- The Detroit Red Wings organization received some good news today, as defense prospect Jared McIsaac has a clean bill of health, per the team’s website. McIsaac, as the piece by Josh Berenter mentions, has been on the wrong end of three shoulder injuries in the past two calendar years. Drafted 36th overall by Detroit in 2018, he’s part of a prospect stable on defense that includes SHL standout Moritz Seider and Gustav Lindstrom. Before encountering his injury troubles, McIsaac had 62 points in just 53 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads in 2018-19. If he’s able to regain that form, a healthy McIsaac could prove to be a solid piece of Detroit’s rebuild.
Red Wings Rumors
The Arizona Coyotes have interviewed a long list of head coaching candidates so far in their search to replace Rick Tocchet. Craig Morgan of AZ Coyotes Insider tweets that Syracuse Crunch coach Benoit Groulx has spoken to Arizona about the position and lists Mike Van Ryn, Todd Nelson, Jay Leach, and Andre Tourigny as others.
Last week, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic said on TSN radio that he believes the Coyotes will go with a first-time NHL head coach, which this list obviously suggests. Groulx, 53, has been behind the bench for Syracuse the last four season and signed a new deal with the organization earlier this season. That likely wouldn’t stop him from taking an NHL job, but shows how much the Lightning value him in the minors.
- Paul Carey is on his way overseas, signing with Djurgardens IF for the 2021-22 season. The minor league veteran served as captain for the Providence Bruins this season, scoring 14 points in 22 games. The 32-year-old has 100 NHL games under his belt including one during the 2019-20 season, but those days are likely behind him at this point in his long professional career.
- The Detroit Red Wings have loaned Albert Johansson to the SHL, giving him a chance to continue developing in Sweden. The 20-year-old defenseman scored 19 points in 44 games last season, his second full year with Farjestads. Selected 60th overall in 2019, he signed his entry-level deal last summer but it slid this season. That won’t be the case next year, meaning he will be scheduled for restricted free agency in 2024.
Filip Larsson’s international hockey journey will continue for another year. HV71 of Sweden’s Allsvenskan announced that they’ve added the goaltender on loan from the Red Wings for the 2021-22 season and have signed him to a one-year contract.
This season, the 22-year-old started on a loan to Almtuna in Sweden’s second-tier league before transferring to Frederikshavn in Denmark in January. His numbers in both leagues weren’t particularly strong as he managed just a .883 SV% in Sweden and a .889 mark in Denmark, numbers that don’t inspire much confidence in his NHL potential.
Larsson was a sixth-round pick of Detroit back in 2016 (167th overall) out of Djurgarden’s junior system in Sweden. He came to North America in 2017, spending one year in the USHL before moving to the NCAA level with Denver the following season. Somewhat surprisingly, he left the school after just his freshman year to sign with the Red Wings, a decision that looks like a mistake in hindsight. He struggled in his lone season in their system in 2019-20 which was split between the AHL and ECHL, helping to prompt the loans for this year.
Larsson is entering the final year of his entry-level contract in 2021-22 and the fact that he has been loaned back home already coupled with his recent struggles suggests that it’s quite unlikely that Detroit will be tendering him a qualifying offer in 2022.
For the final time for the foreseeable future, all non-playoff teams were eligible to win the first overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery. Beginning in 2022, a team can only move up a maximum of ten spots, meaning the teams who finish No. 12 through No. 16 in the final league standings cannot move high enough to take over the top pick. The stage was set for a climactic send-off for the old format.
Well, the lottery balls decided not to take a crazy bounce in their last opportunity to move a team from the middle of the first round all the way to the top. Instead, the draft order stayed virtually the same. The Buffalo Sabres, who held the worst record in the NHL this season and thus the top odds in the lottery, retained the No. 1 pick. The expansion Seattle Kraken, awarded the same odds as the third-worst record in the league, moved up one spot, switching places with the Anaheim Ducks. New this year, there were only two lottery draws as opposed to the former three. Here is the official first-round draft order for the top 15 picks:
- Buffalo Sabres
- Seattle Kraken
- Anaheim Ducks
- New Jersey Devils
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Detroit Red Wings
- San Jose Sharks
- Los Angeles Kings
- Vancouver Canucks
- Ottawa Senators
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Calgary Flames
- Philadelphia Flyers
- Dallas Stars
- New York Rangers
(As a reminder, the Arizona Coyotes forfeited their first-round pick this years as discipline for scouting violations)
This will be the second time in four years that the Buffalo Sabres will pick first overall after selecting Rasmus Dahlin at the top spot in 2018. It also means that two teams, the Sabres and New Jersey Devils, will have owned the first pick in four of the past five drafts. The two clubs are happy that the NHL’s new rule limiting teams to two lottery wins in a five-year span kicks in next year with a clean slate. Incredibly, the Sabres lottery win also further advances the mythology of Taylor Hall. Although Hall is now with the Boston Bruins, this is the fifth time in Hall’s career that his most recent team eligible for the draft lottery has won. A No. 1 overall pick himself, Hall has brought luck to the Edmonton Oilers, Devils, and now Sabres.
