The curious case of Joe Veleno and the Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings forward Joe Veleno is a pending restricted free agent. We look at what his next contract could look like and ponder if he's still a long-term fit with the organization.
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Joe Veleno is once again a pending restricted free agent, a year after his one-year deal worth $825,000. That one-year 'prove it' bridge deal wasn't agreed upon until late last summer, which raised a few eyebrows at the time, especially with general manager Steve Yzerman's busy off-season.

Speaking about a busy off-season, I expect another one this summer for Yzerman and Co. The Detroit Red Wings have a ton of work to do, including extending pending restricted free agents Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond. I expect Raymond's new deal to be around $8 million annually, and I feel as though there is a chance we will see Seider's come in at around $9 million or more.

Then, Detroit must decide whether it can or is willing to come to terms with veterans Patrick Kane, David Perron, and Shayne Gostisbehere. The Red Wings also need to decide about the future of a cluster of role-forwards such as Daniel Sprong, Austin Czarnik, Christian Fischer, and Joe Veleno.

The Red Wings extended Michael Rasmussen during the year. In late February, the two sides agreed to a four-year contract extension that pays the versatile forward $3.2 million annually.

Veleno, 24, posted career-highs across the board this past season, his third full season with Detroit, notching 12 goals and 16 assists, totaling 28 games while averaging just a hair under 14 minutes of ice per night. The Red Wings drafted Veleno with the No. 30 pick in the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Level Draft. In junior, Veleno was granted exceptional status, allowing him to begin his junior career a year earlier than usual at the age of 15 rather than 16.

Exceptional status isn't common, but it does occur occasionally. When it was granted to Veleno, he joined Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Sean Day as 15-year-olds granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada. Since Veleno was granted exceptional status, Hockey Canada has granted Connor Bedard, Landon DuPont, Michael Misa, and Shane Wright the same honor.

What Detroit Red Wings forward Joe Veleno's next contract may look like.

Joe Veleno finished yet another up-and-down season with the Detroit Red Wings. Although he was able to post career-high offensive numbers, his production continued to be sporadic. Veleno recorded just one goal and one assist over the final 22 games of the season. The speedy forward finished the year a minus-16 with a Corsi For Percentage of 46.0. His Relative Corsi For Percentage settled in at -0.3; despite still being a negative rating, it's his best mark over the past three seasons.

Veleno primarily skated as a bottom-six forward but found himself playing as a top center at different times over the course of the season when Dylan Larkin was injured in December and again in March. Despite finding himself in the doghouse in early April, Veleno was one of the players asked to fill the void following the late season-ending injury to fellow utility forward Michael Rasmussen.

During that game in Tampa Bay, where Rasmussen fell awkwardly, Veleno played only a couple of shifts in the first period and one shift in the second period before seeing an increased role in the third frame, yet still played less than five total minutes over six total shifts.

We're used to lengthy, goalless droughts and pointless stretches when it comes to Veleno, as consistency continues to elude him. I've already documented his struggles this past season; combine that with a year ago, Veleno went pointless for a 20-game stretch from mid-February to the end of March. He also went goalless for 25 consecutive games. This data begs the question, are the Detroit Red Wings willing to sign Veleno to a multi-year extension, or would another bridge deal be the better route?

I believe the Detroit Red Wings would benefit from another one-year 'prove it' deal for Veleno. The protean forward proved valuable as a fourth-line player who was also utilized as a penalty killer. I'd expect the possible one-year deal to cost around $1.8 million.

It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. The Red Wings need to focus on navigating the salary cap for the first time in a long time, and Yzerman may be looking at the bottom of his roster when he begins to pinch pennies. Perhaps Yzerman feels as though players like Marco Kasper, Nate Danielson, or even Austin Czarnik can replace Veleno's production for half the price, and the restricted free agent finds himself in a trade package this summer. The alternative is Veleno returns, and all is well.