The Red Wings’ decision to buy out Justin Abdelkader won’t come easily: CapFriendly and PuckPedia both have the data regarding the fact that the Red Wings are going to be paying their former alternate captain $6.33 million over the next 6 years to not play for the Detroit Red Wings.
Abdelkader will probably find gainful employment of some kind with another NHL team during the free agency period, but Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman was blunt regarding his decision to pay Abdelkader to go away, as noted by WXYZ’s Brad Galli:
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also took note of Yzerman’s remarks…
“It was really just a cost-savings for us,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “We felt that the value of what we were paying him, we could try to save some money and replace Justin with a player making less.”
Under normal circumstances, the Wings could have waived Abdelkader and, once he cleared, assigned him to the Grand Rapids Griffins. That would have created roster room and provided a little more than $1 million in salary cap relief on Abdelkader’s $4.25 million average annual hit.
Taking that path, however, was waylaid by the pandemic.
And she offered a logical rationale as to why the Wings are doing what they’re doing:
With financial flexibility at his disposal, this was a way for Yzerman to make the team more competitive by opening a spot among the bottom six forwards. Evgeny Svechnikov, a first-round pick from 2015 who is no longer waiver exempt, could be a fit. So could one of the other restricted free agents Yzerman is expected to re-sign: Adam Erne, who he acquired via trade in 2019; Dmytro Timashov, who Yzerman claimed off waivers last season; or Christoffer Ehn, a fourth-round pick from 2014.
Also, to put it bluntly, Abdelkader’s play fell off a cliff after Pavel Datsyuk left the team, leaving the Wings with a 33-year-old who didn’t play every night, as MLive’s Ansar Khan noted:
Abdelkader, with his combination of skill and abrasiveness, was a key role player early in his career after being drafted in the second round (42nd overall) in 2005 out of Michigan State.
The Muskegon native experienced his best season in 2014-15, with career highs in goals (23) and points (44) while playing mostly on a line with Pavel Datsyuk. He was named alternate captain and emerged as a future candidate to be captain.
But his career took a turn for the worse in the 2016-17 season. Over the past four seasons, he has produced only 26 goals and 78 points in 259 games. He has posted a minus-75 rating over the past five seasons. He is coming off his worst season (no goals, three assists in 49 games), when he was made a healthy scratch on several occasions.
Abdelkader spoke with the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan regarding his situation–a couple of months ago:
In an interview with The Detroit News in May, Abdelkader admitted it was a disappointing season personally, but he was looking forward to a chance to rebound with the Wings.
“No, it wasn’t (a good season),” Abdelkader said. “I still feel good and healthy and I feel I can contribute. I’ve just got to get myself going into next season the best opportunity to contribute, and it’s not always points and goals and assists. There are intangibles and you have to make sure you’re bringing those intangibles and doing the little things every night.
“But when you go through a season where you’re not finding the back of the net like you think you can or have in the past, it can weigh on you and it was frustrating, for sure.”
Abdelkader broke a finger early in the season, which cost him a month out of the lineup. Late in the season, coach Jeff Blashill made Abdelkader a healthy scratch in four games.
“You never want to be in that position where you’re being taken out of the lineup,” Abdelkader said. “But any time you’re through a season like we had, and personally, if you’re not producing, there are going to be changes made to the lineup. I have to make sure I contribute. It’s motivating me going into this offseason to make sure I’m not in that position again.”
As The Athletic’s Max Bultman noted, the Wings are moving on, and Yzerman’s sending something of a message in doing so:
The move does give the Red Wings a bit more short-term flexibility in terms of both cash flow and the salary cap, as the offseason rolls on. Yzerman has been open about his willingness to use his cap space to acquire more draft picks, like Detroit did by taking on Marc Staal and a second-round pick on Sept. 26, though it’s unclear if another such deal will emerge.
As it stands, the Red Wings now have about $28 million in cap space with which to work, according to Cap Friendly, though they still have some significant internal spending to account for with their own players, too. The Red Wings have only 14 of 23 NHL roster players under contract for next season, and top restricted free agents Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi both need new deals.
Yzerman said last week he was “confident” the team will get both Mantha and Bertuzzi under contract, and that not having those deals done wouldn’t hold it back from anything else it needed to do in the meantime. Detroit also has five other pending RFAs (Madison Bowey, Dmytro Timashov, Adam Erne, Christoffer Ehn and Brendan Perlini) on whom it will need to finalize decisions ahead of Wednesday’s deadline to submit qualifying offers.
I don’t expect the Wings to keep all of their RFA’s, either, and that is a story for today at 5 PM EDT…
But as far as Abdelkader is concerned, he was truly a good player for the Datsyukian portion of his career, and he was a solid pro on and off the ice, at and away from the rink, during his tenure here. I wish him well.