The deadline for player-elected salary arbitration comes and goes today, and Andreas Athanasiou won’t be filing this season. That’s because he’s agreed to a two-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings according to Craig Custance of The Athletic. John Matisz of theScore reports that the deal will come in around $3MM per season for the speedy winger, who dealt with a lengthy holdout last summer and ended up signing on October 23rd, well into the season.
Athanasiou, 23, set a career high in points last season with 33 in 71 games, but still wasn’t the dominant offensive presence that some have predicted. His speed is of the game-changing variety, but he hasn’t been able to round out the rest of his game to become a top-line player on a consistent basis. There’s nothing wrong with falling in somewhere further down the depth chart, but this two-year deal will give him another chance at showing that he can be an elite scoring threat in the NHL. Athanasiou will still be a restricted free agent when the contract expires, but would be much closer to unrestricted free agency and a potentially expensive long-term contract.
Given the long and sometimes public negotiation that went on last offseason though, this deal comes as somewhat of a surprise. There were plenty of rumors a year ago that Athanasiou could be traded, and his representation even confirmed that he was talking to KHL teams about a potential contract to go overseas. While the two would eventually come to an agreement on a one-year contract worth just under $1.388MM—or at least the prorated version of it—it wasn’t clear what Athanasiou’s long-term future was in Detroit. It’s still not a guarantee that he lasts on the Red Wings through the next part of his career, but getting him under contract before the arbitration deadline is a good sign.
The cap hit of $3MM though may pose a problem for the Red Wings. Detroit now has just over $6MM in cap space remaining, and still have to work out contracts with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Long-term deals for either of them will eat up a good chunk of that number after Larkin led the team in points with 63 and Mantha led in goals with 24. The team does have nearly $4MM in cap space tied up in Johan Franzen who can be moved to long-term injured reserve, but that still doesn’t give them a lot of wiggle room for in-season moves or any more free agent acquisitions. The Red Wings are trying to rebuild, and cap space can often be used as a weapon in trade negotiations in order to collect extra assets. While there is quite a bit of relief coming next summer, the Red Wings look like they’ll push up against the ceiling for another year without a very exciting roster to show for it.