The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to rebuild, sort of? They let 25-year-old forward Pius Suter walk away, opting not to sign him after his stellar rookie NHL season.
Saturday, July 31 update: Red Wings sign Tyler Bertuzzi to two-year contract extension
Red Wings add talented Swiss forward
Chicago has found themselves up against the cap yet again. But one might imagine if they are, in fact, rebuilding then they would not trade for a 31-year-old Tyler Johnson at $5 million a year for the next three seasons. Or add Marc-André Fleury’s $7 million contract through a trade (he might get traded again, we’ll see), then trade for and sign defenseman Seth Jones to a contract that will pay him $9.5 million until 2030 -- yes, 2030 when he is in his mid 30s. No one with a brain believes Jones is worth this much. It is pretty insane, actually. There is a no-move clause attached, too, naturally.
And meanwhile the Blackhawks let a young, promising Suter, who scored 27 points in 55 games, walk away. I can’t say I really understand the logic here, but perhaps this is a case of a general manager trying not to lose his job because he took a chance on a forward with a limited NHL sample size. Stan Bowman apparently just wants to make the playoffs despite the likely early exit with this roster. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are approaching their mid 30s (32 and 33 years old, respectively). This is starting to look like Ken Holland’s final years in Detroit, but somehow worse.
Steve Yzerman gladly stepped in to sign Suter to a two-year contract at a reported $3.25 million against the cap each season. Suter joins some familiar faces in Detroit -- he played juniors with Tyler Bertuzzi, Robby Fabbri and Givani Smith in the OHL. In fact, Suter, Bertuzzi and Fabbri often were teamed up on the same line while with the Guelph Storm. This is one way to try to stoke chemistry in a young group.
This past year was Suter’s NHL debut, but he’s been playing at a high level for half a decade in Switzerland. After two years in the OHL he went straight to Zurich SC in the Swiss-A league, scoring 24 points in 45 games the year he turned 20. He helped Zurich to a championship in 2017-18 with 11 points in 18 playoff games. He also put up 5 points in 4 games for Switzerland at the 2018 Olympics.
In 2019-20, his last full season with Zurich, Suter scored 30 goals and 23 assists in 50 games played. When he joined the Blackhawks the next season, he was more than ready to show the NHL that the Swiss league is no slouch. Suter showed high-end skill and speed for Chicago. Red Wings fans got a good look at it when he scored his first three NHL goals against Detroit in January. I remember thinking wow, Chicago found a good one here. I didn’t think they would let him leave and that the Red Wings would somehow sign him to a relatively affordable, low-risk contract. That did not appear to be his destiny.
But again, sometimes teams are more concerned about making the playoffs than winning a championship.
Free agency frenzy
We knew Wednesday was going to be the start of a wild NHL free agency period. It’s ongoing as I write this Friday morning. So far, Yzerman has been relatively conservative in his approach. He has improved the Red Wings roster, no doubt, but he still has $31 million in cap space. He has so many options. He does have key restricted free agents to deal with, too. There is no reason to think the Red Wings won’t sign RFAs Bertuzzi, Adam Erne, Jakub Vrana and Filip Hronek. The question is how much cap space do all of these contracts actually eat up? And for how long?
Personally, I’d love to see this team go into the 2021-22 season with a relatively wide amount of cap space still. Keep some options open for now. I don’t think there is any reason to dish out huge contracts yet. I want to see the young players try to form a solid core in Detroit. I want to see who can crack the lineup, who can prove his value and who wants to earn a new contract. There are a select few Red Wings under contract beyond 2022.
At this point, the move to get goalie Alex Nedeljkovic is the biggest of the Red Wings offseason.
Here’s the list of notable Yzerman moves:
Free agency moves:
Pre-free agency moves:
Glendening, Helm leave
After all of theses years talking about the prospect of trading Luke Glendening at the deadline, I have to say it feels a little disappointing the Red Wings had to let him walk away in free agency without getting something in return. I say the same for Darren Helm. But I am not sad to see either go. If we’re really trying to rebuild this squad, those two couldn’t hang around any longer. Let’s wish them both well in their next endeavors.
Yzerman added defenseman Jordan Oesterle to a two-year contract. The 29-year-old Michigan native likely factors into the Detroit roster, but I wonder if the Red Wings still have another defenseman to add. Yes, we all want to see Moritz Seider on the team in the fall, but Yzerman has remained very cautious about that. He is still describing Seider as a young player trying to make the team. And even if he makes the roster, Detroit doesn’t want him floundering in a limited role.
Without Seider in, here’s what the defense looks like right now:
Then there is a list of players who could be in the mix, including Seider, Wyatt Newpower, Luke Witkowski (welcome back), and perhaps Jared McIsaac or ... Ryan Murphy? If it were me, I’d look to add at least one more defenseman with some decent NHL experience.
Joe Veleno note
Yzerman also made it clear during a media availability this week that center Joe Veleno, 21, also is considered a young prospect trying to secure a job in the NHL. I’m not sure I am buying that. I think he’s on the team, which is why I wouldn’t love to see the Red Wings go out and buy another center on a two or three-year deal. I’d much rather see Veleno develop in the NHL now with this Red Wings core that’s starting to take shape. He put up 23 points with the Griffins in 2019-20, then put 20 in the Swedish league. When he arrived in Detroit at the end of this past season, he looked impressive. Let’s go.
Of course, I understand Yzerman’s hesitancy. He said we can expect young players to be taking on bigger roles this coming season, and that can always mean growing pains. That is fine by me. I think we’re starting to get a group together here, and it’s time to let some of them, such as Veleno, go through the growing pains at the NHL level. If Filip Zadina has a spot on this roster, I think it’s fair to give Veleno the chance, too. He might actually be better suited for the center position than Suter is.
Update: The addition of Mitchell Stephens through a trade with Tampa adds even more options at center. I think it’s becoming clear that the Red Wings are not trying to force someone like Veleno into a 4th-line center role. They want him playing and contributing to the offense. We’ll see. I don’t think this Stephens pickup helps Veleno’s case.
Frans Nielsen buyout?
As it stands, 37-year-old Frans Nielsen is $5.25 million against the cap through 2021-22, then he’s a free agent. This feels like a looming buyout. And then what? Is this guy done?