4 unsigned free agents the Red Wings should target

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We’re entering a quieter phase of NHL Free Agency after an extremely hot start that includes the Detroit Red Wings, who have been tactical with their signings as they head into the next season of their rebuild. Still, the Red Wings have plenty of ceiling space (around $ 18.7 million) available and need to fill in some holes on their roster. With that in mind, here are four unsigned free agents I’d love to see GM Steve Yzerman target.

Sami Vantanen (D, 2019-20: NJD / CAR)

Incredibly, Sami Vatanen has yet to be signed. It’s a sign of the times, and teams in a cap crisis are not as flexible as they could have been without the pandemic. If the Red Wings wanted to race against a capable d-man like Vatanen, I don’t think any fan would disapprove.

L’ancien Devil du New Jersey Sami Vatanen (Jess Starr / The Hockey Writers)

The good thing about Vatanen is that you know what you are getting. He can play at least 20 minutes a night, score a point in every other game, and is highly coveted as a right shot. That makes his signing a priority to help improve the franchise as the Red Wings continue to rebuild.

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The Red Wings’ right side of the defense is quite populated with Filip Hronek, newly acquired Troy Stecher, and Danny DeKeyser (who just left IR). However, neither of these players should prevent Yzerman from acquiring a talent like Vatanen. It is unclear what it would take to sign him, but it could be a win-win couple.

Anthony Duclair (LW / RW, 2019-20: OTT)

Ottawa has decided not to bring Duclair back despite being an affordable restricted free agent, which says more about the Senators than Duclair. Yes, he’s bounced back since it was written in 2013 (five teams in six years) but if I was Yzerman how could I not sign him? He is young, approachable and fits the leadership of the team.

Sénateurs d'Ottawa Anthony Duclair
Left winger for free agent Anthony Duclair (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Fred Chartrand)

Duclair just finished a 40-point season and could have surpassed his career high of 44 with the Arizona Coyotes in 2015-16. He scored a career-high 23 goals for the Sens last season and he could become a consistent 30-goal scorer. He has the hands and the speed to do it, and gets into the perfect position to be consistent.

Every Anthony Duclair goal from 2019-20 / Sportsnet

Bringing in a player like Duclair would be wise for any team, not just the Red Wings, as their team gets better by bringing in talented players. The Red Wings could sign him as insurance in case other wingers Bobby Ryan or Darren Helm struggle to come out. Duclair is also expected to consider signing with the Red Wings beyond next season, given they have a lot of ceiling space and few commitments beyond 2020-21.

Derick Brassard (C, 2019-20: NYI)

At this point, it’s fair to call the 33-year-old a companion. Brassard has been on six different teams since the start of 2015-16, but managed to play for the New York Islanders last season, scoring 10 goals and 32 points. That’s his highest point total in a season since 2017-18 and while he’s more likely to join a Stanley Cup contender, signing with the Red Wings could be a beneficial decision.

Derick Brassard Islanders de New York
Derick Brassard, ancien Islander de New York (Jess Starr / The Hockey Writers)

The Islanders probably would have brought Brassard back without their lack of space. They have around $ 8.9 million on hand, but have yet to re-sign Mathew Barzal and Ryan Pulock, leaving Brassard as a strange man. It’s the perfect opportunity for Yzerman to jump on a veteran player capable of leading a young team.

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Brassard signed for $ 1.2 million last season with the Islanders. With nearly $ 20 million in ceiling space, the Red Wings can pay close to that, if not more. Again, I’m sure he prefers to play for a team that is trying to win a Cup, without coming out of one of the worst seasons of the cap era. But, if he wanted to join a growing team and be a leader, Brassard in Detroit makes sense.

Andreas Athanasiou (C, LW, RW, 2019-20: DET / EDM)

This name sounds familiar. I should know this player. Oh wait, it’s coming back to me. Oh yeah, now I remember. Former Red Wing Andreas Athanasiou became an unrestricted free agent after the Edmonton Oilers failed to qualify him despite having traded for him (and Ryan Kuffner) at the trade deadline in the NHL in February.

Andreas Athanasiou Oilers d'Edmonton
It wouldn’t be difficult for Andreas Athanasiou to return to the Red Wings. (Photo by Harry How / Getty Images)

The Red Wings received two second-round picks (and Sam Gagner) from the Oilers for Athanasiou, one in 2020 and another in 2021. Detroit used the pick they received in this year’s draft to trade and ultimately selected Theodor Niderbach, who was ill playing with the J20 team from Frolunda in Sweden. It’s only a matter of time before he plays on their “A” team with the big boys.

It wouldn’t be too much of a change for Athanasiou considering he was drafted 110th overall by Detroit in 2012 and played his first four and a half seasons with them. For the Red Wings, he’s a player the organization loves and who probably only moved him because of what they got in return, not because of his attitude or work ethic or something like that. I’m all for an Athanasiou reunion, but like many other players in the open market, they are looking for the right situation to join.

Other notable names?

I’ve suggested to whom the Red Wings should extend the offering sheets to before, but it seems more unlikely with each passing day. From a positional standpoint, Detroit will likely be content to join the Jonathan Bernier-Thomas Greiss squad next season. Their defense is marginal but a bit crowded so I’m not sure they’ll bring in more d-men. If the Red Wings sign any other free agents, seek them out to fill a final six-row role as the team continue to try and cut some of their ridiculous contracts. But, as they say in Detroit, don’t stop believing.



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