2012 Free Agents — G’s and D’s

With the season behind us, it’s time to look toward the off-season. All contracts expire on July 1st, and the following players don’t yet have deals for next season. Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) will become outright free agents on the 1st, free to sign with any team they like. Restricted Free Agents (RFA) may sign “offer sheets” from other teams, but the Red Wings will have the ability to match the offer. If they choose not to match, they’ll be awarded draft pick compensation (assuming certain salary benchmarks are met).

This is a long one. Buckle up, grab a beer, and enjoy!

Of course, all of this information is available on The Chart, so feel free to check that out, as well. Originally this was going to explore ALL of the free agents-to-be, but I’ve split it up into the back half and the front half. Stay tuned for the forwards.

GOALTENDERS
Ty Conklin, 36-years-old, UFA, $750k cap hit
5-6-1, 3.28 GAA, .884 sv% in the NHL; 8-4-0, 2.40 GAA, .915 sv% in the AHL

I think it’s fair to say that Ty Conklin played himself out of an extension in Detroit. Following a pair of rough seasons in St. Louis, it made a lot of sense to sign him to back-up Jimmy Howard, particularly since he had a great first time through the organization. After a season-opening shutout, Conklin metaphorically crapped the bed all season, going 5-7 and even being demoted to Grand Rapids after Jimmy Howard returned from injury (with Joey MacDonald proving to be the more reliable backup). While in Grand Rapids, Ty Conklin resurrected the Griffins’ playoff hopes, but his services were needed late in the season when Joey MacDonald went down with a back issue. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Conklin was a team player the whole season, and always had a smile, even in Grand Rapids where I’m sure he didn’t want to be playing.

PREDICTION: Unfortunately, this may have been the last chance for Ty Conklin in the NHL. It’s been quite a few seasons since he’s shown that he can be a reliable goaltender at this level and, sadly, he may have run out of teams willing to give him a shot – particularly as he was not claimed via waivers OR re-entry waivers. With MacDonald and Jordan Pearce under contract for next season (and Petr Mrazek’s deal starting next year), there certainly isn’t room for Conklin within the Red Wings. Fare thee well, Ty.

Thomas McCollum, 22-years-old, RFA, $846k cap hit
11-16-0, 3.49 GAA, .891 sv% in the AHL; 6-6-2, 2.62 GAA, .909 sv% in the ECHL
It’s been a weird ride for our friend Tom McCollum. After being a first round pick in the 2008 Draft, and thoroughly dominating the OHL, he’s had a very rough time in the professional ranks. All three years of his entry-level deal have expired and he hasn’t even established himself as an American Hockey League goaltender. Hell, his numbers in the ECHL aren’t even all that extraordinary. In fifteen minutes of NHL play, he was annihilated for three goals on eight shots. The Wings brought in veteran Joey MacDonald two seasons ago, clearly in an effort to calm McCollum’s game down. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked and McCollum finds himself in dire straights.

PREDICTION: You never want to use the word “bust” for a young player (particularly a goaltender), but four years after his Draft, he still hasn’t been able to regain any of the confidence and ability he showed early in his hockey career. In any other circumstance, you’d have to assume that he wouldn’t be signed, but the Wings won’t easily give up on a player picked in the top round (particularly since they rarely have those anyway). One of the Wings’ scouts may have spilled the beans earlier in the season, when he mentioned that McCollum will be splitting the Griffins net next season with Petr Mrazek (who, as we mentioned above, will be turning pro). Pearce is still under contract, too, so it’s likely that one of those guys will platoon in Toledo, just as McCollum/Pearce have been doing for a few seasons. Rumor has it he’ll be re-signed, but don’t be surprised if he’s offered an AHL-only contract by the Griffins so that he doesn’t count against the Red Wings’ fifty contract limit.

***UPDATE*** Per our good friend @Kyle_Kujawa of the Grand Rapids Griffins, Thomas McCollum IS still under contract for another season, since the entry-level slide-rule also applies to minor leagues, as it would in junior leagues. As a result, McCollum will not need to be re-signed — he has another year remaining on his deal.

