavares, over his last three campaigns he’s played 210 games, potted 67 goals, and totaled 184 points, scoring 20+ goals twice. A regular fixture on the Islanders power play, he led the team in power play points (23) and tied for second with seven goals. He’s had three 20+ goal seasons and four 50+ point seasons, three of the latter coming in the past three years. The former Golden Gopher has had his share of injuries in the past including a shoulder setback that limited him to 38 games in the 2010-11 season and a detached retina that put his career in jeopardy in 2014-15 when he was on pace for his best season scoring 44 points in 46 games.

He responded well this past campaign, suiting up for the most contests he’s played in since 2011-12. Following a terrific year as a 54% CF% player, Okposo’s possession numbers took a step back to his career average in 2015-16 at 50.6%. In head coach Jeff Blashill’s system, he’d likely slot on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and a mixture of Dylan Larkin, or another center that the Wings may snag in free agency. He’ll likely cost upwards of $6 million over 5+ years with his recent success. Voice of caution though: he’s from Saint Paul, and the Wings are trying to replace a retired super star with one of the top players on the market. Four years ago, almost to the day, they were trying to get Zach Parise, who’s from Minneapolis. The Wild are interested. See where I’m going?

Milan Lucic, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Age: 28
Previous contract: Three years, $18 million ($6 million AAV)
Last season: 20 goals, 55 points in 81 games played

Yes, him. Well liked by the Wings organization since the confirmation of his departure for free agency, Lucic brings a power forward that opposing players and fans love to hate. In addition to his 772 penalty minutes, he’s provided a solid scoring threat carrying a 6’3″, 225-pound frame that has been used to throw 240+ hits three consecutive seasons. Coming off of his fourth 20-goal season, the Vancouver native was not much of a power play producer totaling just two goals and eight points, but can provide a net-front presence that hasn’t been by a felt by an opposing forward or goaltender since Tomas Holmstrom.

Detroit has an in-your-face type of player already in Justin Abdelkader, but he’s the only one and does not have a track record of scoring goals and driving possession (click for HERO chart) like Lucic, a former 30-goal guy and four-time 50+ point getter, does. The duo could do some great work in front of the net on both power play units while playing their agitating style, similar to how Brendan Gallagher and newly acquired Andrew Shaw will in Montreal. He may be out of the Wings’ price range, and the Oilers are a heavy favorite. According to numerous insiders, Edmonton really impressed him after giving a tour of Rogers Place, the new rink scheduled to open next season. If Lucic backs out of a reported “deal” with the Oilers, the Wings will inquire, but be cautious on his price tag which will probably exceed $6 million.

Other Options

Andrew Ladd, LW, Winnipeg Jets
Age: 30
Previous contract: Five years, $22 million ($4.4 million AAV)
Last Season: 25 goals, 46 points in 78 games played

It was a tale of two seasons for Ladd in 2015-16. Coming off of the best season of his career (24 goals, 64 points), he had just 10 goals and 27 points in the first 49 games including a 13-game goal drought in January. 15 goals in the final 29 games including eight with the Blackhawks in 19 games after the trade deadline saved his season and his incoming pay day this summer. The former 4th overall pick has scored 20+ goals five consecutive seasons excluding 2013 (18 goals, 46 points in 48-game, lockout-shortened campaign) and has played no less than 78 games every season since 2008-09. He did not perform that well in the playoffs and has not in his entire career however, scoring nine goals and 18 points in 64 career games.

A big power forward at 6’3″, 200 lbs, the Wings would crave his ability to be a top six scorer and net front presence on their power play, scoring ten goals with the man advantage last season. He could also chip in on the penalty kill taking some minutes off of Luke Glendening using his body to win battles, and clear pucks. He has decent speed to burn in forechecking defensemen, scoring two shorthanded goals last season. He’ll likely command a price north of $5.5 million with term, so the team will have to be wary of term with younger players to sign down the road.