Perhaps bigger news than Buffalo at No. 1 is Seattle at No. 2, a major opportunity for the Kraken to draft a player who is ready to join the team in their inaugural season. The Vegas Golden Knights, with the same odds in the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery, fell to No. 6 overall and drafted Cody Glass, who has still yet to establish himself as a regular in the Vegas lineup. With the second pick, Seattle will have better odds of adding an instant difference-maker.
The 2021 NHL Draft is unique compared to recent years in that there is no consensus top prospect. In fact, it is difficult to remember a draft class in recent memory that is so undecided at the top. One major factor has been the lack of complete scouting due to canceled and shortened seasons and limited live viewings. However, even with complete information, there is still seemingly no prospect that stands heads above the rest. University of Michigan defenseman Owen Power and forward Matthew Beniers are largely considered the top players at each position and the two most likely candidates for the top pick, with Power having a slight lead according to draft pundits. However, current teammate Kent Johnson and Wolverines commit Luke Hughes, a forward and defenseman respectively, are also in the mix. Canadian junior standouts Mason McTavish, Dylan Guenther, and Brandt Clarke and European pros William Eklund and Simon Edvinsson may also be in play.
The Detroit Red Wings have snapped up a prospect from under a division rival’s nose, signing Wyatt Newpower to a two-year entry-level contract. Newpower spent this season playing with the Clevland Monsters, AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets on a minor league contract. The Blue Jackets of course were only division mates of the Red Wings for this season, but it still is interesting to see the young defenseman jump to another organization.
Newpower, 23, was an undrafted free agent signing out of the University of Connecticut, where he spent four seasons prior to this year. In his senior year the 6’4″ defenseman posted 22 points, a strong offensive performance that carried over to his first season of professional hockey. In 24 games for the Monsters, Newpower scored three goals and 10 points, finishing first on the team at +10.
It’s not like this is a dramatic signing that brings in an impact player for the Red Wings, but it’s clear that GM Steve Yzerman is willing to look just about anywhere to add talent and depth to the organization. At worst, Newpower can continue to develop and be a strong contributor for the Grand Rapids Griffins.
The offseason has arrived with roughly half of the league finished up after missing the playoffs. It’s time to examine what those teams need to accomplish over the coming months. Next up is a look at Detroit.
The rebuild continues for the Red Wings which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise with how their roster was structured coming into the season. They’re playing the long game and have amassed a quality group of prospects that will be added to this summer with a dozen draft picks including five in the first two rounds. GM Steve Yzerman has already checked off one major item from his checklist with the decision to retain head coach Jeff Blashill (though they will need to replace Dan Bylsma behind the bench) but he still has a lot of work to do.
Rebuild The Back End
There’s no denying that Detroit has plenty of cap and roster flexibility, especially on the back end where a grand total of two regulars are under contract for next season in Danny DeKeyser and Troy Stecher. Of those, it’s worth noting that DeKeyser cleared waivers and would almost certainly do so again next year. There’s a lot of work to be done here.
Filip Hronek is the top restricted free agent out of the group and very quietly led the Red Wings in scoring this season with 26 points while logging over 23 minutes a game for the second straight year. He isn’t eligible for salary arbitration as he’s coming off his entry-level deal but that won’t stop him from landing a significant raise. Even with a bridge deal, he should be able to at least quadruple his $714K price tag while a contract that buys out UFA years would be substantially higher and should put him ahead of DeKeyser’s AAV. Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom have a bit of upside but project as role players at this point. So too are veterans Marc Staal and Alex Biega, both set to become unrestricted free agents; Hronek is the only core piece of the bunch and it’s a core that isn’t very deep.
