NHL free agency is set to begin at Noon on Wednesday, July 13th. The Detroit Red Wings have ~$56 million committed to 20 NHL players. The team will need to spend ~$5 million just to reach the salary cap floor and there are a fair few players who could fit the Red Wings free agency needs.
The primary need for the team is on the blueline, specifically the left side of the said blueline. Beyond Calder Trophy-winning defenseman Moritz Seider, the Red Wings’ defense left a lot to be desired. Jake Walman, who is a restricted free agent, is the number one defenseman on the left side of the roster. Walman scored 3 goals and added 7 assists in 51 games played for the Red Wings during the 2021-22 season.
Jordan Oesterle ranked 2nd on the Red Wings during the 2021-22 season, playing in 45 games, scoring 2 goals, and adding 6 assists. He is currently the only left-shot defenseman under contract with the Red Wings. At an AAV of $1.35 million, bringing back the Dearborn Heights, Michigan native might be the kind of needs that general manager Steve Yzerman needs to make in order to fill out the left side of his team’s defense.
The Red Wings might look to bring in help for the left side of their blueline in prospect Simon Edvinsson. Edvinsson is a 19-year-old who played the last 4 seasons for Frölunda HC. This is the team that has become a sort of feeder system for the Red Wings. Three of the top Red Wings prospects are currently playing for the SHL team in Sweden.
So, who are some left-shot defensemen that the Red Wings free agency team should target?
The veteran defenseman has had a successful career after being drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2007. Cole only scored 2 goals and added 17 assists in 75 games played for the Carolina Hurricanes during the 2021-22 season. The 33-year-old has always been a defense-first defenseman. Cole could sign a $2-2.5 million one or two-year contract to shelter Edvinsson as he makes his way to the NHL.
The Red Wings received a second-round draft pick from the New York Rangers in order to take on Staal’s contract before the 2020-21 season. He has exceeded all expectations for the Red Wings given the low amount of assets that were involved in the deal. At 35 years old he is also a veteran who could fill a mentorship role. Staal scored 3 goals and added 13 assists in 71 games played. This came as he reached 1,000 games during his career in the 2021-22 season.
Given the recent retirement of Edmonton Oiler Duncan Keith, Kulak could make a return to the team that saw him have an expected goals share of 57%. The roster around Kulak, if he comes to Detroit, would certainly be different. Playing with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl saw his expected goals for percentage of above 52% for three straight seasons. This was often due to excellent defensive numbers. The issue is that Kulak has never averaged 18 minutes a night during his 8-year career, which he will likely need to do on a team that is replete with star defensemen.
Beyond left-shot defenseman, the Red Wings also need to look to add a center. The team has Dylan Larkin as their first-line center who is reportedly close to signing a contract extension with the team. Returning from injury, Larkin scored 31 goals and 38 assists in 71 games played last season. Beyond that, the team has struggled to score goals.
Burakovsky is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and is just 27 years old and is coming off of a 61-point season with the Colorado Avalanche. His age fits in with Detroit’s rebuild timeline. He also had similar numbers to Valeri Nichushkin but will command less on the open market due to the fact that Nichushkin had a stellar postseason.
The Chicago Blackhawks did not offer Strome a qualifying offer as they are looking to tear down their roster. This is in preparation as they look to get the number one pick in the draft in 2023 as teams look to position themselves to draft Connor Bedard. The Red Wings could benefit from this and sign Strome to a 3-year $4.6 million contract. Strome scored 22 goals and added 26 assists for a Blackhawks team in 69 games played.
Kadri will command too much money for the Red Wings to be a serious contender for the 31-year-old. Scoring 28 goals and adding 59 assists in 71 games played for the Stanley Cup champion Avalanche has proven that he is a top-tier free-agent target. This was a career-high for Kadri. The Red Wings will not be a contender for the Stanley Cup and thus Kadri may not want to come to the motor city. Perhaps his representatives have had discussions with Yzerman that excite Kadri as the Red Wings are now the betting favorite to sign him.
Where Steve Yzerman sees the Red Wings rebuild
Yzerman needs to make the right moves when it comes to the Red Wings’ free agency. As he said to ESPN’s Emily Caplan after the first day of the NHL draft, the team is in year 3 of the team’s rebuild. This lines up with the beginning of Yzerman’s tenure as GM of the team that Yzerman captained for 22 seasons. The Red Wings need to make the right moves during free agency if it wants to come out of the rebuild during the 2022-23 NHL season.
The Red Wings rebuild technically began before Yzerman became general manager for the team. This was after the Red Wings franchise saw unparalleled success under general manager Ken Holland. The Red Wings won four Presidents’ Trophies, ten division championships five conference titles. This was in addition to three Stanley Cups, the first of which came after a 42-year gap between cups. Holland acquired Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek, Joe Veleno, and Dennis Cholowski during the Red Wings’ rebuild. Hronek is one of the Red Wings that did not pan out under former coach Jeff Blashill.
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