Loui Eriksson, RW, Boston Bruins
Age: 30
Previous contract: Six years, $25.5 million ($4.25 million AAV)
Last season: 30 goals, 63 points in 82 games

Eriksson enjoyed a return to form last season with the Bruins, part of the trio of 30-goal scorers the team possessed. Part of the Tyler Seguin deal that Dallas has arguably won, he struggled to provide what was expected of him to Claude Julien‘s group early on in his B’s tenure. He scored just ten goals in 2013-14, his first year with the team after four 25+ goal seasons with the Stars. His point totals of 37 that year and 47 the next were also way below expectations from a run in Dallas which saw him net three consecutive 70+ point seasons from 2009-12. His 30-goal campaign in 2015-16 was his first since 2008-09, just in time to get paid in free agency.

Though Eriksson’s offensive totals did not look up to par in his first two seasons, he was a premier possession player topping out at 58% CF% in the 37-point campaign. He’s averaged a 54% CF% rating in 224 games with the Bruins. Getting the chance to even play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been a rarity for Eriksson, missing out eight of the last nine seasons. In limited time he’s provided modest results, scoring six goals and 14 points in 34 games. Since the start of the 2008-09 season, he’s played 79+ contests six times in the last seven seasons.  He’d be a boon to the Detroit power play, as he scored ten goals and 17 points on the 7th-best unit in the league. The Goteborg, Sweden native will likely command north of $6 million at a 5+ year term.

David Backes, C/RW, St. Louis Blues
Age: 32
Previous contract: Five years, $22.5 million ($4.5 million AAV)
Last Season: 21 goals, 45 points in 79 games played

Captain of the Blues since 2011, Backes has been a very consistent and versatile player in his tenure with St. Louis. Scoring 20+ goals six times, he’s been known to use his frame (6’3″, 221 lbs) to win battles and bring his team success playing a gritty game that the Wings lack in their bottom six. He’s not afraid to stand up for his teammates, unfortunately sometimes going over the line in taking bad penalties passing 100 PIMS five times in his ten-year career. Never a great playoff performer, he came alive this postseason scoring seven goals and 14 points including two overtime winners. On the power play, the Minneapolis native was an effective net-front presence scoring eight goals on a man advantage that clicked at a 21.5% clip, good for 6th in the league. He was also a usual suspect on St. Louis’s penalty kill, a unit that finished third in the NHL (85.1%) to Detroit’s average troop (14th, 81.5%). He also added 62 blocked shots that led the forward group for the Blues. Backes will likely command north of $5 million. On a shorter term deal, the two-time olympian could provide some intensity from a former captain that rubs off on the young Wings.

Troy Brouwer, RW, St. Louis Blues
Age: 30
Previous Contract: Three years, $11 million ($3.6 million AAV)
Last season: 18 goals, 39 points in 82 games played

Another bigger forward on the market (6’3″, 213 lbs), Brouwer would bring grit and experience to the bottom six. Not afraid to stir things up, he can also be a leader, shown no more in his career than last spring with the Blues, leading them to the Conference Final for the first time since 2001 with eight goals and 13 points in 20 playoff games. Previously, he played a solid role in Chicago’s run to a 2010 Stanley Cup Championship and disappointed with the Capitals scoring three times in 36 playoff games.  Durability is a non-issue, playing four straight full 82-game seasons missing one game in the shortened 48-game 2013.

Logging the third-most penalty killing minutes on the team, he finished second on the team in blocked shots with 52. He’ll do the dirty work in the corners to win battles with his strong frame in an effort to get the puck out of the zone. After his playoff, he’ll probably be commanding a sizable raise for a player who’s scored 15+ goals in seven consecutive seasons, topping out at 25 in 2013-14. A depth scorer whom the youngsters can learn from, Brouwer could provide a bit of tenacity that’s been lacking in the Wings’ playoff exits.

Eric Staal, C, New York Rangers
Age: 31
Previous Contract: Seven years, $57.7 million ($8.25 million AAV)
Last Season: 13 goals, 39 points in 83 games played

With Datsyuk’s departure leaving a gaping hole at the center position, could the Wings take a short-term chance on Eric Staal? Coming out of the gates, the Thunder Bay, Ontario native looked to be a surefire hall of famer. He scored 45 goals and 100 points in his second season, and had 30+ goals and 70+ points in five of his first seven campaigns. His last 70+ point year came in 2011-12, and since then, Staal has been a pretty good first line player but not the same dominant force that lit the league on fire. Still, he’s managed to score 62 goals and tally 168 points in 204 games from 2012-15 before completely falling off this past season.

