Detroit Red Wings Free Agent Extravaganza!


**UPDATE: Yup. I already forgot Scuttles.**

It’s been a busy twenty-four hours for TPL. And no, I don’t mean (just) those cryptic Tweets from the site’s new Twitter account, as exciting as those are. Or the booking of flights and hotels for L.A. since I received confirmation yesterday that my application for media credentials has been accepted and I’ll be covering the Entry Draft for you fine folks (speaking of which, send me your questions for Taylor and Tyler — so far all I’ve got is “So, Tyler, wouldn’t it suck being a Maple Leaf?”).

But there’s been plenty of free agent news in the Red Wings world. We lost one, we locked one up, and there’s plenty of innuendo flying around for the rest.

Mattias Ritola was re-signed to an interesting deal. It’s a three-year pact, the first of which is two-way (meaning that if he clears waivers heading down to the AHL, he won’t need to clear re-entry waivers to come up) before becoming one-way. The cap hit over the length of the deal is an affordable $516,667. Will he clear waivers after training camp (should he fail to make the team outright)? We might find out, but having him locked up proves two things: 1) the Wings are committed to making it work somewhere down the line as he’s guaranteed a one-way deal starting in ’11-12 and 2) Ritola’s willing to at least accept another year of the American Hockey League instead of bolting for Eurodollars (also known as Euros).

Which brings us to Daniel Larsson. The Griffins starting goaltender – who was a restricted free agent – has bolted for Sweden, signing a two-year deal with HV-71 (the same team that Stefan Liv came from and returned to), meaning he won’t be back with the Wings organization next season. It’s a little discouraging because all accounts of his progress from training camp to minor league hockey showed that he had promise, but it’s clear (now that Jimmy Howard has come into his own) that with Thomas McCollum on the radar, Larsson must have been the odd man out. It also means that the Wings will need to shop for a goaltender – unless they’re comfortable with a tandem of second year pros on the farm: McCollum and former Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce.

Back to the big club, there are a dozen NHL free agents to deal with. A blurb about each will follow, ordered in likelihood of return.

Darren Helm [C, $599k] will be back. Obviously, it’s not official in the “pen has been put to paper” sense, but despite his somewhat invisible playoff run, he’s got that Red Wing for Life feel, a Paul Bunyan hard-worker in a blue collar town kinda guy. I think he can be convinced that his price point isn’t drastically higher than the $600,000 he didn’t quite make this past season, especially given his role as a grinder and/or fourth line checking forward. If I had to put a price prediction on it, I’d say three years, $2.4M for a cap hit of $800,000. It’s a 33% raise, which is very reasonable for a player of his hierarchical stature.

Justin Abdelkader [C, $850k] is this year’s Darren Helm. Good enough to be on the roster all season, but forced to toil in Grand Rapids because of roster or cap space. When the playoffs came ’round, and the restrictions were loosened, he found himself immediately inserted into the lineup – and he quickly made his presence made, hitting everything in site and losing key faceoffs. Wait, ignore that last bit. Gator’s $850,000 salary was off-set by the fact that he didn’t really make that figure while playing in the AHL. It’s not unusual for players to sign deals with lower NHL salaries when they know for sure that the’ll make every penny of it – Jimmy Howard signed a lower money deal when he knew it was one-way, and thus guaranteed, and I bet Abdelkader does something similar – or at least stays at the same level. For sake of argument, I’ll guess that he signs three or four years, for $800,000 per.

Tomas Holmstrom [RW, $2.25M] will never play for another NHL team. This much I know for sure. He’s routinely taken far less than market value to remain a Red Wing, and I’d bet you dollars to donuts that he takes a paycut from his current $2.25M salary to continue shoving his ass in goaltenders’ faces for Motown. Yes, he’s aging. Yes, his body takes incredible abuse. Yes, he was one of the guys that has been put on Retirement Watch. But he’s still the best in the business at what he does. And while his two-and-a-quarter paycheck may seem like a vast overpayment, keep in mind that when he was signed, he was still in the prime of his career. Now he’s in one-year territory thanks to the 35+ rule (salary dedicated to players over 35 years of age will count against the cap no matter what happens – injury, demotion, etc). If he comes in over $1.75M, I’ll be shocked.

