It’s that time of year again, where we endlessly discuss what next season’s Detroit Red Wings will look like when they take the ice as a member of the Eastern Conference. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), we’re looking at a lot of the same bodies in the lineup next season, without a whole lot of room for improvement from the outside.
The free agent pool this summer is pretty bleak, so don’t expect a monumental signing (you know, like last year with
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter Shane Doan and Matt Carle Jordin Tootoo and Carlo Colaiacovo). Given how many players are already signed for next season, it seems more likely that the Wings execute a 2-for-1 (or 3-for-1, or 4-for-2, or… you get the point) deal with another team looking to shed salary and/or contracts. Also on the radar are the players that are certain to be bought out by their teams in the days following the Stanley Cup is awarded.
The salary cap will be lowered to $64.3 million, which is about $6M less than the operating cap of this past season. The Red Wings were nowhere near the cap ceiling, so they have substantial wiggle room to do whatever it is they’re going to do.
All of the following information is available on our CHART, which will be updated as quickly as I can get to the keyboard when something noteworthy happens. But in order to understand where we’re at before moving into free agency (which begins July 5th this year), take a look at the current breakdown of roster spots and dollars spent.
The tandem that the Red Wings use in 2013-14 will be identical to the one they used this past season. Jimmy Howard will enter his new six-year, big-money deal. Jonas Gustavsson, assuming he stays healthy, will be the backup for one more season. Petr Mrazek, who’s had a hell of a first pro season in Grand Rapids, will very likely be the top call-up once again, and I would be a little bit surprised if he isn’t the Wings’ backup in ’14-15. If the team deems him less-than-ready at that point, backup netminders are a dime a dozen on the open market. But for one more season, expect Howard-Gustavsson as running mates.
35 JIMMY HOWARD (6 years remaining) :: $5.292M cap hit
50 JONAS GUSTAVSSON (1 year remaining) :: $1.5M
Total Cap Committed to Goaltenders :: $6,791,667 [10.6% of cap]
There might be a bit of a logjam on the blueline next season, which the team may very well welcome because of the injury troubles they’ve seemed to have over the past few seasons. But, if we’re assuming all of the players are healthy all season (which is impossible), we’re looking at at a few extra bodies. One may very well be a candidate to be traded… maybe even bought out if the team opts to use one or both of the compliance buyouts this summer.
Looking from a depth perspective, we can deduce pretty much exactly what our blueline will look like. Alternate captain Niklas Kronwall and his partner Jonathan Ericsson aren’t going anywhere. Danny DeKeyser will be fully healed from a broken thumb and should retake his place among the permanent top four. Brian Lashoff is on a one-way contract so he’ll have to be in Detroit or risk being subject to waivers (and someone will absolutely claim him). Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl are restricted free agents, and you can bet your hat that they’ll be re-signed.
That leaves Carlo Colaiacovo, who has one year remaining on his deal and proved that he’s a reliable (also: cheap-ish) option for the 6th/7th D slot; and Kyle Quincey, who started playing well during the playoffs, and who the Wings paid a heavy cost for (both in dollars and trade value). That makes 8. The Wings have been known to carry 8 defensemen in the past, but that means they can carry fewer forwards (roster limit is 23), and you’ll see that it’s not LESS crowded up there in just a moment.
Wave goodbye to Ian White, the only unrestricted defenseman in the group — and considering he didn’t play in the playoffs, the writing should be on the wall for him, as he’ll move onto a sixth team since 2010. Read that again. SIXTH team since 2010.
02 BRENDAN SMITH (restricted)
04 JAKUB KINDL (restricted)
23 BRIAN LASHOFF (3 years remaining, then restricted) :: $725k
27 KYLE QUINCEY (1 year remaining) :: $3.775M
28 CARLO COLAIACOVO (1 year remaining) :: $2.5M
52 JONATHAN ERICSSON (1 year remaining) :: $3.25M
55 NIKLAS KRONWALL (6 years remaining) :: $4.75M
65 DANNY DEKEYSER (1 year remaining, then restricted) :: $1.35M
Total Cap Committed to Defensemen :: $16,350,000 [25.4% of cap] with two contracts to be signed.
