The Red Wings' Cap Space & 4 Ways to Use It

marc stall acquired with 2nd round pick by red wings
By Jeff Watters

November 6, 2020

With Anthony Mantha locked in for another 4 years (at a very palatable cap hit of 5.7MM AAV), Steve Yzerman can now turn his attention back to the UFA and trade markets to round out his roster with what’s left of the Red Wings’ cap space. 

In a press conference yesterday (Wednesday, November 4), Yzerman mentioned he hadn’t ruled out dipping back into free agency to add another player. This may be contingent on Dmytro Timashov signing elsewhere next season (presumably Russia), but that’s purely speculation. There is still a lot of talent available, and although in a normal year it wouldn’t make sense for a team like Detroit to delve back into the free-agent pool…well, more on that later.

Stevie Y. has also made it no secret he intends to keep in touch with cap-strapped teams and will be looking to swing a deal to acquire draft picks, prospects, or young roster players in exchange for taking a large contract off of a team’s hands. Yzerman has already made one such deal this offseason, acquiring Marc Staal and a 2021 2nd rounder for future considerations back in September.

Beyond trades and free agency, the Red Wings have a few additional options as well. Let’s take a look at the Red Wings’ cap space and 4 different avenues Steve Yzerman could take to take full advantage of their current cap situation.

Option 1 : Trade for Contracts & Picks/Prospects

I still see this as the most likely outcome. With just over $9.5MM in cap space available, the Red Wings have plenty of options here. Considering the number of teams with little, or no cap space available, something’s got to give. Contracts will simply need to be moved.

Now, it is important to remember that the Red Wings are not the only team with cap space to spare. Teams like Ottawa, Florida, Nashville, and New Jersey are also flush with cap space, and all will be looking to take advantage of similar opportunities,

But I’m confident in Stevie, and I just keep coming back to two teams I think he’ll match up with. 

First up — the defending champs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Yes, Yzerman is the former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, so you do have to consider the relationship he’s built with Julien BriseBois and the Bolts’ front office. But put yourself in BriseBois’ shoes for a moment; you need to sign RFAs Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak. You also have to think this will cost you upwards of at least $11MM – 12MM when all is said and done. With just $2.8MM in cap space, that will put you $8MM – $9MM over the cap, and this isn’t even factoring in the replacement players who would presumably come in at league minimum after you move out a few large contracts.

julien brisebois tampa bay lightning general manager is in a difficult position
Julien BriseBois has some tough decisions to make this offseason | Photo:

Long story short, the Lightning are in cap hell and are going to lose some assets for nothing. 

Considering one year of Marc Staal and his $5.7MM cap hit netted the Red Wings a 2nd rounder, and the Lightning are in a much more unfavorable position than the Rangers were, let’s consider 3 possible deals Yzerman could explore:

1. To Detroit: LW Ondrej Palat (2 yrs, $5.3MM AAV), 2nd Round Pick (2022)
    To Tampa: 5th Round Pick (2022)

While Lightning fans would think this is insane, the reality is BriseBois doesn’t have any leverage here whatsoever. Whether it’s Detroit or another team taking advantage of the Tampa GM, he is going to have to pay to get back under the cap.

Palat would be one of the easier players for Tampa to move, and it’s not your typical “bad contract,” but the Czech winger is a supporting player making over $5MM annually could be someone Brisbois may have to move on from. Palat would be a great addition for the Red Wings and could slot in on their second line.

Stevie Y. would also receive a 2nd Round Pick in 2022 for doing his ol’ buddy a solid and assisting him in his quest to become cap compliant. This would help spread out the Wings accumulation of picks, as they already have three 2nd rounders in 2021. Finally, Yzerman would send over a 5th to give Tampa’s scouting department a chance to recoup some value in a few years.

This deal may be wishful thinking, as there are 4 or 5 others BriseBois would rather trade before dealing Palat, but let’s have fun and hope it comes to this. We don’t know how willing teams will be to “play ball” with Tampa, so there’s a reality in which they don’t move the contracts they want to. 

As Palat is a very good player, the Red Wings would also be able to flip him at the 2021 or 2022 trade deadline in exchange for additional assets if they so choose.

