The Detroit Red Wings have been one of the most active teams in free agency this year, signing eight new deals within the first two days of free agency alone. This has left the team with more depth than fans have seen in years, which should make for some stiff competition for roster spots come training camp. General manager Steve Yzerman has made a concerted effort to improve the roster across the board, so why stop now?
For years now, it’s been easy to see where every new addition or prospect fits into the depth chart in Detroit, but those spots are going to be much harder to earn now. Red Wings’ top prospect Simon Edvinsson is no longer guaranteed a spot in the top four on opening night, or even a spot on the NHL roster for that matter. The healthy competition that this kind of depth will foster should encourage players to be at their absolute best, reintroducing a culture of excellence to the Red Wings’ locker room.
As if the depth chart wasn’t crowded enough, it appears that the Red Wings are not yet finished with free agency this year, signing veteran defender Robert Hägg to a one-year contract nearly two weeks after free agency opened. With so many new players coming in, questions have arisen regarding the possibility of an upcoming trade. While anyone who knows anything about Yzerman knows that he runs an exceptionally tight ship, it is beginning to feel like a trade of some kind is inevitable, unless the team plans on having a handful of NHL-caliber players on their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins.
Related: Red Wings’ 2022 Draft Class Recap
In the spirit of depth and excellence, here is a list of a few remaining unrestricted free agents (UFAs) who I believe the Red Wings should take a chance on.
Paul Stastny is one of the older free agents still available, but I am confident that he will continue to be a positive player, at least for next season. At 36 years old, he is not the kind of player a team signs long term, but he has shown over the last few seasons that he is still an excellent two-way forward who can provide legitimate value on the power play.
Stastny scored 45 points in 71 games last year for the Winnipeg Jets, his highest point total since 2015-16. He is a safe bet for 30-40 points next season if he is given sufficient time on the second power-play unit, which wouldn’t be an issue in Detroit. Stastny would be able to immediately slot into the Red Wings’ middle-six forward group and could easily slot in a bit higher in the lineup if it became necessary due to injuries.
The most difficult part of signing Stastny might just be convincing him that Detroit is the right fit. He has made it known in the recent past that he wants to play on a contending team in hopes of chasing the Stanley Cup now that his career is nearly over. Signing Stastny would certainly improve the Red Wings’ chances of making the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be enough for them to be true contenders.
If Yzerman can convince him to join a good up-and-coming team, I would love to see the Red Wings sign Stastny to a one-year deal so as not to impede their ability to re-sign Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi next offseason when they both hit free agency. If the term on the deal is two years or less and the average annual value (AAV) is below $4 million, then I would love to see Stastny join the Red Wings.
The Anaheim Ducks deciding not to re-sign Sonny Milano was an under-the-radar decision that could turn out very well for the Red Wings. Milano had a break-out season of sorts last year where he scored 34 points in 66 games. He developed some chemistry with Ducks rookie Trevor Zegras, which led to one of the most memorable goals in recent memory, not to mention the friendship that developed between him and Zegras.
Despite all that, the Ducks decided that he wasn’t worth keeping despite them having over $20 million in cap space right now. Perhaps they thought his ask was too high and hoped that he would circle back to them after he discovers his value on the market was lower than he expected. Maybe they didn’t think he would be a good fit long term and decided to cut him loose early. Whatever the reason, the door has been left open for another team to swoop in and add the skilled 26-year-old.
I would love to see the Red Wings add Milano on a deal that mirrors the one they gave to Dominik Kubalik on the first day of free agency, a two-year deal worth $2.5 million per season. Milano certainly has the skill to one day be a top-six forward, but his inconsistent effort level on defense has prevented him from establishing himself in a consistent NHL role. Detroit could easily add Milano to their middle-six, his speed and skill would certainly help provide some depth scoring. If the new coaching staff is able to help Milano develop his defensive game, then he would be a homerun free agent signing.
P.K. Subban has been one of the league’s most overpaid players for the final few years of his eight-year deal worth $9 million per year that he signed with the Montreal Canadiens in 2014. After winning the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 2013, Subban had a few more productive seasons in Montreal before being traded to the Nashville Predators where his offensive totals trailed off slightly. After three seasons with the Predators, Subban was again traded, this time to the New Jersey Devils.
Subban’s three-year tenure in New Jersey has been very disappointing with his defensive game continuing to deteriorate while his offensive struggles made him look like a mere shadow of his former self. Public perception has soured on him due to the regression of his game in relation to his huge salary, but if he were to be on a much cheaper deal, I believe that Subban can be a valuable player once again.
Few players will be more motivated to reclaim their image and reputation more than Subban, but even if he can’t return to his former level of success, a third-pairing defender who can score 20-plus points while providing leadership both on and off the ice isn’t a bad get. Subban was the winner of the NHL’s King Clancy Memorial Trophy last season, given to a player who shows great leadership and who makes a significant humanitarian contribution to his community. During his time in Montreal, Subban started the P.K. Subban Foundation, which has donated more than $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Contributions like that matter to teammates, management and to the city that a player plays for.
