As Free Agency Looms, Red Wings Consider Options On Defense


Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

If the playoffs taught us anything, it’s that the Red Wings need some serious upgrades if they want to compete for the cup. All injury excuses aside, the Bruins were just plain better than the Wings in almost every category. Fortunately, the Wings are in a position to make those upgrades. Even after giving some raises to RFAs Riley Sheehan, Tomas Tatar, and Danny DeKeyser, the Wings will have about $10 million in cap space to lure in some free agents. The bad news is, so will a few other teams. Fortunately the Wings won’t need to consider any pending UFAs for next season that may require some cap space. The Red Wings only UFA next year will be Jonas Gustavsson, and while they need to qualify RFAs Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith and Joakim Andersson, they can count on an increase in the salary cap to help with that. So without needing to set aside much of anything for next season, the mantra for this off-season should be spend baby spend!

Spending is what they’ll have to do to attract free agents, which is different from what most Wings fans are used to. This isn’t the good old days where everyone would take a pay cut to come to Detroit and have a real shot at winning the cup. Detroit needs a few upgrades to get back to cup contention, especially on defense. It’s no secret that Detroit is really hoping to add a top-four defenseman, as are at least half the teams in the league. The Wings are going to have to spend big to get a free agent to choose Detroit over say, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Montreal, Anaheim and any other team that might be closer to contending than Detroit is. Any big free agent acquisition is likely to involve a no-trade clause as well (oof!).

What Detroit is specifically looking for is a right-shooting defenseman. This can make a lot of sense or be really dumb, depending on who you ask. Kyle from Winging It In Motown made the point that handiness shouldn’t make as big a difference as Detroit is making it out to be (Follow him on twitter @KyleWIIM. Seriously, he has an awesome dog). As someone who plays defense in a beer league (that’s essentially one step above kids playing pick-up games in the street) I can tell you that shooting right makes me really want to play on the left side because it’s easier to keep the puck in the offensive zone. However, it also makes it tougher to take a shot on net. So handedness makes a difference to a defenseman, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it would make to a pro, as I imagine they have all been playing considerably longer than I have, and are probably significantly better than I am. At the end of the day if that’s what Mike Babcock says he needs, give it to the man!

There’s been a few big names that are being targeted. The biggest one I’m salivating over is the possibility of Matt Niskanen. He’s American, he’s 27, he shoots right, his advanced stats look great, he’s the best thing on the market right now! As a result, everyone and their mother is going to try to sign him. He isn’t big on offense, with just 21 points in 75 games last year, but a defensive defenseman could be just want the Wings need on the top line. Putting him up there with Niklas Kronwall could be great, freeing Jonathan Ericsson up for the second line, giving Detroit some real depth on the back-end (just an idea).

Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Under the new CBA, Detroit can offer any UFA a maximum of seven years in a contract, and the Wings are reportedly willing to offer that to Niskanen. The new CBA also allows me to drink an entire bottle of tequila in under an hour, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Offering a long-term deal like that to almost anyone is a huge risk, but unfortunately Detroit won’t have the luxury of being picky during free agency like in previous seasons. This is the way to attract free agents in the new NHL and it may make things a little awkward. Detroit’s highest paid defenseman is Kronwall, coming in with a cap hit of $4.75 million. Most options for Detroit to improve are going to require significantly more than that, heaving the expectation of being the #1 defenseman upon him. If he falls short of this expectation, this could really end up blowing up in Ken Holland’s face.

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Another option Detroit is looking at is Dan Boyle, who has a plenty to offer. He’s significantly older (38) but also significantly more experienced. He’s spent the last six seasons playing with the San Jose Sharks, so he’s had plenty playoff experience, as well as winning the cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. This veteran experience would be fantastic, especially on a team with players like Smith and DeKeyser and other young defenseman who could take a significant step forward with some mentorship from Boyle. His advanced stats don’t look quite as good as Niskanen but still not bad. I’m trying my best not to get my hopes up about him too much because word has it there’s at least 8 teams interested in Dan Boyle, possibly more. He reportedly wants a two-year deal, which would be easy to be comfortable with were it not for Boyle’s concussion history.

Yesterday two buyouts happened that could be potential free agent acquisitions for Detroit. This includes Ed Jovanovski from Florida, who is left-handed, from Windsor originally, 38 years old, and has not done very well at all these past three years but to be fair, this is Florida we’re talking about. That being said, Detroit could do better, and that last free agent they got that played in Florida hasn’t worked out very well so far. The other possibility is Christian Ehrhoff, who just escaped the purgatory that is the Buffalo Sabers. Tom had a great write-up about the possibilities with Ehrhoff, I’m just not sure Detroit will go after him since he shoots left as well.

There’s several other options available for Detroit but I’ll only touch on two more. There’s been plenty of talk about Detroit being real interested in trading for Tyler Myers. This will most likely be a costly trade. Giving up a first-round pick for Tyler Myers is something I’m comfortable with. Giving up Mantha or Tatar makes me nauseous.  I just thought of giving up a first-round pick and Nyquist for Myers and I threw up in my mouth a little bit. Trades are going to cost a lot and I’m not sure it’ll be worth it for Detroit, especially someone like Myers who would be more of a reclamation project than anything. Further complicating this potential trade is the fact that Buffalo is in Detroit’s division. This would make the asking price even higher because Buffalo will have to play Detroit 4 or 5 times every year for the foreseeable future. If you’re going to make a team in your own division better, you had better be getting a pretty hefty return.

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The other name that’s being floated out there a whole lot is Anton Stralman, who’s coming off a real strong playoff performance with the New York Rangers. Stock is going to be very high on him and I anticipate a team is really going to overpay for his services. He hasn’t played a full season these last two season, and the last thing Detroit needs is more injury concerns. As I mentioned, Stralman is coming off a real strong playoff performance, and there’s been plenty of times that a player has cashed in after tearing it up in the playoffs and come back down to earth after signing a big-money deal. Sean Bergenheim comes to mind, doing great for the Lightning before cashing in with the Panthers. Joel Ward did something similar with the Nashville Predators and turned into an inflated deal with the Capitals (Although he really turned it around this past season with 49 points in 82 games, he wasn’t anywhere close to that two season prior). Stralman reportedly really wants to stay in New York, but as of late those talks haven’t been going too well. Let’s hope the Wings aren’t the ones to grossly overpay for his services, but rather someone else in the East, preferably in the Atlantic Division.

Any move Detroit makes is going to be loaded with risk. Money given to one UFA is money that can’t be given to another, this year and possibly next. Any trade of course is risking not only giving up prospects or players in the process of making Detroit worse, but also making another team better. There’s a lot of years where I wish I could put my fantasy hockey skills to the test and make the decisions of how to improve a team and make trades and sign free agents. With so many potential pitfalls this year, this isn’t one of those years.