ESPN’s Emily Kaplan posted a list of the best and worst contracts for each and every one of the NHL’s 31 teams (entry-level contracts excluded), and here’s her take on the Wings’ best and worst deals:
Best: Dylan Larkin 24, C
$6.1 million through 2022-23
The Red Wings were bottom-feeders last season, as they are in total revamp mode. Steve Yzerman is essentially trying to build a winner from scratch, though the top line of Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi (all 26 and under) is worth building around. The best of the bunch is Larkin, a fiery leader and likely next captain of this team (he currently wears an “A”). Having your No. 1 center count about $6 million against the cap is a coup in today’s NHL.
Worst: Frans Nielsen 36, C
$5.25 million through 2021-22
For the better part of the decade, the Red Wings have been saddled by bloated, poorly aging contracts — the aftermath of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. Ken Holland passed the torch to Yzerman, who has been slowly cleaning up (and waiting out) the salary-cap mess. The last big contract on the books belongs to Henrik Zetterberg, who hasn’t played since 2017-18 but is in his final year of a 12-year, $73 million contract extension signed in 2009. Since Zetterberg is on LTIR, our choice here is Nielsen, who scored just four goals and five assists in 60 games last season, saw his average ice time dip to 13:41 and is signed for two more seasons.
Continued; one may debate which deal is the Red Wings’ “best,” but the Nielsen contract, one made after the Wings swung and missed on landing Steven Stamkos back in 2016, is doubtlessly the worst remnant of the Holland regime.
The Nielsen deal doesn’t include a no-move clause any more, so the Wings can expose him for the 2021 expansion draft (if they don’t just buy the last year of his deal out), and Nielsen has been admirable in terms of his on-ice efforts and his off-ice accountability, but neither factor has produced on-ice results in terms of points or wins.