Steve Yzerman is convincing free agents to sign with the Detroit Red Wings, a team that just experienced one of the worst seasons in recent NHL history.
It was an historically bad season for Detroit with just 17 wins and the third-worst win percentage in the Original Six franchise’s illustrious history dating back to 1926. Why would anyone choose to join such a scenario?
Three reasons: Steve Yzerman’s influence, the promise of more ice time and the flexibility to be moved or earn more money.
There’s no question Yzerman, one of the most respected players in the league’s history, is a big selling point for players. They trust his vision, seeing what he’s done for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and his word that they will be afforded the chance to play a bigger, more impactful role in Detroit.
Furthermore, these free agents know Yzerman is in a position to be flexible with their tenures through short-term contracts and the appetite for swinging trades for draft picks. This could lead to more lucrative contracts for these players if they perform well, or a spot on a contender at the trade deadline.
It’s no surprise Yzerman was busy during the first two days of free agency this weekend, adding both goalie Thomas Greiss and defenseman Troy Stecher to two-year deals on Saturday. These are players who had other options: Goalies are hot commodities in a two-starter NHL and right-shot defenseman under 30 are always sought-after.
Thomas Greiss’ case
In Greiss' case, Detroit was able to give him the money he wants -- a deal valued at more than $7 million over just two seasons. That’s thanks to the $27 million in cap space that Yzerman had at the time of the signing.
Yzerman cleared space for this signing and made sure it wouldn’t affect the roster long-term. Win-win.
It’s a great fit for a rebuilding squad with cash, and Greiss would be foolish to turn it down no matter how bad the team struggled the season before. He would have ended up on another roster, for sure, but I don’t think he would have gotten this kind of money at 34 years old.
Troy Stecher’s case
Stecher, 26, did not receive a qualifying offer from the Vancouver Canucks after his two-year, $4.65-million contract expired at the end of the season. He first signed with the Canucks as an undrafted free agent in 2016. In four seasons with Vancouver he had 11 goals and 75 points over 286 games. His 2015-16 rookie season is still his best, statistically speaking, with 24 points in 71 games.
So where would Stecher go from there? He’s still a young player who’s full potential remains untapped. He wasn’t going to get the contract he might deserve, but now he’s back in a position to prove he’s worth it, something an undrafted player is used to doing. Yzerman grabbed him at $1.7 million a year for two seasons. That is a brilliant steal for the Detroit GM, and it puts Stecher in an extremely favorable position.
The Red Wings are sure to give him an opportunity in their top four on defense, and perhaps power play time. He can play without the pressure of his hefty contract in Vancouver and work on solidifying his NHL value.
Yzerman’s rebuild vision
Detroit still has $20 million left in cap space heading into the 2020-21 season. It’s remarkable, really, and shows how quickly things can turn around for NHL teams in this salary cap-stricken world.
The Red Wings will be icing a much-improved NHL lineup this season, at least on paper. However, what’s most important is Yzerman’s vision: He sees each piece as a commodity and understands the value of each, or at least how to help identify their value. He’s addressing roster needs right while preparing for the future.
Adding Stecher for relatively cheap and short term, for instance, could lead to adding more draft picks in a trade. Or Stecher could become part of the team’s corps -- he’s just 26 years old. Meanwhile, he makes the Red Wings defensive group more attractive. And as stated, he’s the type of player who brings work ethic -- he’s undrafted and often called “diminutive” for an NHL defenseman.
The Stecher case is similar the Robby Fabbri case from last year. Fabbri was given the chance to prove his value after suffering a knee injury. With more ice time with the Red Wings, he made an immediate impact on both the team and his future -- Yzerman signed him to a two-year deal this summer.
While we’ve been so excited about the draft -- despite Detroit’s lottery loss -- it’s free agency where Yzerman is flexing his muscles. Don’t expect the Red Wings GM to be resting anytime soon.
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