Free agent signings set up Wings for future and improve team now
The last three free agents the Red Wings signed are, from left, defenseman Troy Stecher, goaltender Thomas Greiss and center Vladislav Namestnikov.
After signing five free agents since noon Friday, the Red Wings have set themselves up to stockpile even more future draft picks. And they have upgraded themselves in goal, on defense and at forward.
The latest signing, on Sunday, was of center Vladislav Namestnikov, who agreed to a two-year contract with a $2 million cap hit for each season.
That came after Detroit signed goaltender Thomas Greiss (two years, $3.6 million per season) and defenseman Troy Stecher (two years, $1.7 million per season) on Saturday and right winger Bobby Ryan (one year, $1 million) and defenseman Jon Merrill (one year, $950,000) on Friday.
The short contracts, particularly the one-year deals to Ryan and Merrill, will make them more attractive to teams trying to make a playoff push at the trading deadline in the coming season (the latest projection is a possible early January start). That will give the Red Wings a chance to acquire even more draft picks in any potential deal.
The team also has several players entering the final year of their contracts who could be moved for picks. They include forwards Darren Helm, Luke Glendening and Valtteri Filppula; defenseman Patrik Nemeth; goaltender Jonathan Bernier, and recently acquired defenseman Marc Staal.
GM Steve Yzerman has said the only way to rebuild is through the draft and stockpiling as many draft picks and selecting as many players as possible.
Detroit has nine selections in 2021, including three in the second round and two in the third. They have all nine of their picks in 2022 plus an extra fourth-rounder. The team selected 12 players last week in the 2020 draft, including six of the first 70 picks.
On the ice, Greiss will have the biggest impact as the team tries to improve on a dismal 2019-20 season in which it finished last overall, 23 points behind the next-worse franchise.
He will be a huge upgrade over Jimmy Howard’s dreadful campaign last season. Greiss, 34, was with the New York Islanders last season, where he backed up Semyon Varlamov and was 16-9-4 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Greiss, 6-2, 232 pounds, will compete with Bernier for playing time.
“I think we’re both very competitive guys, and I’m looking forward to competing with him,” Greiss said on www.mlive.com. “We had the same goalie coach (Adam Francilia) back in the day, and I’m really looking forward to playing with him and heard good things about him.”
On the blue line, the three new players – Merrill, Stecher and Staal – are certainly an upgrade over Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Madison Bowey, from whom the Red Wings have moved on.
Merrill is a solid, dependable, stay-at-home defenseman who will likely log a lot of time on the penalty kill.
Right-handed shooter Stecher, 26, and 5-10, 186 lbs., spent the last four seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, during which he was 5-12-17 and plus-10 in 69 games last season.
Filip Hronek is Detroit’s only other right-shot defenseman in its top six along with lefty shooters Danny DeKeyser, Nemeth, Staal and Merrill. The Red Wings also have right-hand shooting Alex Biega on the blue line.
Ryan, 33, though he is not the offensive force he once was, still brings a much-needed right-handed shooter with a good shot to the top-six forward group and the power play.
Namestnikov, 27 and 6-feet, 183 pounds, is a versatile pivot who can play effectively on the second, third or fourth line. He has played for three teams (New York Rangers, Ottawa and Colorado) with a total of 17 goals and 31 points in 65 games this past season.
He is a native of Zhukovskiy, Russia, but spent time in the Detroit area as a teenager and is the nephew of former Red Wing Vyacheslav Kozlov, a member of the Russian Five.