Things don’t get a lot easier on the forward lines, where — depending on how many defensemen the Wings carry — 13 or 14 players will be kept. I’m going to be making a few assumptions when it comes to these guys because A) this will be the THIRD year that Gustav Nyquist deserves to be on the NHL roster, B) Tomas Tatar was annoyed he wasn’t given a chance THIS year and proved that the NHL is where he belongs when he was given a call-up, and C) Joakim Andersson was told to start looking for a place to live in Detroit. I wouldn’t expect any of those guys back in Grand Rapids — particularly with how Nyquist and Andersson played in the playoffs with Damien Brunner (who, uh oh, is an unrestricted free agent).
Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Franzen are your big-name guys who are locked in. Helm, Abdelkader, Eaves, and Emmerton are your homegrown role-players. Samuelsson and Bertuzzi are your oft-injured old guys who may shatter at training camp. Add in Jordin Tootoo, Nyquist, Andersson, and Tatar and you’re already at 13. And that doesn’t include any incoming free agents, or space to re-sign your own. Something’s going to have to give.
Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary, and Drew Miller are the NHL roster players who may not play for the Wings again. The biggest loss in that bunch would, arguably, be Drew Miller, who was a penalty killing machine, and a worthy contributor from the fourth line. Damien Brunner, who bounced around from the top line to the press box before coming to rest on a stellar third line, will hopefully be re-signed and remain a Red Wing, but roster spots are becoming a problem.
08 JUSTIN ABDELKADER (3 years remaining) :: $1.8M
13 PAVEL DATSYUK (1 year remaining) :: $6.7M
14 GUSTAV NYQUIST (restricted)
17 PATRICK EAVES (1 year reamining) :: $1.2M
21 TOMAS TATAR (1 year remaining, then restricted) :: $840k
22 JORDIN TOOTOO (2 years remaining) :: $1.9M
25 CORY EMMERTON (1 year remaining) :: $533k
37 MIKAEL SAMUELSSON (1 year remaining) :: $3M
43 DARREN HELM (3 years remaining) :: $2.125M
44 TODD BERTUZZI (1 year remaining) :: $2.075M
40 HENRIK ZETTERBERG (8 years remaining) :: $6.083M
63 JOAKIM ANDERSSON (restricted)
93 JOHAN FRANZEN (7 years remaining) :: $3.955M
Total Cap Committed to Forwards :: $30,211,211 [47% of cap] with at least two contracts to be signed.
There are 19 players under contract for a total of $53,325,878. That leaves almost $11 million in cap space to fill out the roster.
If you were a good math student, you’ll see that after the Wings re-sign their restricted free agents (Kindl, Smith, Nyquist, and Andersson), we’re already at 23 with absolutely no new blood and zero of the unrestricted free agents retained. That’s… a problem. If this roster couldn’t win this season, it likely won’t win next season, and Ken Holland knows that as well as anyone else does.
Which brings us to…
Per the new CBA, each team will be allowed two cap-compliance buyouts to help deal with the dramatic drop in salary cap. Any player bought out, including those on 35+ contracts (Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson) will not count against the cap — even if the team is forced to pay the terms of the buyout in dollars.
Speaking of those two, they may very well be candidates for buyouts. Neither played (much) in the playoffs — even when healthy. It seems that their status on the depth chart is murky at best, and although one-year deals aren’t the first candidates for buyouts, you can’t argue that their role on the team has become diminished to the point of redundancy (at best).
Ken Holland has already said that they will not be buying out Johan Franzen, who would be a good candidate from a cap and length standpoint, but left open the option to use them on someone. They can be used either this summer or next — two total, not two each — so it’s something that has to enter the equation.
Other potential candidates for buyout include Carlo Colaiacovo (but, again, he’s a valuable depth defenseman if he stays healthy), Jonas Gustavsson (but, again, he’d have to be replaced with a goaltender anyway), and Kyle Quincey (who, given the investment the team has made in him, seems more likely to be traded if he’s not in the team’s long-term plans).
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
By now you’ve noticed that we haven’t factored in any of the unrestricted free agents. It’s not that the team doesn’t plan to bring them back, or that they’re going to be moving on, but unless something ELSE listed above happens first, there’s literally no place for them on the roster. I do think that some of these guys will be inked, but that means someone else above has to go — one way or another.
