Steve Yzerman made a statement in free agency Wednesday. He wants this team to take more than just baby steps next season.
The Detroit Red Wings general manager used $20 million of his roughly $30 million in cap space for a signing spree that addressed many needs and changed the look of the team to some degree.
The big move was signing Ann Arbor native and University of Michigan product Andrew Copp for five years at $5.625 million per season. Coming off a career year and strong playoff run with the Rangers, Copp upgrades the second-line center spot behind his friend and former U-M teammate Dylan Larkin. And he’s still in his prime, having turned 28 last week.
Yzerman acquired a couple of wingers with offensive ability in 34-year-old David Perron (two years at a $4.75 million cap hit) and Dominik Kubalik (two years at $2.5 million per). Perron is coming off a 27-goal, 57-point season in St. Louis. Kubalik, after scoring 30 goals as a rookie with Chicago in 2019-20, has regressed, collecting 32 goals and 70 points in two seasons since. He’s only 26, so a change of scenery could help.
The Red Wings added left-shooting defensemen in big, abrasive Ben Chiarot (6-3, 234), who signed for four years at $4.75 per season, and Olli Maatta, a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Pittsburgh who inked for one year at $2.25 million.
None of these players are all-stars, but they are solid additions. The Red Wings should score more, be tighter defensively and improve in special teams. The goaltending was addressed Friday with the acquisition of Ville Husso to form what looks like a dependable tandem with Alex Nedeljkovic.
The Red Wings are deeper and more skilled. The message from Yzerman is clear – last season’s fade (8-18-4 over the final 30 games), which included 9-2 and 11-2 losses and resulted in the team finishing second-to-last in goals against, must be reversed quickly.
Now it’s up to new head coach Derek Lalonde and all the players to deliver.
Copp, Perron and Chiarot spoke with the media, and all said the same thing – this team is ready for the next step.
“It shows the belief (Yzerman) has in the group and the guys he’s adding,” Copp said.
“I have a lot of faith in where this team is headed and the young talent that’s come up the last couple of years, and obviously the guys that have been here like Larks and (Tyler) Bertuzzi. I feel like we have a good group and we’re just ready to take the next step.”
Chiarot was asked if this day could be a turning point in a rebuild that has seen the Red Wings miss the playoffs six years in a row.
“Absolutely,” he said. “The young guys kind of getting into their mid-20s and then you add veteran guys like myself and Perron and Copp, I think that’s a sign to the whole fanbase and the team that the team is ready to take that next step.”
Perron said his experience during the Vegas Golden Knights’ surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final as an expansion club in 2018 tells him fast turnarounds are possible.
“The moment you get a call from Steve Yzerman, it gets your attention right away,” Perron said. “I think the Red Wings, with some of the signings that happened today, are ready to take the next step in the evolution of the team and I wanted to be part of that.
“I know I’m getting older, but I still have a lot to prove in my head.”
These players join a core that features 30-goal scorers Larkin and Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, who surely would have reached 30 if he hadn’t missed most of the season following shoulder surgery, and talented rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond.
“It’s well-known around the league that it’s a young and up-and-coming team,” Chiarot said. “Today, it just makes it an even more exciting team. Steve Yzerman builds good teams. I think everyone knows that.”
Time will tell if this was money well-spent. But Yzerman, after a series of conservative, short-term moves his first three years as Detroit’s GM, was prepared for a bigger splash.
Andrew Copp fills biggest void
David Perron should provide secondary scoring, grit
Need for left-shooting defensemen addressed
Red Wings hoping for Dominik Kubalik to rebound
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