As we approach the start of training camp, we are left with our beloved Red Wings a mess. Head scratching contracts, signings or lack of, and youth knocking on the door in Grand Rapids.
Has anything really changed?
In short, no. Our tenured GM, Ken Holland, has talked a game of “retooling on the fly” but in reality, he has added an underwhelming Luke Witkowski to play in the bottom six forward group, or a spot in 7-8 defencemen. His biggest addition was Trevor Daley which brings an experienced veteran rear guard to a team that has just been bad on the blue line since Nicklas Lidstrom returned to Sweden.
The key problem that the team faces in late August, is the same one Wings fans have been chattering about for a number of years. The bad contracts that have strangled the team to the cap ceiling. Names like Nielsen (5 years, $5.25 million AAV), Abdelkader (6 years, $4.25 million AAV), Helm (4 years, $3.85 million AAV), DeKeyser (5 years, $5 million AAV), and Ericsson (3 years, $4.25 million AAV.) No trade and no movement clauses litter the roster and Holland had 3 chances to fix some of his wrong doings this summer and failed to capitalize.
Mid-June the window opened to buy out one of these dreadful contracts. Since all of the contracts above are on players over 26 years of age, the buyout is 2/3 versus 1/3 on players under 26 years of age. The ever popular topic of a buyout, Jonathan Ericsson, would take his cap hit of $4.25 million and turn that into a buy out cap hit of $1.417 million over six years. A savings of $2.83 million.
Holland then had the expansion draft to move out a bad contract. If you look at the trades that the Golden Knights made the one that stands out is the deal with Columbus. The Blue Jackets wanted to protect talent and move David Clarkson off their books. Clarkson’s cap hit is $5.25 million for the next 3 years. He is also an Long Term Injured Reserve candidate. This cost Columbus a 1st round pick in 2017 and a 2nd rounder in 2019. Holland wasn’t trying to protect talent like Columbus was so I can’t see a player like Nielsen costing a massive haul in picks to get gone. Clarkson will probably never play again very much like Johan Franzen, but Nielsen could have been a solid player for Vegas with low expectations. He would have only had to waive his no movement clause.
The last chance to clear a massive albatross off the books was when Tomas Tatar went to his arbitration hearing. At first I was wondering why the Wings ended up at a hearing only to resign Tatar for his exact asking price. Then I discovered that another buy out window opened to dump another loyalty flawed deal. This of course passed without anything happening.
Now in late August Red Wings brass look at their cap and see they are over by $3 million, with Franzen to move to the LTIR the day before the season opens and, and Andreas Athanasiou still unsigned. With a real threat that he may not be under contract for the start of the season, or even lacing up skates in North America for that fact.
If Ken Holland had exercised all of his options, spent a pick or two on moving Nielsen, and bought out Ericsson and Helm for example, the cap crunch wouldn’t look as horrid. Those moves would have clear $10.65 million in cap space and another $6 million when Mike Green is not resigned for next season. I’m sure Athanasiou would be signed with money to spare and a long term outlook that isn’t as bleak with Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin to resign in the summer of 2018.
When Red Wing faithful chat “FIRE HOLLAND” you know why. The summer of 2017 was a crucial summer for the future of this franchise, and Ken Holland did nothing to help Hockeytown today or for years down the road with his mismanagement of the salary cap.