The offseason has arrived for at least seven teams that were not invited to take part in the play-in round that’s slated to begin in early August. With that in mind, it’s time to kick off our Offseason Keys series for the teams that are on the outside looking in. Next up is a look at Detroit.
It hasn’t been a good last twelve months for the Red Wings. After finishing 28th in points in 2018-19, they took a step backwards and had a terrible season, one that saw them allow the most goals and score the fewest. Not surprisingly, that particular combination saw them in last place when the regular season was called. Things weren’t better in the Draft Lottery either as they fell as far as they were allowed to, dropping from first to fourth in the order. With that negativity out of the way, here is what Detroit will need to accomplish to have a successful offseason.
Find A Long-Term Goaltending Solution
For years, Jimmy Howard has been entrenched between the pipes in Detroit. But that time has all but certainly come to an end after posting a 4.20 GAA with a .882 SV% in 27 starts this season. He lost all but two of those games. If that type of performance somehow isn’t enough to scare GM Steve Yzerman off, Howard is also now 36. On a rebuilding team, a goalie that age can’t be part of the long-term solution.
Neither can Jonathan Bernier even though he had a pretty good year all things considered with a 2.95 GAA and a .907 SV% in his 46 appearances. Those numbers aren’t great but given the team in front of him, he did okay. He’ll turn 32 next month and while he’s signed for next season to fill part of their goaltending tandem, he is more of a platoon option at this stage of his career instead of a full-time starter. He can be a piece of the puzzle but not the key one.
There are going to be a handful of starting goalies that hit the open market in November, barring any extensions to stick around. Yzerman has ample cap space at his disposal with just over $46MM in commitments for next season to 11 players so there is plenty of wiggle room to work with. They should be showing considerable interest in each of those options.
Detroit could also take a look at Yaroslav Askarov in the draft in October. He’s widely considered to be the top goalie available and one of the better ones to be available for a while. However, drafting goalies early is often considered a risk and selecting him fourth would be well above where his rankings suggest he should go. However, the Red Wings went ‘off the board’ a bit last year with defenseman Moritz Seider so taking their guy earlier than expected is something they could certainly do which would free them up to look a veteran platoon option to hold things down while Askarov works his way into being NHL-ready.
New Deal For Mantha
Two years ago, Anthony Mantha signed a bridge contract coming off his entry-level deal. The decision made sense as he hadn’t quite established himself as a consistent top liner. There were flashes of him living up to his potential but other times where he wasn’t making a big impact.
That started to change last season as he became a bigger threat, matching his career high offensively from the season before despite missing 15 games due to injury. He was on pace for an even better performance this season except that knee and lung issues limited him to just 43 games before the pandemic hit. That’s not the best leverage heading into talks for his next deal even with salary arbitration rights.
The salary landscape certainly doesn’t help either. The freezing of the salary cap is not conducive to handing out the big-money deal that Mantha was certainly hoping to get and with his platform year being basically cut in half, this feels like a situation where there is a lot of work to do.
From Mantha’s standpoint, another short-term deal may be desired. If he does that, stays healthy, and is able to continue his offensive improvement, he’ll be well-positioned a year from now to cash in, even with the cap limitations still in effect. In the end, he’d probably come out with more money than he’d get by signing a long-term deal now. Of course, a deal that buys out several UFA-eligible years is certainly Yzerman’s preference to help ensure that one of their pillars will stick around. Getting this done should be at the top of his to-do list in the coming months.
Rebuild The Back End
Of the eight defensemen that were on Detroit’s roster to end the season, three are unrestricted free agents that almost certainly won’t be back in Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, and Cody Goloubef (who was added on waivers less than three weeks before their season ended). Mike Green (traded to Edmonton) is already gone. Needless to say, there are some vacancies that need to be filled.
Filip Hronek looks like a long-term piece and Seider, though not yet ready to play in their top four, should get there eventually as well. After that, there are some question marks. Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom have shown some promise but aren’t ready to take on a big role yet either while projected returnees Patrik Nemeth, Alex Biega, and Madison Bowey (RFA) are role players, not impact ones either. There are some other prospects on the horizon but none that are ready to step in and play right away.
As a result, there are a few spots up for grabs and they can’t all be filled internally. Whether it’s the free agent market, trades, or both, the Red Wings need to make a splash or two to give their defense corps a significant boost. If they can’t accomplish that, it may not matter who they have between the pipes in the end.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.