It is worth noting that like many Lightning players, Palat does have a no-trade clause and would need to approve any trade. 

2. To Detroit: LW Alex Killorn (3 yrs, $4.45MM AAV), 1st Round Pick (2022), 2nd Round Pick (2023)
    To Tampa: 7th Round Pick (2022)

Killorn, 31, had a career year last season. I would definitely expect some regression in 2021, especially playing on a much less talented Red Wings squad. Killorn’s contract is not awful but does pay him through his age-33 season.

A 2022 1st round pick would be coming back in this deal, along with a 2nd rounder in 2023. You’ll begin to notice a trend with these trade proposals, and that’s the inclusion of a 2022 1st Round Pick. The 2022 draft is already being referred to as the ‘Shane Wright Draft,’ and for good reason. He may be the best draft prospect we’ve seen since Connor McDavid, and that isn’t hyperbole.

shane wright kingston frontenacs detroit red wings 2022 draft
The 2022 draft is all about Shane Wright | Photo: Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Palat is a much better player than Killorn, and with the extra year on Killorn’s contract, the Lightning should expect to have to give up that 1st rounder. The Wings also give up just a 7th round pick (2022) in this deal.

Killorn has a modified no-trade clause which allows him to submit a 16 team no-trade list. Unfortunately, the Wings could very well be on that list.

3. To Detroit: Tyler Johnson (4yrs, $5MM AAV), 1st Round Pick (2021), 1st Round Pick (2022) 
    To Tampa: 7th Round Pick (2022)

Here’s where it gets difficult. Tampa doesn’t have a great farm system, so it’s tough to put together a package that consists of anything but draft picks. The Wings could look to acquire an Alex Barre-Boulet or Cal Foote, but wouldn’t you rather stick to high draft picks? Those guys don’t project to be impact players in the NHL, and you have to be looking to swing big here.

This would be a tough pill to swallow for Lightning fans, but I think the value lines up here. You have to believe Julien BriseBois has already offered up Johnson + a 1st Round Pick to teams and been turned away. A 25th – 31st overall pick simply isn’t enough for taking on 4 years of Tyler Johnson at a $5MM cap hit.

While two 1st rounders appear to be an astronomical price to pay to move Johnson’s contract, I just don’t see an alternative package the Lightning could put together that doesn’t include an Anthony Cirelli or Eric Cernak, and that’s very unlikely for a number of reasons.

Johnson, too, has a no-trade clause and would have to approve any trade.

New York Islanders

The other team the Wings will be looking long and hard at is the New York Islanders.

Lou Lamoriello recently signed defenseman Ryan Pulock to a 2-year deal at $5MM AAV (walking him straight to free agency, for some reason) and is now left with just under $4MM in cap space to lock up franchise cornerstone, Mat Barzal.

That’s, uh, not happening.

Depending on what kind of term Barzal gets from the Islanders, his cap hit could range anywhere from $6.5MM-$8.5MM. That means at least a Leo Komarov ($3MM AAV) will have to be moved, but let’s think bigger. Here are 2 deals Yzerman could look to pull off using the red wings’ cap space:

1. To Detroit: Johnny Boychuk (2 yrs, $6MM AAV), 1st Round Pick (2022)
    To New York: Future Considerations

This is a deal Yzerman could look at if he’s not confident Danny Dekeyser will be healthy and dependable in 2021. Actually, if Boychuk, 36, brings back a 1st rounder the Red Wings should be all over this, regardless. Boychuk is in the twilight of his career and the Islanders would love to get out of the final two years of his deal. 

The 2022 1st rounder would give the Red Wings another potential lottery pick in a draft headlined by potential franchise centre, Shane Wright, as the Islanders are a team that could see some regression in the next few years. Their core certainly isn’t getting any younger and this pick would have the potential to be much more valuable than a Tampa 1st rounder.

