It’s not even midway through the off-season and the Detroit Red Wings already have a logjam at forward.
Entering this week, the Red Wings had 15 forwards under contract, and things haven’t gotten any less crowded up front. On Wednesday, Detroit inked Teemu Pulkkinen to a one-year, $812,500 deal, and Thursday, the Red Wings announced that Luke Glendening has been brought back on a four-year, $7.2-million deal which will pay him an annual salary of $1.8 million.
With the signings of Pulkkinen and Glendening, the Red Wings have not one, not two, but five spare forwards, which means Detroit GM Ken Holland has some work to do before the campaign begins.
Of course, there’s a chance at least two of those extra forwards won’t be on the opening day roster, though not because they’ll be heading elsewhere. Johan Franzen tried to get back into action this past season, but concussion issues flared up once again and it’s all but certain ‘The Mule’ will find himself back on long-term injured reserve in 2016-17. That could also be Joe Vitale’s fate, too.
The center was acquired as part of the Pavel Datsyuk trade at the draft, but he appeared in only one game with the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16 before missing the remainder of the campaign with concussion issues. If Vitale is still dealing with the concussion symptoms, there’s a chance he’s placed on LTIR and the five extra forwards turns to three.
After that, though, the only conceivable move Holland can make without carrying three extra forwards or losing one for nothing would be to send Anthony Mantha, arguably Detroit’s best prospect not yet in the NHL, to the AHL for another year in Grand Rapids. Mantha and Dylan Larkin are the only waiver-exempt forwards on the NHL roster, according to CapFriendly, and Larkin’s not going anywhere.
Even with that shuffling between LTIR and the AHL, though, the Red Wings will still have at least two extra forwards, both of whom will be sitting on the NHL club with no prospect of being sent down without clearing waivers. Having already lost two prospects — Andrej Nestrasil to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2014-15, Landon Ferraro to the Boston Bruins in 2015-16 — to waivers in the past two seasons, Holland likely won’t want to risk again losing something for nothing.
It’s not as if Holland didn’t see this coming, though. In fact, it may have strangely been by design.
“I’m hoping we’ve got 15, 16 NHL forwards and we’re positioned to do a deal,” Holland told The Detroit News’ Gregg Krupa earlier this month. “If some of the kids come to camp and they haven’t taken a step forward and they can go back to the (AHL), then they’ll go back to the (AHL)…We’ll make a decision in September.”
Holland’s idea appears to be potentially flipping some of his forward depth for a top-four defenseman. Getting a blueliner of that ilk won’t come cheap — not financially or in terms of what Detroit has to give up.
The likes of Pulkkinen, Mantha and Tomas Jurco could be up for grabs, but there could be more than simply young up-and-comers among the trade bait. Bizarre as it may sound, it’s not out of the question to think of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar as possible trade candidates. It may seem crazy to think the Red Wings would say goodbye to Nyquist or Tatar, but consider that both Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek are yet to be signed.
Both restricted free agents and both set for arbitration, there’s a very real possibility DeKeyser and Mrazek’s combined cap hit could be in excess of what the Red Wings have available to spend, even with LTIR relief from Franzen and Vitale. Adding another player means taking on additional salary so clearing salary space will be necessary should the Red Wings look to bring in a defenseman via trade.
No matter what happens, though, there’s going to need to be some movement and careful consideration when it comes to who stays and who goes in Detroit. With an excess of forwards and the risk of losing an NHL talent for nothing, Holland and Co. need to make a move and it’s going to have to come before puck drop on opening night.
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