Restricted free agent questions for the Wings: to qualify or not qualify?

The Detroit Red Wings’ salary cap situation looks pretty good heading into the 2020-2021 season. Per CapFriendly and PuckPedia, the Wings have somewhere between $32 and $34 million in cap space (under what will be a $81.5 million “flat cap” for the next two seasons) after having re-signed Robby Fabbri to a 2-year, $5.9 million contract.

The Wings have two more big priorities on the restricted free agent market: Tyler Bertuzzi will be looking for a big raise over his $1.4 million salary this past season thanks to a 21-goal, 48-point 2019-2020 campaign, and Anthony Mantha posted 38 points in a 43-game, injury-abbreviated season, so he’ll be looking for more than his $3.3 million salary this past season as well.

In terms of the team’s unrestricted free agents:

In goal, I would not be completely shocked if goaltender Jimmy Howard were brought back, but he’d have to take a massive haircut off his $4 million salary to return after a statistically horrible season in which Jonathan Bernier established himself as the Wings’ starting netminder; it’s more likely that the Red Wings will look to invest around $3 million in an affordable back-up goaltender.

On defense, it’s been speculated for years that Jonathan Ericsson would retire at 36 years of age, though he hasn’t confirmed as much to the Swedish media yet; Trevor Daley isn’t coming back after having asked for a trade prior to the trade deadline, and Cody Goloubef was a waiver wire pick-up snagged to fill a roster spot, and the 30-year-old isn’t expected back.

At the forward position, Johan Franzen’s $3.954 million cap hit comes off the cap, giving the Wings a little less wiggle room using Long-Term Injured Reserve space, but Henrik Zetterberg’s $6.083 million salary will remain on the books for one more year; I don’t believe that Sam Gagner will return given his ties to Edmonton, and Kyle Brodziak’s salary was a throw-in as part of the Mike Green deal.

At the AHL level, on the unrestricted free agent front, the team has to make some hard decisions regarding a long list of unrestricted free agents-to-be, all forwards: Turner Elson, Chris Terry and Matt Puempel have been fine offensive forwards for the Griffins, but the Wings have some prospects with room to grow (think: Michael Rasmussen, Joe Veleno and Taro Hirose, mentioned below), so I’m not sure that the Griffins will bring all three of Elson, Terry and Puempel back.

Dominik Shine has been a yeoman defensive forward, but Dominic Turgeon and Chase Pearson are emerging as stalwarts in the two-way role, so Shine may be redundant as an unrestricted free agent [edit: and he was as the Griffins inked him to an AHL deal /end edit].

In terms of the Griffins’ restricted free agents, the Wings are probably going to re-sign Hirose, and’s Dana Wakiji’s “By the Numbers” article about Turgeon offers praise for the 24-year-old checking forward from director of player development Shawn Horcoff, but I don’t see the Wings submitting a qualifying offer to defenseman Kyle Wood given the Griffins’ roster crunch on defense.

It’s at the restricted free agent front, at the NHL level, where I believe that the Red Wings can make more cap room with which to both re-sign Bertuzzi and Mantha, as well as make some moves to reinforce the roster up front and on defense (especially given that the Wings are more or less stuck with Frans Nielsen and his $5.25 million salary for 2 more years, and Justin Abdelkader’s $4.25 million salary for three more seasons).

There’s one question that needs to be answered here, and it’s a “biggie”: is GM Steve Yzerman willing to walk away from several RFA forwards and an RFA defenseman for the sake of “letting the kids play,” or will he echo Ken Holland’s more conservative path in surrounding “the kids” with as many veterans as possible?

If the Red Wings don’t submit qualifying offers to restricted free agents, they become unrestricted free agents. Detroit has five restricted free agents of note, and none of them are key players at this point:

Yzerman’s first trade as the Red Wings’ GM was to send a 4th-round pick to Tampa Bay for one Adam Erne, and the 25-year-old had a solid end-of-season flourish, but the 25-year-old didn’t improve his standing among the Wings’ top nine forwards, plying his trade on the fourth line most of the time. He earned $1.05 million for 2 goals and 3 assists’ worth of productivity.