Nicklas Lidstrom [D, $7.45M] is obviously the story of the summer. I never had any doubt he’d return for another kick at the can, but the fact that he’s thinking about it a little bit is cause for hesitation. Not concern so much, because I feel like the captain knows this year was kind of weird and it isn’t the way he’d like to go out. But, only he knows what his body and heart are telling him, and if it’s time to move on, move back, or move out – then every last one of us should drop to our knees and thank him for his service over the last two decades. Much of the Wings’ summer rests on his decision, so knowing his fate before July 1st would be ideal — and to hear Helene St. James tell it, we’ll have a decision long before that. I’d do a goddamn backflip if he signed in the $5M range, but I think it’s more likely to assume he won’t take less than Rafalski’s $6M deal.

Todd Bertuzzi [RW, $1.5M]. Son of a bitch. Look, we all know how I feel about the guy (and about this is going to go down because the universe will find a way to make it so). I know the popular stance is to say that he plays hard both ways, find a niche, and was strong against the boards, but I just don’t see it in him. Well, wait, I take that back. I see it – because it’s true – it just doesn’t outweigh the negatives I see in every single shift he takes. He’s the worst skater on the team (a team that, by the way, includes Tomas Holmstrom), he isn’t physical for a man as imposing as he is, and he routinely makes dumbass passes and plays. All of that said, he has certainly clicked with Zetterberg and Filppula, as the trio made the most dominant Wings line in the playoffs. That chemistry alone is worth throwing dollars his way – and Holland has made it clear that he intends to re-sign Shetuzzi. Which is fine for TPL, because whenever he scores or does something completely retarded, we reap the benefits. Looking at another year and $1.5M, folks.

Patrick Eaves [LW, $500k] presents a different problem. He was making seven figures before being bought out last summer, and – riding the payout you receive from such a thing – signed for the league minimum to play in Detroit. He immediately found a place: he’s a great fit on the team, in the locker room, and everywhere in between. When he dropped the gloves on NBC one Sunday afternoon, I fully expected a contract extension to be waiting for him in his stall. But, alas, Ken Holland has more foresight and patience than I do, and we find ourselves heading into free agency reaaaaally hoping he wasn’t using the league minimum deal as a good faith tryout. Is he worth more than than the $850,000 I think he’ll sign for? Probably, but this is the Red Wings and to be a part of the greatest organization in hockey, you have to make sacrifices. It’s easy for me to say, but if my choice was 850k and the Red Wings or a million and the Thrashers, it’s a no-brainer.

Drew Miller [LW, $525k], all of a sudden, finds himself in a bit of a murky situation. Not that I don’t want him back, because he had a career year and is clearly a Red Wings kind of player. The problem is roster space. If things need to be mixed up, it might come at the expense of a waiver acquisition that was brought in to plug holes. Plug those holes he did, and he did it admirably, and there’s absolutely no question he deserves to be signed to a deal. It’s a matter of numbers (roster slots, not money), but in the end, I feel like he’s on the track to being re-signed, though it might be later into free agency after everyone else’s numbers come in. I bet he gets a Lebda-like deal, in the $650,000 range.

Kirk Maltby [LW, $883k]. I love him. I wish he could retire a Red Wing. But, both sides have hinted that he may have played his final game in Detroit – as the team is set to move on and spend the money elsewhere, and Malts has said he’s interested in continuing his on-ice career. It’d be painful to see him in another uniform, but that’s the man’s right as a hockey player. He’s played his heart out for this organization and he deserves to continue playing if that’s what he wishes – and his body will allow him. Of course, there’s the chance that his shoulder or any number of other joints tell him he’s had enough, he retires, and remains a member of the organization: as a scout, or a personnel guy, or something… There’s even a third option — he’s re-signed, at $650,000ish, and plays the role of 13th forward.

