Cleat Geeks

Winged Wheel Watch: Large Contracts Hindering Rebuild, Decreasing Trade Market


With the entry draft and busiest free agency period now past, the Detroit Red Wings sit with plenty of young pieces from the draft while being capped out after adding veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, along with a few other pieces, off of the open market.Image result for trevor daley

The splash in free agency was small but that’s to be expected for a team looking to shift their focus towards their stores of youth in Grand Rapids and rebuilding for future contention. The rebuild, once it begins, will be a relatively lengthy ordeal, as things sit right now, the reason being this: the Red Wings cannot begin a full rebuild due to their contractual and salary cap commitments.

Ken Holland, in what seems to have become his calling card as general manager, has never shied away from handing out lucrative, long-term deals to veteran players. As a result, the Red Wings have become the holders of the second most expensive payroll in the NHL, with an estimated $72,275,045 due to players in 2017-18.

Some Notable Contracts:

C Henrik Zetterberg ($6,083,333 cap hit from 2017-2021, with decreasing base salary as time progresses)

D Mike Green ($6 million cap hit in 2017-18, UFA in 2018)

G Jimmy Howard ($5,291,667 hit from 2017-2019)

C Frans Nielsen ($5.25 million cap hit from 2017-2022)

There are other sizeable contracts, with 10 total contracts registering cap hits of $4 million or more. As well, Johan Franzen registers a cap hit of just below $4 million, even as he sits unable to play with lingering concussion issues.

Image result for johan franzen red wingsSo the obvious solution is to trade these contracts, right?

On the surface, yes. But it’s far more difficult than just sending them away to the highest bidder.

First, there has to be a market for the players they want to trade.

Any of the aforementioned names, as well as bigger contracts owed to the likes of Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, would be prime contracts to dump. But there are problems as to how they would go about this.

First, there is the issue of no-trade clauses. Kronwall, Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson, and Helm all have some form of a NTC attached to their deals, which would require them to approve any deal that may arise.

Second, there is the size of these contracts. The Red Wings aren’t looking to move the likes of Zetterberg or Neilsen (not that they can, with Nielsen’s NTC), two of the club’s most lucrative deals, but there will be abundant issues in moving the others.

On defense, Kronwall and Ericsson are liabilities. Kronwall has become injury-prone with age and is past his peak effectiveness and physicality. Ericsson, despite his size advantage, has never played up to his build and has not been effective because of it. Both take up large cap hits and have little trade value due to the money they are owed, along with their on-ice performances (or lack thereof).

Helm and Abdelkader each carry issues of their own. Both are overpaid (Abdelkader $4.25 million annual hit, Helm $3.85 million) and are locked up for the long haul (2023 and 2021, respectively). Their skill sets have not proven to be worth the money they are receiving. Abdelkader, touted as one who could be the next captain of the storied Red Wings franchise, has never lived up to the production of someone with a deal of his size; he has scored 20 or more goals once (23 in 2014-15, which likely played a part in the larger deal he received) and has scored a career-high of 44 points. To top it off, he has battled injury issues over much of the last few seasons, which may have served to limit his numbers. Nonetheless, the Red Wings do not seem to want to depart with Abdelkader, as their loyalty for the future seems to lie with him.

Image result for darren helm Justin Abdelkader detroit red wings

Helm, while possessing very good speed, has battled injury problems and issues with his ability to finish on scoring opportunities. He appeared to have kicked this early in the 2016-17 campaign, as he performed well before injury derailed him and limited him to only 50 games. He has some upside, though not much of it may be left at age 30. It’s unlikely teams will want to roll the dice on him, especially with the money that he is owed.

For all of their inflated veteran deals, some real trade potential lies in some pieces.

Defenseman Mike Green is one of the better offensive blue line presences in the league, tallying 36 points in 72 games. His defensive effectiveness is debatable (a +/- rating of -20 last season) but it’s likely that any buyer willing to take on his $6 million cap hit will be looking to shore up their offense out of the back end.

Image result for Petr Mrazek detroit red wingsThe decision to expose netminder Petr Mrazek has sparked debate: is the man who the Red Wings once saw as their goalie of the future now expendable? Among reports of attitude issues and lack of effort on Mrazek’s part, the possibility of him leaving Detroit has become very real. At 25, he would serve as a solid building piece for a team looking to build their defense in search of contention. Conversely, he would also serve as an upgrade on many fronts for a contending team, serving in either a backup or starting role. His $4 million cap hit could prove to be club friendly to the right team, though it would likely have to have him as a starter for that kind of money.

Despite a down year last year, Riley Sheahan would serve any team, including the Red Wings, well. At 25, Sheahan is a big-bodied center with a right-handed shot that can produce goals. Though it took him 80 games to manage his only two goals of 2016-17, Sheahan, in 79 and 81 games in 2014-15 and 2015-16, respectively, netted 13 and 14 goals. He has the ability to score, especially with the right pairing and coaching. If his production level can return to what it was his $2.075 million cap hit will look pretty reasonable. The Toronto Maple Leafs were linked to him at the 2017 trade deadline and would serve as an interesting candidate to take him on, as he would reunite with former coach Mike Babcock.

However, as these cap issues persist, the Red Wings will turn their sights on an important task that has now become their most daunting: finding a way to retain restricted free agents Andreas Athanasiou and Tomas Tatar.

What pieces would you like to see the Red Wings deal away? Out of those with whom the club is willing to part ways, who do you think has the most trade value? Let me know in the comments below!

Find me on Twitter @milz_chris and follow @cleatgeeks for more hockey and sports news.


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