DEFENSEMEN
Nicklas Lidstrom, 42-years-old, UFA, $6.2M cap hit
70 GP, 11 G – 23 A – 34 PTS, +21
If you had asked me prior to the season, I would have told you that this was going to be Nick Lidstrom’s final season no matter what happened in the playoffs. As the season went on, I changed my mind… he played so well, even better than a year ago when he won his seventh Norris Trophy. He may have lost a tiny step from Lidstrom of Old, but he is absolutely one of the best blueliners in the game, even at 41. Then, for the first time in his career, he suffered a significant injury. The robotic, near-perfect Nicklas Lidstrom, who had only missed twenty-ish games over a legendary career, missed eleven with a “deep ankle bone bruise” after blocking a shot at the end of February. He returned in time to play seven games before the post-season, but it was clear he was still hobbled a little bit (and he finally admitted after the first round loss that he was not where he would have liked to have been to play). No one would blame him if he walked away, having served two decades of unbelievable service… but his departure (whenever it comes), will leave an unfillable void on the back end.

PREDICTION: If forced to wager a guess, I’d say that he does, in fact, call it a career. There’s no doubt that he still has a fire for the game, and that he’s still a phenomenal talent. But it’s also clear that he’s slowing down a touch and that won’t please Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s a perfectionist and always has been… being 90% Nicklas Lidstrom is better than just about anyone else at 100% But it probably isn’t good enough for Nicklas Lidstrom. Make no mistake: if he wants to return and play again, he will. For as much as I think this team needs a bit of turnover, subtracting Nick Lidstrom cannot and will not improve this team. Regardless of who is tapped to replace him. He may not be the defenseman he once was, but he has – by no means – regressed out of NHL caliber play. It’s just a matter of if Lidstrom wants to stick around long enough for that to happen. And I’d bet that he doesn’t.

Brad Stuart, 32-years-old, UFA, $3.75M
81 GP, 6 G – 15 A – 21 PTS, +16
This is the one entry that doesn’t need a lot of explanation — it’s basically a foregone conclusion that he’s headed back west. For as much as we’ll rag on him for leaving, no one can blame him for his reasons. His family stayed back home (if I remember correctly, his wife has joint custody of a daughter from a previous relationship) and he’s getting home sick. When asked if he’d re-sign in Detroit, he said as much as you could without actually saying the words, “yeah, this is it for me.” If Nick Lidstrom chooses to retire and Brad Stuart departs, the blueline is going to look quite a bit different in 2012-13. After a West Coast swing late in the regular season, he looked particularly lost — almost as if his heart stayed back home with family. He completed the first round with a League-worst -5 rating (at the time).

PREDICTION: Mr. Stuart is probably already back in California. He’s as good as gone. Of course, there’s an outside chance that they’ll offer him something that he can’t refuse, but it’ll take some amazing wheeling and dealing. If I’m Ken Holland, I respect his decision to return home, but ask if he’d be so kind as to let us trade his negotiating rights to one of the teams that he’ll deem acceptable so that we can get something in exchange for him. Last season, James Wisniewski garnered a late-round pick and that’s better than nothing. Mr. Holland may choose to let him play out his days as a Detroit Red Wing as a thanks for his service (including voluntarily re-signing after his initial deal had expired).

Kyle Quincey, 26-years-old, RFA, $3.125M
72 GP (18 with Detroit), 7 G – 19 A – 26 PTS, -1

The lone trade deadline acquisition that this team made was flipping a first round pick (and a low-end prospect) to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Kyle Quincey, who had been acquired a few minutes earlier from the Colorado Avalanche. With this upcoming draft class looking the weakest in years, it was the right time to move a top pick for a guy that the team hoped would replace a sure-to-depart Brad Stuart. Quincey is a restricted free agent and will need to be qualified at his current salary +10% for the Red Wings to hold onto his rights. With an impressive first couple of games back in Detroit, the feelings were good — they had a young defenseman that they probably shouldn’t have let go of in the first place, and he was quasi-locked in based on his contract. However, he failed to impress as time moved along, and he proved to be a bit of a liability at times. Considering he’ll need to be offered more money that Jonathan Ericsson makes just to be qualified, there’s a bit of a question mark now. Fun fact: he and Brendan Smith were the only Detroit Red Wings to be suspended this season (Quincey for an elbow to Florida Panther Tomas Kopecky’s melon).

