NHL free agency began on July 1st and many players have already signed for one team or another. We’ve seen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik move to Washington, Ryan Miller sign with the Canucks and Paul Stastny become a St. Louis Blue.
What we haven’t seen is any big name player sign in Detroit.
Detroit is simply not the destination it once was. There is no Steve Yzerman or Nick Lidstrom who big-time free agents will take a pay cut to play with. Gone are the days where Luc Robitaille and Brett Hull will take less to play for the best team in the NHL- the Detroit Red Wings.
While the Wings have had some success recently and certainly have a fair share of starpower with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, their odds of winning the Stanley Cup in 2014-15 are probably as low as they have been in 20+ years.
Niskanen, for instance, never considered Detroit despite a very competitive offer of $38.5 million over seven years (he signed for $40 mil over seven years).
Maybe it has to do with the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Detroit. Maybe it has to do with a once-powerhouse running its course and fading into black.
The management, which I have always praised, has had their hand in Detroit’s demise. When GM Ken Holland could have used his veteran buyout clause on Johan Franzen’s monster deal that will pay his about $5 million per year until he dies (OK, only until 2020), he chose to buyout Jordin Tootoo’s much smaller deal (roughly $2 mil). Tootoo isn’t as good a player as Franzen, but I’m sure Holland wants it back.
Then came the signings before the 2013-14 season: Mikael Samuelsson, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Cleary were all brought in and none of them could stay on the ice, let alone contribute.
But despite the slew of injuries, the Wings stayed competitive. Wanting to make a late-season push into the playoffs, Holland made a deal at the deadline, acquiring David Legwand and his expiring contract from Nashville in exchange for Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok and a conditional 2014 draft pick that ended up being a second-rounder.
Originally, I liked this deal because I thought Legwand would do well. He didn’t. Yes, Detroit made the playoffs but a first-round exit wasn’t what Hockeytown was looking for.
Now, after losing out on the Niskanen sweepstakes, Holland decided to re-sign defenseman Kyle Quincey to a two-year, $9 million contract.
Upon doing so, Red Wings fans’ jaws dropped collectively.
A guy that has been so bad for Detroit, a guy who seemingly can’t skate, a guy who provides literally nothing on offense, has signed a contract worth $4.5 million per year?
Sign me up.
I used to sleep well every night knowing with 100 percent confidence that Holland was going to do everything in his power to build a championship contender. He’d make the right decisions and know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
Now, I can’t be sure. He’s paid Quincey an absurd amount while one of his most talented young stars, Tomas Tatar, remains unsigned. He had three young prospects to choose from to fill Quincey’s shoes in Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet and Adam Almquist, but he chose to break the bank on Quincey instead.
What’s the plan Kenny? Is it time to tear down and rebuild or is it time to contend? Right now I see neither happening.
Will he re-sign Danny Cleary yet again? It seems that there is just no possible way the cancer that is Cleary will be back to haunt us again, but then again, it’s Danny Cleary we’re talking about here. As long as Quincey is around, it seems Cleary will be too.
And what about Daniel Alfredsson? He was a nice addition last year, but isn’t part of the future. I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Alfie back in the Winged Wheel next year, but if Holland’s going to give him $5 million per year for two years like he did Quincey, he might as well just quit now, because he’ll be fired before that contract ends.
I’m not hating on Alfredsson at all- he truly is a great player, a born leader and classy guy. But if he signs a two-year deal, he’ll be nearly 44 by the time he completes it. He missed 14 games at age 41 last year- imagine what that number will turn into at 43.
The Red Wings are at a major crossroads for the first time in a long time. Unable to lure top talent to Detroit in free agency, the Wings can no longer buy their way into the Conference Finals every year. The Red Wings as we know them are fading, and the fans have noticed- the Joe seemed emptier than usual on most nights this season, despite no reduction in ticket sales.
The Wings have always drafted with the best of them, so I’m not too worried. They have a host of great prospects coming up through the ranks that will be difference makers in the NHL.
Hopefully, those players will be the type that the big boys want to play alongside.