DETROIT – Steve Yzerman was relatively busy as NHL free agency opened on Monday.
The new Detroit Red Wings general manager addressed three team needs: depth at center, depth at defense, and depth in net.
Perhaps the team's biggest move was to bring back center Valtteri Filppula on a two-year contract. It's reportedly worth $6 million -- $3 million cap hit both years. The 35-year-old is considered a solid option as a 2nd or 3rd-line center. He plays a strong 200-foot game, which is another way of saying he's responsible with the puck in the neutral and defensive zones, and we know he has skill to put the puck in the net. He scored 17 goals with the Islanders this past season.
A younger Filppula was instrumental during the Red Wings' Stanley Cup runs of 2008 and 2009. Yzerman signed him to play in Tampa back in 2013. He helped the Lightning march to the Cup final in 2015 with 14 points in 26 playoff games.
Meanwhile, former Red Wings GM Ken Holland replaced Filppula with Frans Nielsen. Nielsen has been filling that role of 2nd/3rd-line center since 2016 when he signed a six-year contract with Detroit. Eventually the Islanders filled the void left by Nielsen with ... you guessed it: Filppula. And back in Detroit, Nielsen has been wearing No. 51, Filppula's number. Who wins that fight? Very tough to tell. This is all slightly comical.
In fact, Filppula and Nielsen are two of the most similar players I can think of, and now they're playing the same position on the same team that at one point made a decision between the two. They're both 35 now and on the back half of strong NHL careers, and they are both pegged as players who help bolster a team's overall defense. The Red Wings need that, badly. So here's to Nielsen-Filppula working out in the short term.
Patrik Nemeth, 27, reportedly also will cost the Red Wings $3 million in each of the next two seasons. He got a boost in pay from his time in Colorado. Nemeth is a stay-at-home defenseman who is responsible for putting in work and not getting any credit for it. Seriously, that's the type of defenseman we're talking about here. The guy was a +27 two seasons ago with the Avalanche -- PLUS 27! But have you ever even thought about him? No, you haven't. You are a liar if you say you have.
Nemeth, of Sweden, was a 2nd-round pick by Dallas back in 2010. He was up and down between the Stars and their AHL affiliate for years before he finally landed in Colorado. And now he is looking like that late-bloomer everyone has reason to be excited about.
While the Filppula signing got everyone's attention, this Nemeth signing could prove to be real special for Detroit. This could be a huge piece of a definite turnaround for the defense. Remember, Yzerman already signed Finnish star d-man Oliwer Kaski this spring, and then he drafted Moritz Seider at 6th overall. I don't know if we're going to see all three of these defensemen playing with the Red Wings this season, but man that would be refreshing. Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall obviously are not the future, and Yzerman knows he needs to move a bit quicker to fix this blueline while his forward lineup already is taking shape.
Finally, Yzerman addressed the goalie situation. The Red Wings have a 35-year-old Jimmy Howard in the starting role. He's backed up by 30-year-old Jonathan Bernier, who was not exactly the best this past season, but like I wrote yesterday you can't really get too harsh on the goalies when they're trying to play behind this atrocious defense. Anyway, the franchise has maybe one real goaltending prospect option right now -- Filip Larsson. He'll be in Grand Rapids this season, or at least that's what is expected.
And now they have 27-year-old Calvin Pickard, who split this past season between Philadelphia and Arizona. His numbers were not great. In 11 games for the Flyers he posted a .863 save percentage. In six games for the Coyotes he posted a .892 save percentage.
He hasn't been considered a starter in the NHL since 2016-17 when he played 50 games for the Colorado Avalanche (15 wins, .904 save percentage). So Yzerman picked him up on the cheap. Cap Friendly reports the two-year contract has a $750,000 cap hit both seasons.
That is all for now.