After agreeing to a new two-year, $8MM contract with young net minder Petr Mrazek minutes before his scheduled arbitration hearing this morning and handing out six-year, $30MM deal to defenseman Danny DeKeyser yesterday, the Detroit Red Wings are in over their heads, quite literally, in regards to the NHL salary cap.
Accounting for the two new added cap hits for Mrazek and DeKeyser, $4MM and $5MM respectively, the Red Wings are now approximately $5MM over the salary cap limit of $73MM. Once the season begins, this burden can be relieved by placing Johan Franzen, whose career is all but over due to concussions, and Joe Vitale, who was recently acquired from the Arizona Coyotes, but won’t be ready to start the season as he also struggles with post-concussion syndrome, on Long-Term Injured Reserve. The pair combine for a cap hit of just over $5MM, which will be subtracted once they are placed on LTIR, bringing Detroit back down to the cap limit. However, the question still remains whether the Red Wings can get to that point through just roster manipulation or if they lack the flexibility to do so and must move a roster player.
General Manager Ken Holland has reiterated multiple times that he does not see the salary cap as being a problem and does not expect his hand to be forced into any unwanted trades. However, the numbers seem to tell another story. While Franzen and Vitale remain on the roster, the Red Wings must remove at least $5MM in salary through sending two-way contracts down to the AHL. While young star Dylan Larkin may be waivers-exempt, others like Luke Glendening, Tomas Jurco, or Teemu Pulkkinen may be exposed in order to open up cap space. For this reason, it seems likely that Detroit will instead look to make a trade. The team has a lot of forward depth, but has been looking for a top-pair defenseman, and is also greatly lacking in right-shooting forwards, with just Glendening and Pulkinen (making waivers even more dangerous) and Thomas Vanek as of now. If they can acquire one of those two needs while also gaining cap space, then Holland will be able to call this off-season a success. However, if he is handcuffed and forced to dump a player like Jimmy Howard or Gustav Nyquist (both rumored trade targets) simply for cap relief, then the contracts given to the likes of DeKeyser and Darren Helm, as well as the infamous Stephen Weiss buyout will come under even more scrutiny.
Ken Holland is a veteran GM, fully capable of making some roster magic happen, but he seems to have dug himself into a hole that roster management might not be enough to get him out of. One way or another, the Red Wings will be a team to watch for the remainder of the summer, as something has to give in their salary cap battle.