When Fabian Brunnstrom signed earlier this month, the Red Wings committed their fiftieth contract for the 2011-12 season, the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. There are 14 unrestricted free agents-to-be, and 4 restricted free agents-to-be, and — obviously — some of those won’t be returning (I’m looking at you, Jamie Johnson and Chris Minard!), others may be retiring (Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, maybe even Todd Bertuzzi), and others still may be looking for a better opportunity to crack an NHL lineup (Doug Janik, Garnet Exelby).
Like always, the Wings will look to extend some of their core guys (Niklas Kronwall, Darren Helm), and look for some external help when the market opens on July 1st.
But there are three guys who will be watching those proceedings closely, because their clocks are ticking. Three players whose signing deadlines are approaching, and have no idea if they fit into the Red Wings future plans. Or if they’ll be looking for employment elsewhere.
BROOKS MACEK, WINGER (Playing for the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, signing deadline: June 1)
As of right now, only one draft pick from the Wings’ 2010 draft class is under contract (Louis-Marc Aubry). Macek and Mrazek are the only two that need to be signed by this summer — the rest have European or Collegiate exceptions. Macek was the sixth round pick (the pick after Mrazek) and has struggled to find any sort of offensive flair in the WHL. Last season, he was traded from Tri-City to Calgary in an effort to get a fresh start, but only contributed five goals and twelve assists through 25 games — after netting a point-per-game in his draft year.
PETR MRAZEK, GOALTENDER (Playing for the Ottawa 67s in the OHL, signing deadline: June 1)
Of the three, I’d say he’s the surest bet to get a contract from the Wings. With former goaltending prospect Thomas McCollum floundering, and unable to stay in the AHL, the Wings are in desperate need of a new “goaltender of the future.” And that’s not to say that McCollum can’t turn it around, but Mrazek won the Dinty Moore Trophy in 2010 with the top rookie goals against in the OHL, and was a finalist for the goaltender of the year award in 2011.
It’s Mrazek’s final year in Juniors and even though Joey MacDonald and Jordan Pearce are signed through 2013, the Wings will likely find a way to squeeze Mrazek into the plans… at a time when McCollum’s contract will be coming to an end.
JULIEN CAYER, WINGER (Playing for Clarkson University, signing deadline: August 15)
Unlike the other two gentlemen, Cayer has been on the Wings prospect list since the 2008 Draft. Cayer is playing his senior season at Clarkson University, and the deadline for signing a deal is August 15th following graduation. He’s been battling injuries for a few seasons, playing in only 47 games over the last two seasons — and only scoring nine times in all three. When he was able to be in the lineup, he played mostly a depth role for what is not traditionally a big time hockey program.
I believe he’ll go by way of former Clarkson teammate Bryan Rufenach — who goes unsigned but is welcomed with open arms at camp, eventually signing with Grand Rapids or even Toledo to continue honing his skills.
Photo Credit: Harry How, Getty Images (Macek); CHL Images (Mrazek); Andre Ringuette, Getty Images (Cayer)