There is definitely room for multiple additions in their top four defensively and that’s not even considering top prospect Moritz Seider who is ready to make the jump to the NHL. Detroit has been cautious in their player development so it’s unlikely he’ll get heavy minutes right away. It’s unlikely that they will be a prime free agent destination so Yzerman may need to do what he did a year ago with Staal and leverage their cap room – they have less than $33MM on the books for next season – to add some pieces. A willingness to add someone with term on their deal this time around might be a better way to go than another rental.
Detroit isn’t ready to become a contender next season so this isn’t something that has to all be done this summer but bringing in another building block or two to shore things up would be a welcome step in the right direction.
Re-Sign Key RFA Wingers
There is a long list of forwards that are in need of new deals but there are two that certainly stand out among the group in wingers Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana. Both players are eligible for salary arbitration so if they want to avoid a hearing, they’ll be trying to work out new deals by August (assuming the players file by the deadline).
Bertuzzi’s case is going to be an intriguing one. Coming into the season, he was coming off a career year offensively despite the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 campaign and had two straight seasons of 21 goals and at least 47 points. The expectation coming into the year was that he’d be able to take another step forward this season. He looked to be on his way to doing so with five goals and seven points in nine January games but those wound up being his only games. While he initially wasn’t expected to miss the rest of the year, that eventually became the case and he underwent back surgery at the end of April. Bertuzzi, now 26, is a year away from UFA eligibility and while his platform year ended in disappointment, he’ll still carry some leverage knowing that he can force another one-year deal and hit the open market a year from now. He’ll be owed a qualifying offer of $3.5MM but expect Detroit to go considerably higher and try to buy out some UFA eligibility.
As for Vrana, he was the key piece coming back in the deadline deal that saw Anthony Mantha head to Washington. While the 25-year-old underwhelmed with the Capitals, that changed following the move. His playing time jumped by nearly three minutes a night while he produced at a point per game pace, collecting eight goals and three assists in 11 games. That’s certainly a small sample size and no one should be expecting that to continue but it pushed his numbers to a level comparable to his career year in 2019-20 once you extrapolate for the shortened season. His qualifying offer is actually a bit lower than his AAV based on the structure of the deal but Vrana will certainly earn more than the $3MM they’re required to offer. He’s two years away from unrestricted free agency so the two sides could agree to a one-year pact that allows for more evaluation while keeping him RFA-eligible after that. Alternatively, if Yzerman feels that Vrana is a top-six fixture for the foreseeable future, a long-term contract now would make sense.
Add A Starting Goalie
Goaltending has been an issue for the Red Wings for several years now. Jimmy Howard had a good run as a starter but by the end of his playing days, he wasn’t a legitimate starter. Jonathan Bernier has done relatively well considering the weaker team in front of him but he isn’t a number one either. Neither is Thomas Greiss who they signed in free agency last offseason. That allowed them to basically run a platoon of decent veterans which was fine for a season when they weren’t opting to contend but it hasn’t exactly set up them for their post-rebuild either.
Last year, it was Howard’s free agency that created an opening between the crease and this time, it’s Bernier in that situation. He seemed like a probable candidate to move at the trade deadline but there wasn’t much of a market and he wound up staying put. Now, Yzerman has to decide whether or not he wants to keep Bernier and run with the platoon again or look to try to bring in more of a long-term piece. If the expectation is that they won’t be a playoff contender next year, keeping the status quo would make some sense in principle while allowing them the ability to potentially trade a rental a year from now (Greiss will be in the final year of his contract in 21-22).
However, a starting goalie isn’t something a team should be searching for on an annual basis. At some point, a more permanent solution needs to be brought in and it’s probably not coming from their prospect pool. It’s not a great year for proven starters in free agency but there are upgrades available there while the looking Seattle expansion could result in some more activity on the trade market than usual. Yzerman will need to determine if this is the time to make a goalie splash or punt on the decision for another year.
Add Top-Six Forwards
The list of teams that scored fewer goals than Detroit this season begins with Anaheim and also ends with Anaheim. With Bertuzzi, Vrana, and Dylan Larkin, they have three capable top-six forwards but the depth starts to slide after that. Filip Zadina has some upside still and Robby Fabbri was quietly productive in limited action but they’re not ready to be top-six players on a contender just yet.
