NHL Free Agents: Top targets for Detroit Red Wings

Free agency opens Friday at noon


DETROIT – After news broke Wednesday afternoon that Steven Stamkos was re-signing in Tampa Bay, 29 NHL franchises shifted to plan B. 

According to many reports, the Red wings were one of the few teams with a legitimate chance to land Stamkos, but now they are just like everyone else, forced to rummage through the remaining crop of free agents. 

To be fair, there will be plenty of capable players available once free agency opens Thursday at 12p.m. ET, plus the Red Wings have the luxury of approximately $18M in cap space.  But, they must be wary of overpaying average talent. 

Here are a few names that the Wings could pursue:

1. Loui Eriksson – RW – Age: 30
2015-16 Cap Hit: $4.25M

With Pavel Datsyuk gone, the Wings need to add a two-way forward who can create in the offensive zone.  Loui Eriksson is that player.  He scored 30 goals and 63 points last season and posted a +13 rating.  Those are great numbers, especially on a Bruins team that missed the playoffs and finished 19th in goals against last season. Eriksson could slide on to the top line with Zetterberg and Larkin while helping the Wings 13th ranked power play. 

2. Jason Demers – D – Age: 28
2015-16 Cap Hit: $3.4M

The Wings biggest problem last season was in their defensive play.  Demers could be a long-term solution.  He is a stalwart in his own end, finishing with a +16 rating last season, plus he has offensive upside.  He registered just 23 points in 62 games last year, but much of his time with the team’s top forwards was taken by John Kilngberg, the Dallas Swedish Phenom.  As a top-pair player, those numbers will surely rise.  Detroit will have to consider their options on the back end before committing to Demers, as he will likely command more than $5.5M per season. 

3. David Backes – C – Age: 32
2015-16 Cap Hit: $4.5M

There is no denying it - Backes is a risky option.  He is on the wrong side of thirty, and his style of play could mean injury trouble in the not-so-distant future.  Not to mention he will be fielding offers from quite a few teams, which could force a team offer too much money and too much term.  But, if the price is right, Backes could add a much-needed dimension to the Wings.  He is tough, mean and determined, and would likely match up against top-line talent, opening up more space for the Zetterberg-Larkin line.  Backes is also a solid power play asset who is strong in front of the net. 

4. Kris Russell – D – Age: 29
2015-16 Cap Hit: $2.6M

Russell is a defensive specialist, finishing top-3 in blocked shots each of the last three seasons.  He is a minute muncher, and would be one of Detroit’s top-4 defensemen.  He would also slide into the second power play unit, adding passing ability with a decent shot.  Despite all of the on-ice positives, Russell is particularly attractive, because unlike Demers, he isn’t a sexy player and will come at a modest price.  

5. Eric Staal – C –Age: 31
2015-16 Cap Hit: $8.25M

There is no shortage of questions surrounding the one-time 100 point scorer, as he hasn’t come remotely close to that total the past few seasons.  Last year he recorded just 39 points in 83 games split between the Hurricanes and the Rangers.  Perhaps some of the drop-off can be attributed to playing on a rebuilding Carolina team, but never-the-less, Staal isn’t what he once was.  If he is motivated, he could help replace Datsyuk down the middle.  But, as is the case with most of these free agents, the Wings have to be careful with price and term.  A deal of no more than 4 years at around $4M per season would be ideal. 

Some of you may be wondering why Milan Lucic’s name didn’t make this list.  The answer is simple - he will not be available.  Lucic has met with at least three teams, none of them Detroit.  Most insiders believe he will be heading to Edmonton to fill the hole left by Wednesday’s Taylor Hall trade.  And if not the Oilers, Lucic could head back to Boston, or his hometown, Vancouver. 

Regardless of who the Wings end up signing, the fact remains that they will need a #1 center in the near future.  An addition of Backes or Staal could buy some time for Dylan Larkin to develop into that player, but it is a position they will need to address before they can be considered a contender again. 

Deserving of Consideration:

There are very few big-name defensemen available this offseason, but there are quite a few young blue liners who deserve a second chance.  Here are just a few low-risk options:

-Former Wisconsin standout Justin Schultz just won a Cup with the Penguins, but did so as a bottom-pair player.

-28-year-old Matt Bartkowski has upside as a puck-moving defender, but has struggled after a promising start in Boston.

-Hometown boy Jon Merrill will be available after three under productive years in New Jersey.  The former Wolverine could reach his potential with a move close to home.