One of the things Detroit Red Wings fans didn’t care for in the way Ken Holland handled the team as GM was the fact that he tended to be loyal to own players and he was prone to signing veterans to fill spots ahead of younger players.
So in his first free agency period as Detroit GM, what did Steve Yzerman do? He signed an old Wing and added a couple of veteran players.
Valtteri Filppula, 35, a former teammate of Yzerman’s in Detroit, signed with the team and will likely fill the role of No. 2 center. A more puzzling addition was that of defenseman Patrik Nemeth, 27, from Colorado, which leaves people to wonder a couple of things. Firstly, do the Wings know that Niklas Kronwall definitely won’t be back next season? And secondly, is the plan to slot all of Detroit’s younger defense prospects to start the season with AHL Grand Rapids?
To his credit, Yzerman lived up to his word and kept all of the contracts to short terms. Each player received two-year contracts, and that included journeyman netminder Calvin Pickard, 27, signed to give Detroit a third goalie on the depth chart with NHL experience.
“We were looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone we spoke with,” Yzerman said. “Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly, kind of get to know what we have in the organization.
“I think I have a good handle on the NHL team but the kids, the prospects we have coming, the players we have in Grand Rapids, I wanted to give the flexibility of providing opportunities for our young players but also trying to help the Detroit Red Wings immediately as much as possible.”
Yzerman also suggested he wasn’t finished adding players to the roster.
“I think I would mull over a couple of other things,” Yzerman said. “We have a spot potentially on our roster, on right wing. I don’t want to fill it just to fill it just because it gives us some options for some of our younger players to see if they’re ready, and it leaves opportunity maybe for something to come along between now and the start of the regular season. So I’m not really in a hurry but if I could add another winger, I would consider that.
“And potentially, maybe look at another defenseman. But we weigh adding another one versus just leaving a spot for one of our younger guys on the roster, maybe decide it at training camp or after training camp. If the right player and the right contract comes along, we would consider signing another one.”
Filppula, who signed a two-year, $6 million pact, scored 17 goals for the New York Islanders last season. His addition means that the late-season experiment with Andreas Athanasiou at center is over.
“Fil’s a very good two-way centerman,” Yzerman said. “He can win faceoffs, he can play in all situations. We really felt we were going to plug a hole by bringing him in.
“We wanted to add another centerman and that allows the coach to put Andreas Athanasiou back to the wing. ”
Nemeth is 6-foot-3 and 219 pounds. He signed a two-year, $6-million deal. You’ll remember that Anthony Mantha broke a bone in his hand fighting him last season - brings a physical element to Detroit’s defense.
“He’s a big, strong, solid, defensive defenseman,” Yzerman said. “He kills penalties well, he defends well, he’s a heavy body and we felt whether playing with Mike Green or Filip Hronek, he’s going to be a very good partner for that type of player, a puck-mover, offensive right-handed shot.
“We felt with the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts, it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”
With Green, Ericsson, Daley, Hronek and Danny DeKeyser in place, the addition of Nemeth doesn’t leave much room for the likes of Dennis Cholowski or Joe Hicketts to find a place with the big club. And it also makes you wonder where European free-agent addition Oliwer Kaski fits into the picture, especially if Yzerman does follow through and pick up another veteran blueliner.
While solely a depth move, the addition of Pickard, 27, who’s played 104 NHL games over five seasons, was a necessary addition. Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier were the only NHL-experienced goalies on the roster and Grand Rapids AHL goalie Patrik Rybar is headed back to Europe. He signed a three-year deal with Finland’s Karpat Oulu.
Pickard’s pact is a one-way deal worth $1.4 million over the two years.
“We feel with the two goalies we have, if we were to have an injury, we feel that this third goaltender position is very important,” Yzerman said. “If we have injuries to our goaltenders, we want - Filip Larsson is projected to be in Grand Rapids with Calvin to start the season and we wanted to put a goaltender with some experience to partner with him, a guy who’s a good leader for a young goaltender, someone with a good work ethic and high character.