11 DAN CLEARY (made $2.8M this season)
I think it’s obvious that Cleary wants to return, and that the team is saying all of the right things when it comes to the public. I can’t imagine, given the roster situation that we’re in, that he’s back. Guys like him are always available — this year, replacing him will come from within. Likelihood of return: 20%
18 IAN WHITE ($2.875)
Given his statements, and the ones made by the team, he’s as good as gone. Considering how little he played down the stretch, he’ll welcome the change, and the Wings will welcome the roster space. Likelihood of return: 0.67%
20 DREW MILLER ($837k)
I think he’s a good bet to be re-signed. He’ll be affordable, and his tenacity on the fourth line can’t be replaced by anyone better coming through the pipe, or on the market. Likelihood of return: 80%
24 DAMIEN BRUNNER ($1.2M)
All signs seem to indicate that a return is in everyone’s best interest. In order to accommodate his return, roster spots will have to be cleared one way or another. Another interesting thing to watch is his price tag. How do you properly gauge his value, given the shortened season and being that he’s still becoming used to North American hockey, etc? Likelihood of return: 75%
39 JAN MURSAK ($550k)
Already gone, has signed in the KHL. Likelihood of return: 0%
51 VALTTERI FILPPULA ($3M)
We all know the story here. He’s seeking a lot more money ($5M) than the Wings are willing to pay him. In a very thin free agent market, someone will absolutely pay him what he’s seeking, and I think we’ve seen the last of Flip in Motown. One of my favorites, so I’ll be sad to see him go, but he didn’t play in a way that demanded his return. Likelihood of return: 25%
FRANCIS PARE ($527k)
I’d bet dollars to donuts that he will not be re-signed. There are plenty of players making the jump to the AHL and he hasn’t so much as sniffed a call-up. Likelihood of return: 1%
JORDAN PEARCE ($525k)
The poor kid couldn’t even stick in Grand Rapids, so it’s probably best that he moves on to med school now. Even if he continues playing hockey, I can just about guarantee that he won’t be signed by the Detroit Red Wings directly. Likelihood of return: 1%
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
02 BRENDAN SMITH ($875k) — will be signed, no doubt.
04 JAKUB KINDL ($883k) — see directly above
14 GUSTAV NYQUIST ($762k) — again
63 JOAKIM ANDERSSON ($875k) — and once more
THOMAS MCCOLLUM ($817k) — with Mrazek playing how he is, and Jared Coreau joining the Griffins next season, Thomas McCollum’s time as a Red Wing may have come to an end. If they decided to keep him within the organization, they can have the Griffins (or Walleye, I suppose) sign him directly without burning a contract. More on that in a minute.
BRENT RAEDEKE ($523k) — ditto
Independent of the 23 players you’re allowed to carry on an active roster, each team is only allowed 50 total contracts. Players signed and assigned to AHL affiliates, or playing in Europe, count against this number. Players signed but playing junior hockey DO NOT, but at the moment, everyone the Wings have inked will be playing in the NHL, the AHL, or in Europe next season.
Goaltenders (4) — Howard, Gustavsson, Mrazek, Coreau
Defensemen (15) — Kronwall, Ericsson, Quincey, Colaiacovo, DeKeyser, Lashoff, Ouellet, Sproul, Jensen, Almquist, Nedomlel, Fournier, Nicastro, Marchenko, Backman.
Forwards (23) — Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Samuelsson, Helm, Bertuzzi, Tootoo, Abdelkader, Eaves, Tatar, Emmerton, Sheahan, Jurco, Callahan, Ferraro, Jarnkrok, Pulkkinen, Frk, Tvrdon, Aubry, Coetzee, Parkes, Nestrasil.
That’s a total of 42 contracts, leaving 8 slots. We’ve already discussed the 4 restricted free agents who will be re-signed. Meaning 4 spots available.
Bertuzzi – Datsyuk – Abdelkader
Franzen – Zetterberg – (Nyquist)
Tatar – Helm – Samuelsson
Tootoo – Emmerton – Eaves
Kronwall – Ericsson
DeKeyser – Quincey
(Kindl) – (Smith)
Lashoff – Colaiacovo