Red Wings: Predicting the Contracts of the Remaining RFAs

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - APRIL 15: Jakub Vrana #15 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his second period goal in front of Kevin Lankinen #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks at Little Caesars Arena on April 15, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - APRIL 15: Jakub Vrana #15 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrates his second period goal in front of Kevin Lankinen #32 of the Chicago Blackhawks at Little Caesars Arena on April 15, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

There’s still some work to do for Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman after he inked Tyler Bertuzzi to a two-year deal last Saturday. With both Adam Erne and Jakub Vrana headed to arbitration (though it’s very likely a deal gets done before it sees an arbitrator), Filip Hronek, Givani Smith, and Chase Pearson join the aforementioned two as the final restricted free agents still seeking a contract.

Here’s a look at where the Red Wings cap situation stands as the final contracts are yet to be signed.

Red Wings Cap Numbers

Current Projected Cap Hit (via CapFriendly): $55,722,223

Cap Space Remaining: $25.78M

RFA Contracts Still to Sign: Vrana, Erne, Hronek, Smith, Pearson

Projected Red Wings Opening Night Roster:

OT’s Chris Giles recently wrote about what the opening night roster might look like. Here are his projected lines. Note players in italics are not re-signed:

Forwards (12)




Defensemen (6)




Goalies (2)

Extras (3)

Using Chris’s line combinations, it makes sense for Pearson to have a similar AAV hit around $925k. It won’t affect the salary cap unless he’s brought up to the big club, which is not out of the realm of possibility.

While it seems like Mitchell Stephens will have the fourth line center spot nailed down, Pearson was solid in Grand Rapids and could certainly find himself in Detroit at some point during the season.

Smith could clock in around the same spot, though it seems like he’ll be on the fourth line wing when the season starts, should Yzerman not bring anyone else in via trade or free agency. A one-year deal for $950k might be the best bet.

If we’re following what Yzerman has done over the course of his three years in Detroit, it seems like he would offer Hronek something in the way of a two-year deal. Hronek has been the Red Wings’ most consistent defenseman–he led the team in points, and played all 56 games last season. Now it boils down to a middle ground between both parties.

Yzerman has consistently kept deals short (outside of Mantha, who he then dealt) and next season will be Hronek’s arbitration season. He’ll still only be 24 and as it will be only his fourth completed season, he’ll still have three more seasons under team control.

Does Yzerman ink him to a longer term, at perhaps a higher AAV? Or does he opt to go shorter as he has with everyone but Mantha? I think he might go with a three-year deal, at about $3.75M AAV which gives him a final year of team control to determine where they go next.

As for Erne and Vrana, here’s a tidbit from the Athletic’s Max Bultman:

It seems logical that Erne gets a one-year deal, a “show me” that sees if he can replicate the success he had last season. Erne led all Red Wings goal scorers with 11 (Anthony Mantha also had 11 before he was traded to Washington), and it was certainly a welcome surprise for a team that struggled to get scoring during stretches of the season. Coming into last season with just a hair under $1M at $997K, Erne is owed a raise for his performance. The best bet–a one year deal around $1.75M, which would be that nice raise and incentive to build on last year’s successes.

Vrana is an interesting case since his sample size wasn’t with the Detroit roster for his entire 2020-21 season. In Detroit, he was a point-per-game player which included a spectacular four goal game. In Washington, he had 11 goals and 25 points. 36 points (19-17) in 50 games gives hope that with a slightly better roster, Vrana can replicate the production.

Using Bertuzzias a benchmark by Yzerman, it seems reasonable that Vrana would get a two-year deal that worth around $9M, which would be an AAV of $4.5M. A few points for this one:

  • Bertuzzi, until his injury, showed that he could score goals on a team desperate for scoring and without a lot of talent outside his line to produce it. His salary goes up slightly in the first year of his deal while in the second, he’s given a decent raise of $1.75M. The AAV is just about a million and a quarter more, from $3.5M to $4.75.
  • Some of this has to do with knowing that Bertuzzi is coming off injury, or else it would have been a little more. Vrana, as written above, certainly held his own with Detroit upon his arrival, and will be due a raise as well. Yzerman approaches things cautiously and it seems like a raise that clocks in just below Bertuzzi’s AAV is a reasonable bet.

Putting these new deals into account, this adds another $10.95M to the cap which puts Detroit at a projected cap hit of $66.67M. This gives Detroit about $14.83M to work with. (However, if Hirose as indicated above is on the roster, it would be an extra $500k off the available cap space to put it at $14.33M).

Certainly there are some UFAs still available should Yzerman find value in them. But the roster would be pretty set with these five brought back into the fold.

Don’t Expect a Nielsen Buyout

Maybe it’s tempting fate (watch this happen either later today or tomorrow), but though a buyout was triggered with both Vrana and Bertuzzi opting for arbitration, it still seems unlikely that Yzerman takes Nielsen’s contract off the books. With one season remaining, Nielsen can provide depth or even be sent to Grand Rapids to mentor younger players coming up–like Jonatan Berggren or Lucas Raymond.

Earlier in the year, I thought it made a lot of sense to buy the contract out but it’s appearing less  likely as the season inches closer. Without it, Yzerman doesn’t have any additional dead cap hits next season. Though it’s fair to point out that the dead cap hit would be minimal.

This is likely disappointing to many in the fanbase if it’s the case, but even head coach Jeff Blashill was leaning less on the 37-year-old veteran before injury shelved him for the remainder of the season. Yzerman said that the best players would earn the ice time–which probably won’t include Nielsen on a nightly basis.

Final Thoughts

I know this has been discussed often on Red Wings Twitter regarding offer sheets for the likes of Brady Tkachuk or Elias Pettersson. There’s of course the gentleman’s agreement within the league about offer sheets, but it’s also the point about draft capital. From all of Yzerman’s public commentary about the importance of draft capital, it just doesn’t seem like a move he’d make right now.

Then again, few saw him trading up as many spots as he did to snag Sebastian Cossa and yet there he was, doing just that. Of the two, I’d rather see Pettersson in the Winged Wheel as the other options include teams that have the cap room to sign its respective RFA.

Beyond that, Yzerman would have the financial flexibility to squeeze Vancouver. Though it would cost significant draft capital. he would be gaining a 22-year-old elite forward that would change the complexion of the rebuild instantly. The risk is certainly interesting, even if it would come at a heavy price both monetarily and in terms of draft picks.

These conservative estimates are just that–estimates. But it seems that between wanting to acquire draft capital and having ample cap space to make moves to do so, we’ll see in a matter of weeks what the end result is.

More. Sebastian Cossa's Confidence is on Full Display. light