As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The first batch of Offseason Primers will feature Atlantic Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Detroit Red Wings offseason.
Detroit Red Wings Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The Red Wings have a lot of pending roster turnover, which isn’t a terrible thing when you finish dead last in the league. This offseason sees a few veteran ‘dead-weight’ contracts expire, which will be extremely beneficial to the Red Wings as they transition towards fielding a more youthful squad. However, they do have some skilled younger players, and some of those names need new deals this summer as well.
In terms of those unrestricted veterans, forwards Sam Gagner, Kyle Brodziak, Turner Elson, Matt Puempel, and Chris Terry all hit the open market in October. For defencemen, the list reads Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Cody Goloubef. Goalie Jimmy Howard‘s contract is up as well, and Johan Franzen‘s LTIR contract finally expires this summer as well.
The RFA situation is much more interesting in Detroit. A lot of names are eligible for arbitration, including Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Adam Erne, Madison Bowey, Robby Fabbri, Brendan Perlini, Christoffer Ehn, Dominic Turgeon, and Kyle Wood. RFAs not eligible for arbitration include Dmytro Timashov, Taro Hirose, and Evgeny Svechnikov.
Salary Cap Outlook
Detroit has an insane amount of cap space entering this summer, which is to be expected with the amount of expiring contracts. Their CapFriendly page lists their 2020–21 projected cap space at roughly $35.24 million. As the Red Wings aren’t looking to contend next season, don’t expect them to spend to the limit as they focus on their rebuild. However, that space will definitely be needed to retain a couple of young core pieces.
The British-born Perlini was once an extremely highly touted prospect, picked by the Arizona Coyotes at 12th overall in 2014. After a solid first few seasons in the NHL, his stock has dropped off significantly. After three consecutive 20-point seasons, Perlini’s game dipped heavily this year. In 39 games with Detroit, Perlini only tallied one goal and three assists. With that kind of poor play, it’s certainly unlikely Detroit qualifies him. His future in the NHL as a whole remains to be seen.
After being shipped to the Red Wings at the deadline from the Edmonton Oilers in the Andreas Athanasiou trade, it was never likely that Gagner was going to stay in Detroit long term. Now a veteran bottom-six utility piece, Gagner only tallied one goal in six games with Detroit. Ever since the season paused, it’s been rumoured that Gagner would return to Edmonton this offseason for family reasons and personal preference. That’s still the most likely outcome.
At 36 years old, Jimmy Howard may have very well played himself out of the NHL. He finished the season with an abhorrent 2-23-2 record while surrendering the starting job to Jonathan Bernier. A save percentage of .882 and a goals-against-average of 4.20 didn’t help Howard’s matters. Once a capable long-term starter in the league, it looks like age has snuck up on Howard all-too-quickly. He’s likely done in Detroit if not the entire NHL.
At 25 years old, Mantha has made it apparent that he’ll be a long-term piece in the Red Wings organization. Despite injury problems this past year, Mantha still managed to tally 38 points in only 43 games, the best points-per-game pace of his career. Injuries have been a factor for him, though. His only full season was the 2017–18 campaign in which he played 80 games. He hasn’t played more than 70 games in any other season. For that reason, the Red Wings may hesitate to invest long-term. However, they realize Mantha deserves to be paid, so a longer-term bridge deal is a likely scenario. Evolving-Hockey’s (EH) contract projection tool (subscription required) pegs Mantha’s new deal at a four-year term with an AAV of around $6.54 million. It’s a reasonable cap hit for Detroit, who would still have $28.7 million left to spend.
Known for one of the best open-teeth smiles in hockey, the nephew of Todd Bertuzzi has burst onto the scene in Detroit as well. The 24-year-old is one game away from 200 in his career and formed a not-half-bad top line with Mantha and Dylan Larkin this season. While getting played north of 19 minutes a night against top competition, Bertuzzi still managed 48 points in 71 games. He’ll also be a longer-term staple in Detroit, though ideally as a middle-six piece. EH projects a similar deal to Mantha’s, also a four-year term, but slightly less cash with a $5.3 million average annual value. It’s about the right price for a quality middle-six forward, and if Bertuzzi continues to develop, it could be a discount in a couple of years. After locking up their two most important pieces, Detroit still has $23.4 million in cap space to play with.
After a few promising seasons that were decimated by injury (and a completely missed season in 2017–18), Fabbri found his groove in Detroit this year. Formerly of the St. Louis Blues, Fabbri had multiple significant knee issues that have hampered his young career. An early-season trade to Hockeytown made Fabbri known as a presence in the Detroit lineup, posting 31 points in 52 games. Similar in age to Bertuzzi and Mantha, Fabbri projects to be a speedy, skilled middle-six piece for the Red Wings for years to come.
It’s highly unlikely that Fabbri will receive a long-term deal due to his significant injury history. That’s why EH projects his deal to be a two-year pact for around $2.47 million a season. It’s a marginal increase from his current $900,000 salary, and Fabbri will take the bridge deal as he tries to prove his status in the NHL. It’s of little cap penalty to Detroit, who would still have $20.93 million of cap room to play with.
Any team, good or bad, needs role-players on defence. Bowey serves that purpose, and the 25-year-old might still have some room to grow, too. Bowey had 17 points in 53 games this year, his best offensive season to date. While he’ll never be anything extraordinary in Detroit, it’s worth keeping him around on a low-cost deal while the Wings try and sort their roster out. EH projects a two-year, $1.81 million AAV deal. It’s cheap and leaves Detroit with $19.12 million in space.
Potential Free Agent Additions
With $19.12 million in cap space, Detroit has some room to add in crucial positions without spending to the cap. The team needs significant help at all positions, with goaltending being the largest issue as Bernier is left as the only NHL-capable goalie under contract. With that kind of space, Detroit has around $4 to 7 million to spend on an honest-to-goodness starter or tandem partner for Bernier. If general manager Steve Yzerman opts for the tandem route, names like Anton Khudobin and Cam Talbot could fit well in Detroit. If he wants a starter, Robin Lehner, Jacob Markstrom, and Braden Holtby are all names he could pursue if they hit the open market.
Detroit, picking fourth overall this year, is also likely going to get an immediate-impact type player in the draft. Names like Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, and Jamie Drysdale would all probably be available at that spot and could step in to fill a void in Detroit immediately. Detroit’s first-round choice is going to be an important decision.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Atlantic Division:
Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images