There may be reason to believe that Staal is due some good fortune. In 63 games with the ‘Canes before being traded to the Rangers where he looked very uncomfortable, Staal posted a 57% CF% in head coach Bill Peters‘s system with a 6.5% shot percentage, his worst since his rookie year in 2003-04. Put in a position to succeed in the top six, he could set out to prove himself after a year of being snakebitten. He’ll likely command lesser than what his contract paid him before in the $4 million-$5 million range on a shorter-term deal. He will not be returning to the Hurricanes, so a fresh start could do him good. He hasn’t tasted playoff action since 2009 and has done so only twice in his career, rising to the occasion in 48 career games: 19 goals, 43 points.

Unlikely Reaches

Jason Demers, D, Dallas Stars
Age: 28
Previous Contract: Two years, $6.8 million ($3.4 million AAV)
Last Season: Seven goals, 23 points in 62 games played

If an opening is made for a defenseman to come in via free agency, Demers could be a solid short-term option as a stop-gap for some Red Wing defensemen in the pipeline (Joe Hicketts, Vili Saarijarvi). A former seventh round pick, the former San Jose Shark is not a flashy blue liner by any means. He’s scored 20+ points five of six years he’s been in the league topping out at 34 in 2013-14 with San Jose, regularly logging bottom pairing minutes behind Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg, and Johnny Oduya up front. He’s been a solid possession player through his young career so far, averaging out at a 54% CF% clip in his career and a 55% mark the past two seasons in Dallas.

It would be surprising to see the Wings sign a top-6 defenseman versus trading for a top-4, as they Kyle Quincey go to unrestricted free agency for a reason, wanting some of their younger D to join the club, i.e. Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Robbie Russo, etc. With no signs of Jonathan Ericsson getting bought out, Niklas Kronwall still manning the number one defensive spot, Mike Green, Danny Dekeyser and Alexey Marchenko being all regulars (I’m sad I can’t mention Brendan Smith as a regular due to his various ice time cuts and scratches), there’s not much room.

Brian Campbell, D, Florida Panthers
Age: 37
Previous contract: Eight years, $57,143,000 ($7.1 million AAV)
Last season: six goals, 31 points in 82 games played

Campbell is a former 6th round pick that’s carved out one heck of an NHL career logging 1002 games with four different clubs, winning a Stanley Cup in 2010 as a member of the Blackhawks. He’s potted over ten goals once in his career and has totaled 30+ points eight times. That’s likely where he’d finish the season as the point totalling days of 62 (’07-08), 52 (’08-09), and 53 (’11-12) are likely over. This may be a reach for a shorter-term option on defense, because as stated before, the Wings simply have a logjam at the blueline. If there were to be a trade opening up a spot for a free agent signing, the Strathroy, Ontario native could be a cheap, but unlikely alternative.

Matt Martin, LW, New York Islanders
Age: 27
Previous Contract: Four years, $4 million ($1 million AAV)
Last season: ten goals, 19 points in 80 games played

If the Wings really do want to add a pure agitator, look no further than Martin. Using his 6’3″, 220-pound frame to his advantage, he’s lead the league in hits for five straight seasons, throwing 350+ the last four full 82-game slates. He set a career high in goals this season at ten playing with his usual buds on the fourth line in the forms of Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck. Isles coach Jack Capuano regularly used the trio to inject energy into the rest of the team, and Martin was right in the middle of it whether it be with the gloves, after the whistle, or with the stick scoring a big goal. He won’t help on special teams unless it’s in a pinch, as he’s a staple who knows his singular role. He’s commanding more than $3 million per season, so the Wings probably have him low on the radar as they go for the impact forwards first.


With a high volume of money to spend, it will be very surprising to see Holland sit on it without a vigorous effort to try to acquire a couple of forwards. Unless through trade, I cannot see the Wings trying to acquire any bottom pairing defensemen with their intention to inject youth into the blueline. They’ll likely have their sights set on getting some scoring punch. With one-goal games dominating nearly three quarters of their schedule, the Wings could use some goal scoring to put themselves into a position where they can pull away and ease their way to victory, not having to rely on Petr Mrazek every game. Look for the Wings to do all they can to land at least two impact forwards.

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