NHL Free Agency: Detroit Red Wings Swing for the Fences… And Miss?

By Rhys Richards (@RREsq)

Detroit Red Wings fans could very well be disappointed when the Zach Parise- Ryan Suter free agency saga ends. The pair is strongly rumored to be all but signed in Minnesota. In fact, their free agency standoff could be over by the end of America’s birthday today.

Detroit’s owner, management, and coaching staff have done everything to land Suter. With the retirement of captain Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart’s departure to San Jose, the Red Wings have made it extremely clear that the team’s top priority was to add the puck-moving defenseman.

When free agency opened, the Red Wings dug in and swung with all of the organization’s might as only a team owned by the owner of a competitive Major League Baseball team can. Detroit has reportedly offered the top free agent defenseman $90 million over the life of a 13 year contract, an annual cap hit of $6.9 million.

Detroit contingents, including team owner Mike Ilitch, general manager Ken Holland, and likely first ballot Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios, have flown to Madison twice to meet with Suter. Despite being turned away on Sunday, a Detroit contingent returned again yesterday for a tete-a-tete with Suter. Detroit’s efforts have likely made it the other team in what has become a two-horse race for Suter.

Detroit also made a competitive offer to Parise in an effort to land the two top free agents in this year’s class. While Parise has not told the Red Wings that he will not sign with them, Detroit does not appear to be on his short list.

Unfortunately for the Red Wings, both Parise and Suter are dedicated to the idea of playing together, a desire that has both poised to sign in Minnesota. Should that occur, Detroit and its fans should not despair.

While the Red Wings have not addressed the loss of Lidstrom yet, the team did sign former Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson, agitator and longtime rival Jordin Tootoo, and the Swiss League’s leading scorer Damien Brunner on Sunday.

Samuelsson signed a two-year contract worth $6 million. The veteran and former Stanley Cup Champion right winger has battled injuries and only played 54 regular season games for the Vancouver Canucks and Florida Panthers last year, but Samuelsson is only two seasons removed from a career season in Vancouver in which he posted 30 goals and 23 assists. He added eight goals and seven assists in 12 playoff games.

The former fifth round pick of the San Jose Sharks returns to Detroit at the age of 35, but his penchant for shooting will help to replace the departing Jiri Hudler for $1 million and two contract years less.

Tootoo signed a three-year contract worth $5.7 million. Detroit sought the free agent’s services, which surprised a thankful Tootoo. The 5’9,” 217-pound wrecking ball will likely join longtime friend Darren Helm on the Red Wings newest redux of the fabled Grind Line.

When asked about Tootoo, Holland told the Detroit News, “He adds that snarl to our mix. We know him well, we’ve played against him many years, and he adds that quality. He plays hard, he comes in hard on the forecheck. He’s a grinder.”

The 26-year-old scorer Brunner signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $925,000. He potted 24 goals and added 36 assists in 45 games last season. In the prior two seasons, he scored 19 and 23 goals, respectively. The 5’11,” 180-pound winger has wheels and can score, traits head coach Mike Babcock believes could land Brunner in Detroit’s top six forwards. Perhaps more importantly than Brunner’s ability to score, he is right-handed like the returning Samuelsson and gritty Tootoo, a rarity on Detroit’s roster.

While the organization’s aggressive efforts to land Parise and Suter may fall short, the team still has options.

On offense, free agent Alexander Semin is an intriguing second place prize in the Parise sweepstakes. Semin would likely cost less money and term to bring into the fold. He also has international playing experience with fellow Russian Pavel Datsyuk. Detroit has also expressed interest in Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash. Detroit is one of the teams on Nash’s short list of places to which he will consent to be traded.

Detroit may be better served by trading for a puck-moving defenseman. Blue chip prospect Brendan Smith is ready to prove his mettle with the big club and could be an effective top pairing defenseman as early as this season.

On a day best known for barbecue and baseball, Red Wings fans could be disappointed but a closer look provides some optimism. At the very least, swinging for the fences and missing on Parise and Suter means that the team will not be burdened with a long contract of more than 10 years.

Statistics and other information obtained at www.hockeydb.com.

Share your thoughts about the NHL, the Detroit Red Wings, and hockey in general with Rhys at Twitter: @RREsq.  He can be reached via email at RhysJRichards@gmail.com.  Join the many fans of The Hockey Guys on Facebook and Twitter @TheHockeyGuys

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *