The Detroit Red Wings desperately need to find some consistent secondary scoring this offseason; I know it sounds like a broken record, but it’s true. In fact, Detroit really needs to find a top-tier scorer this summer to compliment captain Dylan Larkin who is coming off a career year, but that will likely need to come via trade and won’t likely be found in free agency.
Like every summer, there are a few very intriguing options on the open market but at what cost? Former Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland had repeatedly said, “There are not any team-friendly deals to be found in free agency.” He’s right. Players hitting the open market are looking to earn top dollar for their skill set or tier of player. The only bargain seems to come when a veteran player is looking to latch onto a Stanley Cup contender or a hometown discount. In contrast, the leagues’ bottom feeders are often required to overpay in order to land a top-tier player in free agency.
There are a few players that are set to become free agents this summer that are intriguing. Still, not many fit the mold of being an elite top-line goal scorer, but general manager Steve Yzerman will have an opportunity to bolster Detroit’s depth if he so chooses. Vladimir Tarasenko is an exciting name to monitor.
The veteran winger is 31 years old with a lot of tread left on the tires but also has some injury concerns. Tarasenko is a six-time 30-plus goal scorer and has topped out at 40 once in his career. The crafty winger also won a Stanley Cup with the Blues in the 2018-19 season, recording 11 goals and 17 points over 26 playoff games. Although Tarasenko was moved ahead of the trade deadline to the New York Rangers, the pending free agent has plenty of ties to the Detroit Red Wings. People don’t joke about Detroit, calling them the Detroit Blues for nothing. The Red Wings have a plethora of former Blues on their roster, including David Perron, Ville Husso, and Jake Walman.
A few other names to watch are Alex Killorn, Max Domi, Michael Bunting, and, believe it or not, Tyler Bertuzzi this summer. Ironically, Bertuzzi is precisely the type of player Yzerman may be looking for to fill a support role within the group of top-six forwards. Patrick Kane is a name some Red Wings fans are hoping to see, and one others will loathe. I expect Kane will enjoy his time in the Big Apple under the bright New York lights and will be difficult to lure away.
If the Rangers are only able to secure one of Tarasenko or Kane, it will be Kane. Another name to watch is former Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. It was recently announced that the Blackhawks wouldn’t be resigning their long-time captain, and quite frankly, there is no certainty that Toews will be able or interested in continuing to play hockey after battling long-Covid over the past couple of seasons. Toews has ties to Yzerman dating back to when Yzerman had been the general manager and executive director of Team Canada. Toews, 35, also modeled his game to Yzerman. At this juncture of his career, Toews is nothing more than a third line reliable two-way center that would be helpful in a leadership role. The problem; the Detroit Red Wings already have that exact role locked up by Andrew Copp. Detroit desperately needs a productive second-line center, and Toews isn’t that anymore.
The Detroit Red Wings should avoid signing Michael Bunting in free agency.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are expected to be entering salary cap hell with star forwards Auston Matthews and Michael Nylander both set to become free agents following next season. Both are due a significant raise, and unless general manager Kyle Dubas can make some significant roster changes, one might be on the move. All signs point to Nylander, as Matthews, one of the top players in the league, will be a priority.
With the cap situation bleak in Toronto, that makes some role players expendable, one likely being Michael Bunting. Bunting is a productive support player who has taken Zach Hyman’s spot in the Leafs’ lineup for the second straight season after the former Michigan Wolverine signed in Edmonton as a free agent two summers ago. Bunting is coming off a 23-goal, 49-point campaign for the Maple Leafs, which followed a 23-goal, 63-point season a year ago.
Bunting isn’t only a capable depth scorer; he’s an agitator. Agitator is putting it mildly. The 27-year-old is every definition of the word but often pushes it way too far. Let’s not forget his despicable act against the Detroit Red Wings late in the season, where it appeared Bunting spit at rookie defenseman Simon Edvinsson. There are plenty of instances where Bunting’s Brad Marchand-like antics have actually cost the Leafs more than they’ve energized them. Most recently, Bunting was suspended for three playoff games for a headshot to Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak in game one of the first round.
Bunting also has a reputation for emphatically overexaggerating contact in hopes of drawing a penalty. The NHL officials have quickly caught on after reviewing their game film, and more times than not, Bunting will not be given the benefit of the doubt. That also hurts the Leafs because when Bunting should have drawn a penalty, the officials won’t always call it unless it is obvious. Officials also don’t appreciate being screamed at and shown up by the same player time and time again.
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The Detroit Red Wings are in the market for a physical, gritty forward but need to shy away from Bunting. He seems to do more harm than good.