Boychuk also has a modified no-trade clause. His allows him to give a list of 8 teams he would allow a trade to.

andrew ladd trade contract
The Andrew Ladd contract has been a disaster for the Islanders | Photo:

2. To Detroit: Andrew Ladd (3 yrs, $5.5MM AAV), 1st Round Pick (2022), RW Oliver Wahlstrom
    To New York: 7th round pick (2022)

Ladd played in the AHL last season. That tells you all you need to know. One of many absolutely dreadful contracts handed out during the 2016 offseason, Ladd’s 3 remaining years would be nothing but dead money. While Boychuk wouldn’t bring any value, Ladd would bring negative value. Lamoriello would have to make this an offer Stevie couldn’t refuse.

The 2022 1st round pick here is a no-brainer. Any deal would start with that. Again, Shane Wright draft.

Wahlstrom, the 11th overall pick in 2018, would give the Red Wings another young sniper to add to their future core and would become one of the team’s top 5 prospects. The 20-year-old scored 10 goals and had 22 points in 45 games for Bridgeport in the AHL last season, and played in 9 games for the Isles before the NHL season was cut short due to COVID-19.

oliver wahlstrom trade target
Lou Lamoriello may have to part with someone like Oliver Wahlstrom this offseason | Photo: Joseph D. Sullivan

Option 2: Sign a Free Agent to Flip at the Trade Deadline

With their abundance of cap space and a number of talented UFAs still on the board, the Red Wings could also look to sign a player to a one-year deal with a higher AAV and the promise of shipping them off to a contender at the trade deadline.

In a normal year, guys like Mike Hoffman, Mikael Granlund, and Erik Haula wouldn’t likely be available this late into free agency.

Then you have guys like Anthony Duclair and Andreas Athanasiou (remember him?) who could net you a 2nd round pick at the deadline.

Again, if Steve Yzerman isn’t confident Danny Dekeyser will be healthy going into 2021, maybe he could look at a guy like Travis Hamonic?

The forwards, specifically Hoffman and Duclair, look like the really interesting guys here. If Hoffman comes in and performs, you have to think he’ll net you at least a 1st round pick at the deadline, especially with Detroit’s ability to retain salary.

In a normal year, you may ask why any of these players would decide to sign with a team that finished dead last season. Well, we’ve seen how persuasive Yzerman can be when luring UFAs to Detroit, so this is definitely not out of the question. 

One downside of going the UFA route is that if a player you bring in happens to get injured prior to the trade deadline, you’re left with nothing. 

Option 3: Stand Pat (For Now)

While taking on a contract or bringing in a UFA right now are both options that could net you futures, a third option would be to stand pat and wait things out for a while.

Instead of locking yourself into the multiyear contract of an aging player or tying up money by signing a Mike Hoffman to a one year deal and risking an injury, it may be a good idea to keep some cap flexibility into this season as teams determine how the flat cap will affect their future plans.

Teams have already started planning for next year’s expansion draft, and with GMs around the league wanting to avoid a Vegas Part II situation, they may be more inclined to move a young roster player or prospect in a deal to a non-playoff team like the Red Wings rather than help Seattle become an immediate contender by having the expansion club absolve them of their cap issues. As teams finalize their protected lists, a flexible cap could be hugely beneficial for the Red Wings.

It’s too early to tell who could be available in this scenario with teams looking to extend potential 2021 UFAs ahead of the expansion draft, but there will surely be plenty of tires for Yzerman to kick leading up to the draft.

Option 4: The Offer Sheet

This is the least likely of the options listed, but also maybe the most interesting.

The last team to leave an offer sheet unmatched was the 2007 Anaheim Ducks (Edmonton Oilers – Dustin Penner) and there’s only been one offer sheet in the last 7 years (Sebastian Aho – Montreal). This very rarely happens.

But this is 2020, and if there was a year where we shouldn’t be surprised to see an offer sheet…well, it would be this year. 

Prime candidates for an offer sheet would be the aforementioned Mikhail Sergachev, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak of the Lightning, along with Mat Barzal of the Isles.

Would it make sense for the Red Wings to offer sheet any of these players?

If your first reaction was:

“Absolutely not. The Red Wings are not in a position to be giving away ANY 1st round picks when they are likely to pick in the bottom 5 once again and will be a draft lottery team for at least the next 2 years,” then you and I are on the same page.

Well, we would be in a normal year – but this year is anything but normal. Let me explain.

