Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit No Longer a Desired Destination for Free Agents


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Detroit Red Wings were unable to sign the free agent they were hoping they could.

It seems to be a reoccurring trend in Detroit lately and even the general manager running the team doesn’t know why.

To call the first day of free agency a failure wouldn’t accurately describe how Tuesday went for Detroit. The Red Wings swung and missed on every single free agent they were after, and Ken Holland had no answer for the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James when asked why players don’t want to come to Detroit.

We made pitches to a number of defensemen. For a variety of reasons, they opted to go elsewhere. I don’t know why they’re not coming here.

Holland is absolutely right. There are a variety of reasons why a free agent may choose one location over another, and every single free agent Detroit was after found one.

According to The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff, Christian Ehrhoff could have gotten two years for $8 million if he signed with Detroit. However, he told TSN his reasoning for not wanting to play for the Red Wings was “My first priority was to be on a good team.”

Wow, that’s a kick in the teeth.

The strange thing about Ehrhoff is he was reportedly seeking a five-year deal at $5 million per year, but then he goes to Pittsburgh and signs a one-year deal for $4 million. So Ehrhoff lied about what he wanted so he could sign with the team he wanted, or there was some miscommunication along the way. Either way, it’s a pretty egregious mistake.

Dan Boyle signed with the New York Rangers for $3.5 million less than the Wings offered. According to MLive.com’s Ansar Khan, the Red Wings offered Matt Niskanen seven years at $38.5 million. He signed for seven years and $40.25 million with Washington. Are the Capitals — a team with one superstar and no depth around him — really that appealing?

Stephane Robidas went to Toronto. You can’t possibly tell me any NHL player believes Toronto has a better shot of winning than the Red Wings.

According to St. James, all Anton Stralman’s agent said when asked if the Red Wings were on Stralman’s short list was “no.”

Something isn’t right. Detroit used to be the premier destination in the NHL. Come to Detroit, play with great players, work with great management and you have the chance to win a Stanley Cup.

Yahoo Sports’ Nick Cotsonika seems to think Detroit is still the place to be for free agents:

If the Red Wings are such a model organization, why are they striking out on so many free agents? Shouldn’t it be easy to get them to play in Detroit if it’s such a model organization?

Remember in the summer of 2012 when the Red Wings were all-in on Ryan Suter and Zach Parise? Holland and Chris Chelios flew to Suter’s home in Wisconsin to lure him to Detroit, but apparently, Suter’s wife didn’t like the idea of living in Detroit, according to Duff.

So is the problem the city of Detroit?

Maybe to the people who don’t live near the area, they see what is going on in the news and think it’s not an attractive place to live.

However, according St. James, Todd Bertuzzi loves living in the metro area, and Daniel Alfredsson will continue to live in the area with his family even if he retires before the start of the 2014-15 season.

The city itself could be better, but the suburban areas that surround the city are fantastic places to live.

So is it management, coaching, the players, the amount of kids on the team? Something has to be deterring these players from wanting to put on that winged wheel. That same winged wheel that players used to take pay cuts to play for.

Within the past 15 years, players like Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Marian Hossa had offers to play elsewhere for more money but opted to stay in Detroit.

Why?

Because the management of the Red Wings has always been held in high regard around the NHL, and owner Mike Ilitch’s passion for the team is second to none.

It’s true Ilitch’s health hasn’t been the greatest in recent years, but that can’t possibly make Detroit a less-than-ideal place to play hockey.

Maybe it is Holland. Maybe the general manager who drafted Pavel Datsyuk in the sixth round and Henrik Zetterberg in the seventh round doesn’t have the respect of the NHL’s players after some questionable decisions.

Signing Mikael Samulesson, Carlo Colaiacovo and Jordin Tootoo in the same summer raised some eyebrows. Colaiacovo and Tootoo were both bought out and Samuelsson was not offered an extension this season.

You think it can’t get worse than that, but it does.

After Holland struck out on his free agents, he re-signed Kyle Quincey to a two-year $8.5 million contract. Yes, the same Kyle Quincey — who is a bottom-two defenseman on any other team at best — got a $250,000 raise after having a very Kyle Quincey-like season for the Red Wings last year.

There’s no doubt Holland is a wizard when it comes to finding diamonds in the rough at the draft, but he’s made some questionable decisions when it comes to re-signing and trading players and putting out a Cup-contending team.

Maybe it’s coaching.