Subban is a right-handed defender who could be a natural fit in a pairing with new Red Wings signee Olli Määttä who is a more defensively minded defender. That pairing could work especially well as the Red Wings’ third pairing if Edvinsson is able to establish himself worthy of a top-four spot. I don’t expect Subban to be chasing money after concluding one of the richest deals in NHL history, so if he is available for $2 million per year or less, he could be an interesting addition for the Red Wings on the right side, especially considering the injury that Mark Pysyk suffered this offseason.
Phil “The Thrill” Kessel is another player entering the final years of his career whose value has been lower on the trade market over the last few seasons because of his expensive contract. Kessel’s recently expired eight-year deal saw him play for the rebuilding Toronto Maple Leafs, the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and finally the Arizona Coyotes who are amid a scorched-earth rebuild the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres.
Kessel has seen it all and has, aside from his first season in Arizona, quietly continued to put up points without missing a single game. He currently has the second-longest ironman streak in NHL history, playing 982 consecutive games without missing one due to injury or illness. While that is a remarkable statistic, a team doesn’t sign someone simply because they can stay healthy. It’s a good thing that Kessel still has more to his game than his health.
The 34-year-old Kessel managed to score 52 points on the worst offensive team in the league. The Coyotes scored the fewest goals in the NHL last season with 206, meaning that Kessel either scored or assisted on just over 25 percent of the team’s goals. To still be able to score at a meaningful rate while playing on the worst offensive team in the NHL while suffering from a career-worst shooting percentage of 4.6 percent is quite impressive.
Kessel is a gifted offensive player who has continued to lose his once surprising speed as he ages. Defense has never been his strong suit, but his defensive deficiencies have only become more pronounced as his speed has left him. Though he is a no-brainer as a second-line winger, the Red Wings may have some trouble fitting him in unless they make a trade soon. Much like Subban and Stastny, a Kessel deal in Detroit would likely have to be short and cheap to provide the Red Wings with real value, but I do see that as a realistic possibility.
Another cheap bet on a bottom-six forward could be Danton Heinen who has struggled to find a long-term home in the NHL, playing for three different teams over the last three seasons. He showed real promise in his first few seasons with the Boston Bruins, but they didn’t feel that his play was worth his contract, so he was traded to the Ducks. Heinen didn’t find much success on a rebuilding Ducks team in the 2020-21 season, so he joined the Penguins last offseason.
What followed was a resurgence of sorts where Heinen scored 33 points in 76 games in Pittsburgh last season. He has developed a reputation as a good even-strength player who struggles to provide much value on either special teams units, but that would likely not be an issue as the Red Wings’ power play could use all the help it can get. Heinen is reportedly looking for a deal worth around $3 million per season, which the Penguins simply can’t afford following the contract extensions they have signed with franchise regulars Bryan Rust, Kris Letang, and Evgeni Malkin.
If the Red Wings were able to get the 27-year-old Heinen signed to a deal worth roughly $2.5 million per year, he could be yet another valuable piece added to their middle-six forward group.
As one of the biggest free agents still on the market, John Klingberg is likely looking for a bit more money than the Red Wings are willing to offer. However, he could be a good fit in a defensive group that lacks depth on the right side.
Klingberg has been looking ahead to this year’s free agency for a while now with the intention of cashing in on a few excellent offensive seasons with the Dallas Stars. Unfortunately for him, Klingberg’s offense has dried up a bit and the reality of the flat-cap league means that he will have to settle for less. He scored 47 points in 74 games this season, which is great for a defenseman, but his defensive results have only gotten worse over his career.
If Klingberg were to join the Red Wings, I would expect him to play a similar role as I laid out for Subban, the offensively minded counterpart to Määttä, though my expectations for Klingberg would certainly be higher. Moritz Seider would still be the team’s No. 1 defender and would be the right-handed guy on the top pairing, which would benefit Klingberg greatly. If he doesn’t have to play the toughest minutes on the teams, his defensive play will likely improve slightly, as well as offering him easier competition to score against.
A realistic contract for Klingberg in Detroit might be something like the deal Ben Chiarot signed with the Red Wings in free agency. Chiarot signed a four-year deal worth $4.75 million per year, which is certainly more than the ideal contract, but was somewhat dictated by the significant market that existed for Chiarot. The market for Klingberg is likely larger so his eventual salary could easily end up starting with a “5.” There’s a world where Klingberg signs in Detroit and the deal ages well with him playing a lesser role than he had to in Dallas, though signing him would certainly represent a real risk.
Red Wings Have Been Busy
From the trade and extension for goaltender Ville Husso at the draft to the litany of free agent signings, the Red Wings’ management team have been very active this offseason. Transforming a struggling young roster into a winning team with young stars has been their goal and many of these remaining free agents would represent another step in that direction.
Which remaining free agent do you most want to see the Red Wings sign? Where do you think Simon Edvinsson fits in the opening night lineup? How much more cap space do you think Yzerman will fill before the season starts? Sound off in the comment section below!
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.