To see the full picture of what an offer sheet from the Red Wings to any of these players would look like, we need to consider what Detroit would need to give up in order to acquire any of these players via said offer sheet.

Here are the current compensation tiers (via capfriendly):

Average Annual Value (AAV)Compensation
$0 – $1,439,820No compensation
$1,439,821 – $2,181,5451 third round pick
$2,181,546 – $4,363,0951 second round pick
$4,363,096 – $6,544,640

1 first round pick 

1 third round pick

$6,544,641 – $8,726,188

1 first round pick 

1 second round pick

1 third round pick

$8,726,189 – $10,907,735

2 first round picks

1 second round pick

1 third round pick

$10,907,736 – ∞4 first round picks

Yup — FOUR 1st rounders for an offer sheet with an AAV of $10.9MM+. Crazy, huh? 

First, let’s all agree that none of the RFAs above are signing for anything less than the 3rd tier, which would cost Detroit a 2nd round pick. Let’s also agree that if Cirelli or Cernak were in that range, Tampa would match immediately. 

Moving onto the 4th tier, would you give up a 1st and a 3rd for either of those two? Not me. That takes Cirelli and Cernak out of the picture.

In that same 4th tier, Tampa and New York would match any offer sheet for Sergachev and Barzal without hesitation. 

This brings us to the 5th tier. An unmatched offer sheet with an AAV between $6,544,641 – $8,726,188 would cost the Red Wings a first, a second, and a 3rd round pick…and I’m not sure I wouldn’t pull the trigger…

Hear me out.

mikhael sergachev offer sheet
Would Steve Yzerman try to acquire Mikhael Sergachev again? | Photo: John Hefti, USA Today Sports

The Red Wings have three 2nd round picks and two 3rd rounders in 2021. It’s also not out of the question that Steve Yzerman can swing a deal for an additional 1st rounder (note: this may be more difficult with an offer sheet taking up a hefty chunk of that $9.5MM left in cap space). Any 1st rounder Yzerman acquires may not be a lottery pick, but this year’s draft is as wide open as any in recent memory. There are some fantastic players at the top of the draft, but there’s no consensus #1 pick or franchise talent.

So, even if Tampa or New York won the lottery with the Red Wings pick, the Wings would have Mat Barzal or Mikhail Sergachev – both players arguably being better than any player in this year’s draft will be, and just 23 and 22-years-old, respectively.

The Wings would also still have two 2nd rounders and a 3rd rounder in the 2021 draft.

Now, would Tampa or New York match either of these offer sheets?

For Barzal, surely, yes. He is worth every bit of the $8.7MM he would be owed annually.

Sergachev? I’m not so sure. If Steve Yzerman drew up a six-year deal with an AAV over $7MM, would Tampa match, or say “Thanks, Mikhail. Here’s your ring, now good luck in Detroit.” Matching a Sergachev offer sheet at this price would make Julien BriseBois’ job even harder this offseason. It might not even be possible for Tampa to move out the kind of money needed to make this happen.

Offer sheets are rarely unmatched. Could I see Yzerman sending over an offer sheet for his former colleague in Tampa to match? Probably not, but if he’s feeling frisky this would be the year to do it.

Final Thoughts

It will surely be a busy winter for Steve Yzerman as he explores every possible scenario. In just a few years, the Red Wings have gone from cap hell to being in an envious position with very few cap commitments, and this should excite fans. With only Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha signed beyond the 2021-22 season, Yzerman has ultimate cap flexibility, and he’s given no indication he’s incapable of maximizing the value of every dollar spent. 

It will be interesting to see what Yzerman determines to be the best way to utilize the team’s remaining cap space. Will he be able to add more picks? Another 1st rounder would obviously be great. Could we see a Teuvo Teräväinen to the Canes type deal? One can only hope.

My preference? Target the Islanders. They are looking like a serious regression candidate, and if Lou Lamoriello is all in (he may have no choice), the Red Wings could be the beneficiary. An Islanders 1st round pick could very well be another lottery pick, and with the Shane Wright (2022) draft approaching, the more kicks at the can you have, the better. 

Stay tuned, folks. Let’s see what Stevie Y. has up his sleeve. 

Featured Image: Bruce Bennett, Getty Images

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