If I were Yzerman, I’d let Erne walk and find greener pastures elsewhere.

Yzerman’s first in-season trade as the Red Wings GM may come back to bite the team in the ass: with the team dealing with injuries and unable to generate offense, Yzerman sent 20-year-old London Knights defenseman Alec Regula to the Chicago Blackhawks for one Brendan Perlini.

Perlini’s 6’3,” 212-pound size screamed “power forward in the making,” as did his pedigree as a 12th overall pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2014. There was one problem, however: Perlini couldn’t buy a goal as a Red Wing, eventually scoring 1 goal and adding 3 assists over the course of 39 games played for the Wings this past season. He earned $874,125 for his trouble, and he will be looking for a modest raise.

The Blackhawks may be reaping the benefits of this trade for years to come: Regula, a 6’4,” 208-pound defenseman, posted 27 goals and 33 assists for 60 points as a 20-year-old on the OHL powerhouse London Knights, displaying both offensive flair (he was utilized as a forward on the Knights’ power play) and some physical panache. Regula served as a “Black Ace” for the Hawks during their trip to the Toronto “Bubble” this summer, and he has a bright future.

Regula may not be a superstar in the making, but he could develop into a second-pair defenseman with some offensive flair and a physical presence.

Put bluntly, this trade kind of stank for the Red Wings, and, with Michael Rasmussen available in Grand Rapids, I would walk away from Perlini and look to invest the approximately $1 million in another player and/or an internal replacement.

After all, bad trades happen to the best GM’s, and Yzerman more than made up for the Perlini trade by swapping Jacob de la Rose for Robby Fabbri, whose 14 goals and 31 points in 52 games played gave the Wings a major shot in the arm.

The decisions aren’t as clear-cut with the next two RFA forwards, nor the RFA defenseman on the Wings’ fall to-sign-or-not-to-sign list.

Christoffer Ehn is a restricted free agent this fall, and while the 24-year-old draft pick posted what is probably an expected offensive output of 2 goals and 2 assists over the course of 52 games played, the 6’3″ beanpole (i.e. he could add a few pounds over his currently-listed 194-lb weight) seems to embrace the kind of meat-and-potatoes defensive hockey that the Red Wings need on their third and fourth lines.

Ehn’s never going to post big numbers, but he’s reliable and cheap at $759,167. The Wings could theoretically replace Ehn quite easily, but it’s my opinion that he’s shown enough in his 131 NHL games played with the Wings to merit a roster spot.

The Wings brought in de la Rose a couple years ago to supplement and/or supplant Ehn, but they were able to trade de la Rose to St. Louis because Ehn holds his own. If he adds some strength to his frame, he could become a reliable third-or-fourth-line center for years to come.

Then there’s a big question mark in my mind: as the regular season wound down, Yzerman plucked 23-year-old mighty mite Dmytro Timashov from the Toronto Maple Leafs on waivers.

Generously listed at 5’10” and 192 pounds, Timashov posted 9 points over the course of 39 games played for Toronto, and he didn’t post a point for the Wings, appearing in only 5 games due to visa issues.

Timashov posted big numbers in Major Junior hockey (90 and then 85 points in the QMJHL), but the Ukrainian-born, Swedish-raised forward’s biggest North American professional season consisted of a 49-points-in-72-games campaign for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.

This past season’s 44 games represented his rookie campaign, and it’s far, far too early to make any judgments as to the young forward’s NHL impact, save the obvious: at what’s probably a more realistic 5’8″ and 185 pounds, Timashov needs to add strength and earn an opportunity to play semi-regular minutes at the NHL level to determine whether he’s got more than “small, spirited grinder who can post an occasional goal because of his junior pedigree” potential.

Ideally, Timashov would still be waiver-eligible, and able to truly blossom at the AHL level before being brought up to the NHL full-time, but his three seasons with the Marlies leave the Wings in a bit of a pickle.

