Updated at 6:12 PM: Of Red Wings-related note this evening:
- The Free Press’s Helene St. James has filed her UFA Day story regarding the Red Wings’ signings of Valtteri Filppula, Patrik Nemeth and Calvin Pickard. St. James leads off by discussing Steve Yzerman’s motivation for making the moves that he made today:
Free agency is Yzerman’s second big assignment since taking control of the Wings on April 19, and he spent the week after his first big task – the 2019 draft – laying groundwork for Monday’s decisions.
He made safe choices that should improve the Wings defensively: two-way forward Valtteri Filppula, defenseman Patrik Nemeth, and depth goaltender Calvin Pickard, each signed for two years. The Wings were not in play for any big nam
“We were looking at doing shorter term deals with everyone we spoke with,” Yzerman said. “Being new to the organization, I wanted to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know what we have within the organization. I think I have a good handle on the NHL team, but the kids, the prospects we have coming, the players we have in Grand Rapids, I want to balance the flexibility of providing opportunity for our young players, but also try to help the Detroit Red Wings immediately as much as possible.
“The shorter term deals made the most sense for us at this stage, hence we signed three players on two-year contracts. They are all designed to help us immediately, but our hands aren’t necessarily tied to long-term contracts.”
Continued with comments from Filppula and signing grades…
2. MLive’s Ansar Khan has also weighed in with his take on Yzerman and Filppula’s comments. Khan notes that Filppula’s signing means that Andreas Athanasiou is penciled in as a winger to start the 2019-2020 season…
“We had a hole in the middle; (we have) Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening down the middle, potentially (Jacob) de la Rose can play there, Abby (Justin Abdelkader) can even play there, Darren Helm could play there,” Yzerman said. “We have options, but we’re looking for someone that can play on the power play. It allows (coach Jeff Blashill) to put Andreas Athanasiou back to the wing. He played some center at the end of the season and looked good there, but his natural position is on the wing. Fil’s a very good two-way centerman. He can win faceoffs; he can play in all situations.”
And Khan continues by noting that Yzerman is not necessarily done adding players, with a right winger and a defenseman possibly still on tap as UFA additions…
Yzerman said he has potential open spot at right wing.
“I don’t want to fill it just to fill it just because it gives us some options for some of our younger players to see if they’re ready, and it leaves opportunity maybe for something to come along between now and the start of the regular season,” Yzerman said. “So, I’m not really in a hurry, but if I could add another winger, I would consider that. And potentially maybe look at another defenseman. But we weigh adding another one versus just leaving a spot for one of our younger guys on the roster, maybe decide it at training camp or after training camp. If the right player and the right contract comes along, we would consider signing another one.”
Yzerman said even if they sign another forward, he expects young players and prospects (like Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina and Evgeny Svechnikov) to compete for a spot in camp.
“If they’re ready to play, they’re going to push somebody out and we’ll deal with it at that time,” Yzerman said. “It gives us a little protection if they’re not ready to go in the fall.”
3. DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji also weighs in regarding Yzerman and Filppula’s comments, as well as Yzerman’s assessments of the other two free agents that the Wings signed:
Nemeth, 27, is a native of Stockholm, Sweden, and has spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche.
“He’s a big, strong, solid, defensive defenseman,” Yzerman said. “He kills penalties well, he defends well, he’s a heavy body and we felt whether playing with Mike Green or Filip Hronek, he’s going to be a very good partner for that type of player, a puck-mover, offensive right-handed shot. “We felt with the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts, it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well.”
Pickard, 27, has played in 104 games with the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes.
Yzerman clarified that Pickard’s deal is a two-year, one-way deal.
“One, we feel with the two goalies we have, if we were to have an injury, we feel that this third goaltender position is very important,” Yzerman said. “Filip Larsson is projected to be in Grand Rapids with Calvin to start the season and we wanted to put a goaltender with some experience to partner with him, a guy who’s a good leader for a young goaltender, someone with a good work ethic and high character. We believe he fits that bill. Doing it over two years, that gives us, for us a little bit of security, hopefully, knowing that we have him over the course of two years.
“He’s got NHL experience and can up and play games should we need him to. He’s proven he can do that, excellent in the American Hockey League. Maybe the biggest reason is we really liked the character and the attitude that he has so he’ll be a benefit to the young goalies and the young players in the system.”
5. And finally, The Athletic’s Max Bultman weighs in, adding analytics to the equation while discussing the additions of Filppula, Nemeth and Pickard.
As Bultman notes, Filppula is something of an insurance policy at center, if not a duplicate:
With Filppula and Frans Nielsen both at age 35 and producing similar offensive numbers, they would appear to be Detroit’s plan down the middle on the second and third lines, with Andreas Athanasiou — who played center for the final month of the 2018-19 season — now ticketed back for the wing. That’s likely Athanasiou’s better position anyway, because of his elite speed and ability to take the lid off a defense, but he did have a few promising at games down the middle at the end of the season.
“We had a hole in the middle, we felt, on our roster (aside from) Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening,” Yzerman said, before listing off a few alternative options who could play there if needed. “We have options, but we’re looking for someone (with) playmaking, (who) can play on the power play. So we wanted to add another centerman.”
He called Filppula a “very good two-way centerman” who can win face-offs and play in all situations and felt like they “really plugged a hole” by signing him.
It will be interesting to see which center Detroit plans to man line two, because producing at a top-six level would be asking a bit much of Nielsen or Filppula. Nielsen, however, still grades out well defensively, and might be the best option to pair with Athanasiou.
The less visible impact, though, might be on prospect Joe Veleno, who will enter training camp hoping to make the team in Detroit, but will not have a clear path to doing so. The best bet has always been on Veleno starting in Grand Rapids as he transitions from major junior to pro hockey, and while he could always have a stellar camp and change that projection, Detroit will now enter Traverse City with no obvious hole to fill down the middle.
Bultman continues (paywall)…
Update: Michigan Hockey’s Michael Caples weighs in as well:
Yzerman’s focus appears to be on the players inside his organization, reiterating that any additions would still be in support of the top prospects in one way or another.
“Even if we were to sign another player, we’re still in a position where those younger guys are competing for it, and if they’re ready to play, they’re going to push somebody out, and we’ll deal with it at that time. I think whether we sign another forward or another defenseman, it does not box out one of our young players, what it does is it gives us a little protection if they’re not ready to go in the fall.”
Yzerman said that he is “anticipating everyone being ready to go in September” but did mention Niklas Kronwall’s “uncertainty” when discussing the signing of Nemeth.
Update #2: Here’s Hockeybuzz’s Bob Duff’s take:
Valtteri Filppula, 35, a former teammate of Yzerman’s in Detroit, signed with the team and will likely fill the role of No. 2 center. A more puzzling addition was that of defenseman Patrik Nemeth, 27, from Colorado, which leaves people to wonder a couple of things. Firstly, do the Wings know that Niklas Kronwall definitely won’t be back next season? And secondly, is the plan to slot all of Detroit’s younger defense prospects to start the season with AHL Grand Rapids?
To his credit, Yzerman lived up to his word and kept all of the contracts to short terms. Each player received two-year contracts, and that included journeyman netminder Calvin Pickard, 27, signed to give Detroit a third goalie on the depth chart with NHL experience.
“We were looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone we spoke with,” Yzerman said. “Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly, kind of get to know what we have in the organization.
“I think I have a good handle on the NHL team but the kids, the prospects we have coming, the players we have in Grand Rapids, I wanted to give the flexibility of providing opportunities for our young players but also trying to help the Detroit Red Wings immediately as much as possible.”