The Detroit Red Wings signed three players in their 30s Sunday when NHL free agency began.
What happened to the rebuild and the youth movement?
General manager Ken Holland said the organization can still provide opportunity to young players while continuing to rely on veterans.
The Red Wings re-signed defenseman Mike Green, who turns 33 on Oct. 12, for two years at a $5.375 million cap hit. They brought back left wing Thomas Vanek, 34, on a one-year deal at $3 million. They inked goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who turns 30 on Aug. 7, for three years at $3 million per season.
“As we go forward over the next year or two and we’re trying to transition from older people, it’s important that we’re competitive,” Holland said. “It’s important that we’ve got some veterans around our kids. At the same time, it’s important that our kids are going to get an opportunity. We believe we can make both things happen.”
The Red Wings expect forwards Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, their top picks in each of the past two drafts, to compete for roster spots in training camp and the preseason and possibly make the jump from juniors to the NHL. Left wing Evgeny Svechnikov, their 2015 top pick who experienced a down year in 2017-18 with the Grand Rapids Griffins, also is in the mix for a job.
They are counting on right-shooting defenseman Filip Hronek, coming off a strong rookie season with the Griffins, to seriously push for a job. Holland said 2016 top pick Dennis Cholowski as well as Libor Sulak and Joe Hicketts will battle for a spot as well.
Green’s signing likely leaves only one spot on a blue line that includes Danny DeKeyser, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley and Nick Jensen.
“We’re going to give a lot of young players a long look in preseason,” Holland said. “The hope is that two or three kids crack our lineup. But they’ve got to be ready. I don’t believe you just put them on the team. The message to these players was you’ve got to come in and win a job and we’re going to give them every opportunity.”
Holland said it’s important to have veterans around to mentor the youth and for the team to be competitive.
“The longer we can hang in, the better the environment is for everybody – fans, players, especially young players,” Holland said. “But also, my focus is probably a little bit down the road. Hopefully we can hang in and be in the playoff race. Some of the young people that were on the team last year need to take another step. We need some of the veteran players to play at the same level or a touch better.
“How good can Rasmussen be? How good can Zadina be? How can good can (Tyler) Bertuzzi be? What does (Anthony) Mantha do this year? What does Dylan Larkin do this year? What does (Andreas) Athanasiou do this year? Dealing with young people, there’s no track record. If all those young people can take a little step, we can be relevant. If not enough of those players take a step forward or there’s some that step backwards, it’s going to affect our ability to compete.”
Holland said Green was signed because of his mobility, puck-moving ability, offense and right-handed shot. His deal includes a no-trade clause that expires on Feb. 1, 2020.
Green led the team in average ice time (22:05) and led defensemen in points (33). His season ended March 22 due to a herniated disc that required surgery. Green said he’ll be ready for the start of training camp.
“His skating is a strength in a league that is heavy on speed and mobility,” Holland said. “He can go back and get the puck. He can join the rush.”
Vanek assures the team of having a right-handed shooter among its top nine forwards. He had 15 goals and 38 points in 48 games with the Red Wings in 2016-17 before being traded to Florida at the deadline for a third-round pick. He tallied 24 goals and 56 points in 80 games between Vancouver and Columbus last season. This deal includes a full no-trade clause.
“He was very popular in the locker room; the players looked up to him,” Holland said. “We signed him to score goals, but he’s as good a playmaker as he is a goal-scorer. He’s a big body (6-2, 214). He’s going to be good on the power play.”
Bernier went 19-13-3 last season with Colorado, posting a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.
“Jonathan Bernier played well in Colorado and in Anaheim the year before and in Toronto,” Holland said. “We need to be strong in goal and we think with Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier we’re going to have a good 1-2 punch in net.”