They’re going to have to give this young man regular ice time, perhaps on Ehn’s fourth line, or the Wings will have to waive him and possibly lose him if they truly want Timashov to develop into a Taro Hirose-sized offensive contributor–and, along those lines, the Wings already have a Timashov-type player in Hirose.

Coming off a $693,333 contract, Timashov is an affordable-to-retain player, and the Wings, like the Leafs before them, love the fact that Timashov is a fearless physical player despite his small size, but it’s fish-or-cut-bait time.

If I were Steve Yzerman, I’d keep Timashov for another year and see what happens, but I would not be afraid to waive him if I felt that it was best for his long-term development.

Finally, we discuss a remnant of the Ken Holland era in defenseman Madison Bowey.

Bowey was brought to the Red Wings as part of the Nick Jensen trade in the spring of 2019 (which seems like a lifetime ago), and the Winnipeg native was waived and sent to Grand Rapids for a very brief moment last December. The Red Wings ultimately employed the smooth-skating but inconsistent Bowey for 53 games this past season, and he posted 3 goals and 14 assists for 17 points.

At 6’2″ and 202 pounds, Bowey is of about average modern-day NHL size, and he’s shown flashes of top-four potential, but Bowey is also tremendously inconsistent in terms of his puck-handling, and there are some serious, “Oh, shit!” moments in which he can be either overpowered physically, and/or he plain old has brain farts with the puck and is taken advantage of.

Bowey’s coming off a 2-year, $2 million contract, so we’re not talking about a player of a significant cap hit, but last season was his first full-time NHL season, and at 25, with the Wings’ defensive prospects improving and Alex Biega re-signed…

Detroit has Danny DeKeyser, Patrik Nemeth, Filip Hronek and Biega already in the mix, Gustav Lindstrom pushing for an NHL spot, Dennis Cholowski facing a fish-or-cut-bait developmental year, Moritz Seider coming off a solid rookie campaign in the AHL and all of Brian Lashoff, Dylan McIlrath and Joe Hicketts available as serviceable third-pair guys.

That’s a total of 4 regular NHL defensemen, 3 NHL prospects and 3 AHL vets already ready to go.

If the Wings walk away from Erne, Perlini and Bowey, that gives the team just short of $3 million to spend on other players, too, and as the salary cap is going to remain at $81.5 million for the next two seasons (at least), every penny counts.

That $32-34 million in cap space goes quickly, and if the Red Wings choose to sign Bertuzzi and Mantha to long-term deals instead of “bridge” contracts.

The Wings need a back-up goaltender, if they can sign an impact defenseman (I don’t believe that Torey Krug has any desire to join the Red Wings, home ties be damned, but there are some players out there that could help reinforce the blueline), the Wings will do so, and they can do the same at forward without negatively affecting their forward depth.

The issue really is on defense, where the blueline is very crowded, and the youngsters need time to shine, so:

If I were Steve Yzerman, I would thank Madison Bowey for his time and walk away from him.

TL;DR and/or long story short: the Red Wings have five restricted free agents that the team could theoretically walk away from by not submitting qualifying offers to Adam Erne, Brendan Perlini, Christoffer Ehn, Dmytro Timashov and Madison Bowey.

This “play the kids!” Wings fan would suggest that the Red Wings’ management only keep Ehn and Timashov out of the five aforementioned players for the sake of carving out cap space to re-sign Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha, affording the Wings a little more space to sign free agents in the NHL’s new “flat cap” world, and, most importantly, letting Erne, Perlini and Bowey go would afford the team more roster space to give younger players larger roles on the 2020-2021 Red Wings.

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George Malik

My name is George Malik, and I'm the Malik Report's editor/blogger/poster. I have been blogging about the Red Wings since 2006, when MLive hired me to work their SlapShots blog, and I joined Kukla's Korner in 2011 as The Malik Report. I'm starting The Malik Report as a stand-alone site, hoping that having my readers fund the website is indeed the way to go to build a better community and create better content.

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