PREDICTION: I believe that he’ll be re-signed. Quincey wasn’t acquired to be a rental, and moving the first round pick was proof-positive of that. Although his price tag is going to be a bit painful, I’m not sure that Ken Holland is willing to part with him after 18 regular season games and five playoff games, even though he can be replaced by a similar-quality player, and arguably for cheaper. The PR hit of allowing him to walk would be bad… but it’d be better than hanging on to a player that doesn’t have a fit here (if the team decides, in fact, that he does not), but I’d bet just about anything he’ll be re-signed (or, at least, qualified so that his rights are maintained in the event that someone sends him an offer sheet — albeit unlikely).

Doug Janik, 32-years-old, UFA, $512,500
9 GP,  0 G – 1 A – 1 PTS, +2 in the NHL; 67 GP, 10 G – 23 A – 33 PTS, +19 in the AHL
I know we make a lot of fun of Jug Danik around here, and many times it’s deserved. But, truth be told, he’s a hell of a guy to have waiting in the wings in Grand Rapids to fill in for an injury on the big club. He’s a legitimate borderline NHLer/top AHLer and you can never have enough of those guys — you just hope that you don’t have to use them more than a game here and there. He didn’t make much of an impact in Detroit this season, having played only nine games, but he was very important to the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he provided depth and killer leadership for young blueliners coming up through the ranks, like Brendan Smith and Brian Lashoff.

PREDICTION: He’s coming off of his third season as a Detroit ringer, so he may be interested in re-signing, even if it means sticking around Grand Rapids. He will very likely not get a better offer on the free agent market, and the life of a fringe player is not terribly glamorous. Prior to the three years in Detroit/Grand Rapids, he played for four NHL teams in three years — and he didn’t play much. At 32, he’s thinking about his future and he likely knows that he may never get a legitimate shot at the NHL again, so why not stick around somewhere that treats you right and gives you a chance to play when you’re needed on a quality club? Of course, the team may choose not to re-sign him, instead opting to round out their numbers with their own prospects or younger guys, but I bet he’s signed by Detroit again. Like I said, for an 8th/9th defenseman who spends 90% of the season on the farm, you simply cannot do better than Doug Janik. Adding to the “pro” column is the fact that the Wings are bringing over Adam Almquist to play in Grand Rapids next season… having him sit next to a pro with the NHL experience that Janik has could be beneficial to the young man.

Garnet Exelby, 30-years-old, UFA, $600k
75 GP, 7 G – 14 A – 21 PTS, +8, 177PIM in the AHL
Exelby served as the captain of the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, and provided an intimidating aura to a team that — like its parent club — is build around finesse. When he was signed over the summer, I assumed he would compete with Doug Janik for that first call-up position, and serve the Red Wings as a veteran on-call, half-expected to mentor the youngsters in Grand Rapids and provide that sometimes-needed grit with fists that the Wings lack. Alas, he never received a call-up to Detroit, and spent the entire season in Grand Rapids, where he led the team in penalty minutes (by a mile) from beginning to end.

PREDICTION: It all depends on what Mr. Exelby wants out of his career. It seems to be doing a little bit of regressing — he played five full seasons for the Atlanta Thrashers before signing with Toronto, where he played one year as a Leaf, and signing with Chicago — where he never cracked an NHL game, just like Detroit. The last two seasons have been spent in the American Hockey League, albeit with the farm clubs for much better hockey organizations than the Thrashers and Leafs were when he had those chances. Perhaps he’s content playing within an organization like those, but it looks like his NHL days may be behind him. He may find a suitor in need of some toughness and veteran experience for the back-end, but he probably won’t be finding any one-way deals knocking on his door. He was enjoyed in Grand Rapids, and may be offered a chance to return and serve as captain again, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear he’d gone looking for greener pastures.

Travis Ehrhardt, 23-years-old, RFA, $533k
41 GP, 1 G – 6 A – 7 PTS, +6 in the AHL
For the third season in a row, Travis Ehrhardt was in Grand Rapids without a call-up to Detroit. And, also for the third season in a row, he failed to play any more than half a season due to injuries. One of the Red Wings’ quintessential “bonus draft picks,” Ehrhardt was undrafted in ’09 and signed to a deal, and he hopped from a very productive CHL career into an underwhelming professional career. The injuries, of course, aren’t his fault and I’m sure the Wings would love to see what he’s got given a full season of health. He’s a restricted free agent and the Red Wings will very likely qualify and re-sign him, but I wouldn’t expect to see him in Detroit anytime soon (if at all) given his history with the Griffins and the way that other prospects continually leapfrog him on the depth chart.

