Detroit Red Wings Player Rankings: Free Agent Signings at the All-Star Break

Jan 16, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Thomas Vanek (62) is one of three free agents signed this past off-season. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 16, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Thomas Vanek (62) is one of three free agents signed this past off-season. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Red Wings added three players last off-season to varying degrees of fanfare. With half a season in the books, how have those moves panned out?

The NHL’s All Stars will descend upon Los Angeles this week, meaning the season is halfway done. For the Detroit Red Wings, the season has not gone as well as they would have hoped. National media never fails to mention the longstanding playoff streak, which is increasingly in jeopardy. By now, it will probably take a miraculous 46 to 48 points just to hope for a wild card spot.

Instead of reliving the illustrious history of this team, let’s look at some recent additions to the roster. Last July, the Wings signed the following three players via free agency, some more popular than others. They made other moves as well, of course, but these three were the most notable.

Earlier this season, I wrote about Steve Ott and defended his signing. I stand by this assessment, considering Ott has played pretty much as expected. Points-wise, he is trending downward with only two goals and two assists. This, however, is not incredibly surprising as Ott is 34 years old, and his prime has been dipping since 2013. The Wings brought in Ott to agitate, first and foremost, and he has done just that. He trails only Luke Glendening for most hits delivered on the year. But he was the least popular free agent signing and remains third on this list by hovering near his expectations.

Notable Stat: 56 PIM. Ott is a scrapper, and this season has been no exception. He has accumulated over 1500 career penalty minutes, and only Jon Ericsson has more this season. Whenever there is a scuffle, Ott usually finds his way into the middle. It’s nice to have a player ready to exchange hits for his team.

In July, the Red Wings signed one of the highest profile free agents on the market in Frans Nielsen. In ten seasons, Nielsen was one of the most popular players for the New York Islanders. Seriously, a quick Internet search reveals just how many–players and fans alike–appreciated having Nielsen around. That is a welcome addition to Detroit, indeed.

In fact, Frans Nielsen has exceeded expectations in most facets of his play. A selective shooter, Nielsen scores on almost 11% of the shots he takes, a level above his career average. So far, he has notched the highest face-off percentage of his career at 54%. Following Pavel Datsyuk’s departure, face-off wins are something the Wings desperately needed. Nielsen ranks second behind Henrik Zetterberg in total face-offs won.

Notable Stat: 43 career shootout goals. Nielsen is an astounding 52% in shootouts (only Washington’s T.J. Oshie has a higher percentage in about as many opportunities). Although Neilsen is below average this season (only 2 for 5), the Wings have improved greatly in the final frame. They are 6-0 this season, compared to 7-15 in the last two seasons combined.

If Frans Nielsen is not the best free agent signing of the summer of 2016, it is for two reasons. 1) he had high expectations coming into this season, and 2) because of the exceptional quality of the next player.

Far and away, Thomas Vanek is the most effective free agent signing of the Detroit Red Wings 2016-17 season. In almost every offensive statistic, Vanek is at or near the top. Tied with Dylan Larkin with 12 goals; second to Zetterberg with 31 points; second with 19 assists. Don’t forget: he has done this despite playing ten fewer games than the Larkin or Zetterberg. Simply put, Thomas Vanek has brought a decade of experience to the Wings, and it is a joy to watch.

As mentioned earlier, shootouts have given the Red Wings some problems in the last several seasons. Well, speaking of shootouts, Vanek is a perfect 4 for 4 this season, certainly contributing to that 6-0 record. He and Larkin are about the only bright spots in the league’s worst power play unit with three goals apiece.

The bad news? Red Wings fans may not see Vanek in a Red Wings uniform for long; he will be an unrestricted free agent next season.

Notable Stat: 11 games. Vanek missed 11 games due to a hip injury back in November. He went down in a crucial stretch during which the Wings had won five straight. Over those 11 games, the Wings collected seven total points (3-7-1). Did Vanek’s absence cause this slump or was it simply a part of the season’s inevitable deterioration? Regardless, the Detroit Red Wings are better with Thomas Vanek on the ice.