Andreas Lilja [D, $1.25M] is a guy that I thought was all-but-signed for next season. His chemistry with Jonathan Ericsson (and the calming influence he became) was valuable to the team, and even though Jakub Kindl has to be on the big squad next year, it’s no secret the Red Wings like to have too many defensemen instead of too few. Then, a curveball. Even Lilja, who writes a player blog, has said that it’ll take some magic to make it work. He’ll have to take a paycut on his (already reasonable) 1.25M and be okay with sitting some nights — and that’s a lot to ask of a guy that could get a modest raise and more playing time elsewhere. Is the writing on the wall for Lilja – who made a triumphant return after a year on IR? It might be.

Brett Lebda [D, $650k] is dunzo. That’s all there is to it. I’m willing to be that Ken Holland has no intention of even calling his agent. Enjoy watching Lebda join the rush and forget to play defense in Buffalo or something.

Jason Williams [C, $1.5M] last act as a Detroit Red Wing will be bombing a shot fourteen feet over the net, leading directly to a San Jose Sharks rush where he fails to backcheck properly and watches the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 3 of the Second Round. Ritola went into the lineup, Williams came out. And that’s where he’ll stay. He’ll find a home somewhere, but it won’t be Detroit.

Here’s my thing with Derek Meech [D, $483k]. I believe he’ll be re-signed BUT that’s not to say that he’ll be a Red Wing. He’s a restricted free agent, which means that the Wings have the right to match any offer he receives (or take draft pick compensation, should his new contract meet certain benchmarks). It’s always been the Wings way to qualify all of their RFAs and see what happens. If they intend on keeping them, they’ll make sure they’re signed. If they aren’t sure of their place on the team, guess what? Trade chip. Meech will come in very cheap, has never made a stink about rarely playing, is capable of dropping in at forward, etc. He’s a valuable player in that respect, so someone might bite on the trade offer.

All said, with the signings listed above – we’ve got a roster that looks a little something like this:
:: Howard, Osgood
:: Lidstrom, Rafalski, Kronwall, Stuart, Ericsson, Kindl
:: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Filppula, Cleary, Holmstrom, Hudler
:: Bertuzzi, Draper, Eaves, Abdelkader, Helm, Ritola, Miller
That’s 22 players and about $56.47M dedicated to them. That leaves one roster spot (likely to be used on a defenseman) and — depending on how much the cap fluctuates — half a million dollars-ish to spend. Those figures all change if Ritola can’t crack the roster. 
Like Larsson, restricted free agent (and resident Norwegian) Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will be saying goodbye to the organization, as he’s signed in Europe. He was the additional chip in the Ville Leino deal, meaning the only return for PLAYOFF SUPERSTAR Leino will be a fifth round pick. 
It’s been made clear that Brad May is out as a Red Wing — and potentially as a hockey player. Seemed like a great man and a wonderful teammate, but as far as his on-ice value to this squad goes, it’s pretty low. He’s an enforcer (that doesn’t enforce) and scores the occasional goal (that won’t count). Add to the fact that he’s made it known that he’s yearning for family time, it’s probably time to hang them up. 

Johan “Enigma” Ryno’s deal is up this summer, as well, and it’ll be interesting to see what’s done about that. He was close to making the squad a few seasons ago, bolted for Sweden, came back, bolted again… the Wings obviously like him, but the feeling might not be mutual. I’m excited (because I’m a nerd) to see where this goes.

Doug Janik got into some games with the Wings this year, and was a valuable Griffin the rest of it, so I’m sure there’s interest in keeping him, but I doubt Janik wants to toil in the AHL if he can get a better deal elsewhere.

There are five additional restricted free agents and we’ll know more as the summer comes, but like I said above, they’ll probably all be qualified and have their ticket punched for Grand Rapids: Riley Armstrong, Evan McGrath, Ryan Oulahen, Jeremy Williams, and Sergei Kolosov – who is probably the one guy on this list that has a potential future on the Red Wings.

Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images