PREDICTION: He’ll be re-signed. No sense in letting him walk, unless he hopes to find a better situation elsewhere. But I have a hard time believing, given his injury history, there’d be a TON of interest from teams that know less about him than the Red Wings do. He won’t have to clear waivers next season (unless my math is fuzzy), so there’s literally no harm at all in extending the offer for another year or three.

Logan Pyett, 23-years-old, RFA, $525k
73 GP, 2 G – 25 A – 27 PTS, -1 in the AHL
Here’s where things are going to get tricky. It’s been six years since the Wings drafted Pyett, who actually played on the 2008 Canadian WJC team that won a gold medal. He has yet to earn a call-up to the big squad, and needed to clear waivers this past season to be assigned to the Griffins. There was no doubt that he’d clear them, considering he’s yet to prove he can play at the NHL level, but one has to wonder how much time a prospect has before the team that drafted him moves on. I don’t think this is the time, however. The Wings obviously dig him and have spent quite a few years developing the player. There are other forces at play here: the American Hockey League has a rule about how many “veterans” can dress at a time, and Pyett’s 288 professional games played certainly meets that benchmark. If the Wings would rather have a guy in that slot that can be trusted with NHL duty (like a Janik or Exelby), they might choose not to sign Pyett.

PREDICTION: I believe that he will be re-signed, again because he’s a restricted free agent. He may not get a chance to play in Detroit as a call-up next season, either, so perhaps he’s hoping for another squad that will let him loose and give him the shot I’m sure he’s yearning for. He is by no means a “poor” performer at the AHL level, so there might be another team that could use his brand of hockey. Stay tuned.

2012-13 GOALTENDING DEPTH CHART
1. Jimmy Howard (signed for one more year)
2. Joey MacDonald (signed for one more year)
3. Jordan Pearce (signed for one more year)
4. Petr Mrazek (turning pro, signed until 2015)
5. [Thomas McCollum (restricted free agent)]
6. Daniel Larsson (team never loses his NHL rights, no plans to come back to North America)

2012-13 DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART
1. Niklas Kronwall (signed until 2019)
2. Ian White (signed for one more year)
3. Jonathan Ericsson (signed for two more years)
4. [Kyle Quincey (restricted free agent)]
5. Jakub Kindl (signed for one more year)
6. Brendan Smith (signed for one more year)
7. Brian Lashoff (signed for one more year)
8. [Travis Ehrhardt (restricted free agent)]
9. [Logan Pyett (restricted free agent)]
10. Gleason Fournier (signed for two more years)
11. Adam Almquist (turning pro, signed until 2014)
12. Xavier Ouellet (ineligible to turn pro, signed to entry-level deal)
13. Ryan Sproul (ineligible to turn pro, signed to entry-level deal)
14. Alexander Seluyanov (team never loses his NHL rights, no plans to come to North America)
15. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen (team never loses his NHL rights, no plans to come back to North America)

Photo Credits: Ty Conklin (Dave Sandford, Getty Images); Thomas McCollum (Bruce Bennett, Getty Images); Brad Stuart (David Guralnick, The Detroit News); Nicklas Lidstrom (Christian Petersen, Getty Images); Kyle Quincey (David Guralnick, The Detroit News); Doug Janik (Bruce Bennett, Getty Images); Travis Ehrhardt (Unknown); Garnet Exelby (Bobby Pulte Visual Media); Logan Pyett (Grand Rapids Press File Photo)

3 thoughts on “2012 Free Agents — G’s and D’s”

  1. I’m not ready to give up on Quincy as a top-four defenseman and a serviceable replacement for Stuart. He did have some defensive lapses, and his offensive impact disappeared after a few games, but he also had some defensive flashes of brilliance where he forced a turnover with a good stick. I’m thinking he’ll be more consistent after a red wings training camp next fall.

    1.  Agreed. I also think that he needed more stability than he got. He played with almost every d-man in Detroit after he arrived. Get him a consistent partner and I guarantee that they’ll mesh and become better than the sum of the parts.

  2. I think Smith next year is a better defender than Quincey. Qunicey and White as our #5 and #6 defenders isn’t bad though.

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