According to Duff, Babcock is a “demanding, micromanaging taskmaster” who many players do not want in a coach. Coaches and players don’t have to be BFFs, but apparently Babcock’s way of coaching is enough to deter players from wanting to play for him, despite the respect he gets from his peers and the league after he was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.

Players need coaching and guidance when things aren’t going right, but having every little detail of your game under a microscope from a perfectionist of a coach could be a negative for many players.

Maybe it’s Detroit’s lack of success.

The Red Wings have made the playoff for 23 straight years, but they haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since they lost in the Stanley Cup final to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009. Nobody wants to go to a team that is going to flame out in the playoffs year after year.

Players see the youth movement that is coming through Detroit and they think the Red Wings are rebuilding. No unrestricted free agent wants to be part of a rebuilding process. They want to win a Stanley Cup, and they want to do it as soon as possible.

It seems like it’s a combination of these aspects. Detroit is not the premier destination it used to be in the late 1990s and 2000s. The existence of a salary cap has kept the Red Wings from putting out a team of Hall of Famers year after year, but the salary cap isn’t the only thing keeping the team from succeeding.

The city has a negative image, the team isn’t close to contending for a Stanley Cup and the people running the show are out of touch with what drove free agents to Detroit in the first place.

It has to change. Something has to change, or Detroit will be stuck in mediocrity for years to come as it wastes the end of Datsyuk’s and Zetterberg’s careers. The window for these two superstars continuing to produce at a high level is closing. Something has to be done to give this team a chance to compete for a Cup before it closes for good.

Tags: Detroit Red Wings Free Agency

  • Jon

    The problem without a doubt is Babs. Not because he’s too tough or demanding or because of the micromanaging as you call it. All NHL coaches are tough and demanding. It’s because he plays favorites. If he likes you, you’re in the lineup every night even if you don’t produce. If he doesn’t like you, you won’t be playing. How many games in a row did he play Cleary last year despite the fact Cleary was doing nothing simply because Babs is Cleary’s self proclaimed “number one fan”? And how many times after a win with Tootoo in the lineup did Babbies make Tootoo a healthy scratch the next game despite the fact Bab’s says he “never changes the lineup after a win”, and despite the fact that Tootoo being in the lineup helped Detroit win the said game….simply because he for some reason did not like Tootoo? And what about Legwand? The little time he was on the team he went from the 1st line down to the 2nd, then the 3rd, and finally the fourth line…for NO good reason other than Ms. Babs for some reason did not like him. And in case everyone has forgot, the “rumor” is that Detroit is talking with Cleary about a contract for the 14-15 season. And you can be sure that is because Bab’s doesn’t want the bromance he and Cleary have to end. I’m guessing they share the same political views or something. And while I am not saying the Wings should have kept Mike Commodore, let’s not forget that he personally said Babs plays favorites and that Babs is basically an a$$. If you were a free agent and you had the choice between playing for a coach who gives you the ice time you deserve, or a coach that gives you iced time based on where you rank on his “favorites” list, which coach would you choose to play for? The Wings should have fired Babs and brought in Trotz when they had the chance. They should still fire Babs and promote Blashill or something. Babs is awful.

  • Lyle G. LePage

    I have to agree with Jon regarding Babcock. But, Holland is the guy who actually signs these guys(Cleary) to these contracts. Were I a FA I would have serious qualms about going to a team of “over the hill ” players like Alfie. Yet Holland continues to sign this type of player. This team has been back-sliding ever since Scotty left the reigns to Holland.

  • Dennis

    As a long time Red Wing fan, I’m saddened that so many free agents want no part of playing for Detroit,especially when we know it’s not about the money. Holland has made some horrid trades and signings over the last few years the latest being resigning Qunisey .The Cleary fiasco rests with Babcock. What I really fear now is that Holland will sell the farm in pursuit of an over hyped right hand shot (other G.M’s know he’s getting desperate)
    Maybe it’s time ownership stepped in and put extending Babcock on hold followed by phone calls to Stevie Y. And /or Jim Nill to inquire if they have the stomach to come back to clean up the mess.
    As far as Holland and the draft, I credit the good work to some good scouting not so much Holland.
    The organization has some serious soul searching to do and they better get it right because the quick way out usually leads back in.
    If it’s any consolation, no-one seems to want to play in Toronto either!!!!!

    • Tom Mitsos

      Sure, scouting is a huge part of finding those guys no one else wants. But ultimately, Holland has the final say on which guys are drafted. That’s why I give him the bulk of the credit.