Detroit Red Wings: Dan Boyle should be top free agent priority

The Detroit Red Wings stocked up over the weekend on centers by drafting Dylan Larkin, Dominic Turgeon, and Christian Ehn with their first three picks in the 2014 NHL entry draft. Now all eyes are focused on July 1st with everyone waiting patiently for the free agent period to open up and the chaos that shortly follows. Begging the question: who should be the Red Wings top free agent priority?

For those that don’t keep a close tab on the Red Wings my answer may come as a shock, but you’re going to have to trust me that I’m not going crazy. As a matter of fact, the Wings are actually considering the possibility. The best solution to make Detroit better this season and for seasons to come is to pursue the signing of defenseman Dan Boyle, who turns 38 years old in July.

Despite having a veteran cast of players such as Dan Boyle, the San Jose Sharks have failed to have success in the playoffs.

Dan Boyle’s 2013-14 season stats: 75 games, 12 goals, 24 assists, and a plus/minus of -8.

Why the aging Dan Boyle?

First, the Red Wings have a vacancy on the blue line.

The Wings really have two needs heading into free agency: a secondary scorer and a right-handed defenseman. The first need is always going to be hard to fill with those guys always getting overpaid, making it a huge gamble to take part in the bidding war. Look no further than Stephen Weiss as an example. Plus, as shown in my prospect profile series, Grand Rapids is loaded with prospects waiting their turn to a get a crack at fulfilling that role.

With Kyle Quincey likely out the door it leaves me to believe getting a right-handed defenseman is the biggest need the Wings can fill in free agency. The other five preferred starting defenseman (Kronwall, Ericsson, DeKeyser, Smith, and Lashoff) next year all shoot left-handed which causes a slow rotation of the puck and can cut down on passing and shooting lanes.

The only viable option is to go with six left-handed shots like the Wings did last year or push up prospect Ryan Sproul who I believe is still a year or two away from being NHL ready.

The second reason is the Wings need to protect their future over the present.

Obviously Dan Boyle isn’t the only right-handed defenseman on the free agent market; the other name being floated around is Matt Niskanen. I agree one hundred percent that he would be a great addition for the Red Wings. Actually, Niskanen would probably fill the hole better than Boyle given the fact he is decade younger than him. But, that’s the problem in signing Niskanen.

pittsburgh penguins

Matt Niskanen’s 2013-14 season stats: 81 games, 10 goals, 36 assists, and a plus/minus of +33.

The Wings would have to pay Niskanen an arm and a leg to get him to even consider coming to Detroit. His price tag is going to go through the roof with nearly every team wanting to bolster their backline with a right-handed defenseman in his prime. At the same time, Niskanen is not only going to want the money but a long-term deal to go with it. This is a 5 plus year commitment if the Wings want to pursue it.

Dan Boyle, on the other hand, that’s 1-2 years tops; a short-term investment. So, the question becomes what’s going to be better? Niskanen’s current playing abilities now or the upside of the Wings’ defensive prospects. Having seen Sproul, Ouellet, Marchenko, and Almquist I have to say I like the chances that at least one, perhaps even two, develop into a better player than Niskanen.

Related - Prospect profiles: Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet

I get that the win now mentality should be at the forefront and everything, but in this scenario it comes at a cost that is too big to pay in my opinion. The Wings are better off taking the small investment with Boyle, who doesn’t have quite the same quality as Niskanen anymore, but gets his last hoorah and steps aside for the prospects in a season or two rather than filling the hole with an overpaid free agent, who in my humble opinion is average at best.

That’s probably not fair to Niskanen but he just isn’t a standout, noteworthy defenseman. He just finds himself in a free agent class where there are very few quality defensemen so he is going to benefit massively from that.

Overpaying for players is what slowly tears a franchise apart. All I can hope for is that Red Wings acknowledge the situation they are facing if it comes down to choosing between Niskanen and Boyle. One thing is for sure though; if one of them is brought in then it will be a telling sign of how the organization feels about their defensive prospects.

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