To help get them to playoff contender status, they need to bring in multiple players that can play in the top six, preferably a winger and a center. The good news is that there are quality UFA wingers available that may require an overpayment in terms of money to bring in but they have ample cap space and can afford to overpay to maintain their prospect and draft pick capital. The bad news is that the same can’t be said for centers. Filling that void will require some creativity.
Last offseason, Detroit used their cap space to take on Staal and add a second-round pick for their troubles. A similar approach could be taken here to both improve their roster as well as keep adding to their stockpile for the future. Yzerman has built up the forward depth since taking over in Detroit and now it’s getting closer to being time to make a bigger splash. This summer, one that should have a lot of player movement, looks like a good place to start improving on that front.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images. Cap information courtesy of CapFriendly.
- While many expect Red Wings top prospects Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond to make the jump to the NHL next season, Detroit GM Steve Yzerman told MLive’s Ansar Khan that the youngsters aren’t pencilled into a spot on the roster. While he acknowledged that Seider – recently named the SHL’s defenseman of the year – should be ready to jump into the NHL lineup, Detroit has preferred a slower development approach in recent years which could result in the youngsters getting some AHL time first.
Red Wings defenseman Marc Staal is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and despite the tough year that Detroit had, he isn’t ruling out a return. The veteran told reporters, including Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News, that he enjoyed the change of scenery from New York and that he’d be open to returning. Regardless of where he winds up, the 34-year-old will be facing a steep pay cut from the $5.7MM AAV on his now-expiring contract. Staal averaged 18:25 per night on the back end and acknowledged that he may be interested in playing with one of his brothers; Jordan remains under contract in Carolina while Eric will be an unrestricted free agent as well after playing out the playoffs with Montreal.
The Detroit Red Wings are getting another top prospect under contract, agreeing to terms with Jonatan Berggren on a three-year entry-level contract. The young forward recently completed a breakout season with Skelleftea AIK in the SHL and will now begin his journey to the NHL.
Berggren, 20, was the 33rd overall pick in 2018, just a few picks after Joe Veleno. He stayed in Sweden after being selected and ended up scoring 45 points in 49 games this season, his first spent fully at the SHL level. Impressively, that was good enough to lead the powerful club and actually tied him for sixth in league scoring. As the release from the Red Wings includes, he became just the 13th player in SHL history to record 40 points in a season at age 20 or younger.
It’s that offensive potential that the Red Wings saw in the 5’8″ forward, and what will help him succeed at the next level. He has put up huge numbers at pretty much every step and will now be joining a program in Detroit that is filled to the brim with other talented youngsters. It’s not clear exactly where Berggren fits into the depth chart, but that’s certainly not a bad thing for a rebuilding club like the Red Wings.
Though sometimes with players like this, the first year of the entry-level contract is spent overseas, Berggren’s team indicated that his time there was finished after this season ended. It seems more likely that he’ll be suiting up for the Grand Rapids Griffins next season, or even the Red Wings should he make an impression in camp.
May 20: The Red Wings have officially announced the three-year entry-level deal with Viro.
May 19: The Red Wings have signed one of their 2020 draft picks as CapFriendly reports (Twitter link) that they’ve inked defenseman Eemil Viro to a three-year, entry-level contract. The deal, which carries an AAV of $925K, breaks down as follows:
2021-22: $750K base salary, $92.5K signing bonus, $82.5K games played bonus
2022-23: $750K base salary, $92.5K signing bonus, $82.5K games played bonus
2023-24: $775K base salary, $92.5K signing bonus, $57.5K games played bonus
The 19-year-old was a third-round pick (70th overall) last fall after splitting last season between Finland’s top level and their junior league. This season, Viro made the jump to the SM-liiga on a full-time basis, getting into 53 games with TPS Turku where he recorded four goals and ten assists. He picked up four more points in 13 postseason contests along with 31 PIMS, good for the second-most in the league.
It’s worth noting that Viro has another year left on his deal in Finland and at this point, it seems likely that Detroit will opt to loan him back there for next season over having him play junior hockey or with AHL Grand Rapids. He should have another opportunity to suit up at the World Juniors after playing an important role on their bronze medal-winning team earlier this year where he logged more than 18 minutes a night on their back end.