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  • Writer's pictureGarth Wickham

Which Pending Free Agents Will the Red Wings bring back?

With the busy part of the NHL offseason nearing, Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings management team have internal work to do before they look to free agency or the trade market.

The Red Wings have 11 contracts expiring July first (three restricted free agents and eight unrestricted) that played NHL games this season or were on the NHL roster.

Here is how I see the players and their likeliness of returning to Detroit next season.

Likely Yes

Joe Veleno

Veleno took steps forward in his second full season, albeit being stapled in the bottom six. In 81 games, Veleno scored nine goals and 11 assists.

Being only 23 years old and a natural center, Veleno is a rarity not only on the Red Wings roster but also in the pipeline. People will naturally look toward Veleno’s counting stats and may be frustrated with the production from a somewhat recent first-round pick. Adjusting to the NHL game as a center is difficult for most young players.

Patience is essential with highly-touted players; look no further than Michael Rasmussen, who finally broke out this season at 23. I would expect a short-term deal for Veleno in the range of Rasmussen’s $1.46 million AAV.

Would make sense

Pius Suter collects a loose puck. NHLI via Getty Images

Pius Suter

After spending most of the 2021-22 season as the Red Wings’ second-line center, it looked like Pius Suter could have been more of a depth piece this past season after starting the season as a healthy scratch.

But as injuries reaped through Detroit’s forward core, Suter’s minutes began to increase, and by the midway point, he was one of the team’s most defensively reliable forwards.

When it looked like the Red Wings season was dead in February, Suter was a big piece of the team, winning seven out of eight games and finding themselves back in the playoff race.

Steve Yzerman decided to hold onto Suter at the trade deadline, and with that, how his season ended, and his importance on the penalty kill, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Suter back next season.

Alex Chiasson

Chiasson was one of the best stories around the Red Wings after the trade deadline. The 32-year-old was signed to an AHL contract with the Griffins, where he played 29 games, scoring nine goals and 11 assists, and was rewarded with a one-way NHL contract for his efforts.

In 20 games with the Red Wings, Chiasson scored six goals and three assists, five of which came on the powerplay, giving the first unit a reliable net-front scorer. While even strength isn’t a strength of his game, with an on-ice expected goals percentage of 42.7% per MoneyPuck, Chiasson produced on the powerplay, which Detroit has struggled to do the past few seasons. Given Chiasson will likely get a one-year deal around league minimum and how well he fits in at the end of the season, there’s a reality he’s back next season.

Jordan Oesterle

The Dearborn Heights native has been with the Red Wings for the past two seasons after being signed as an unrestricted free agent. In Oesterle’s first season, he was either a healthy scratch or the Red Wings’ top pair left-handed defensemen. With added depth this season, Oesterle was deployed as Detroit’s sixth or seventh defenseman, which helped him find success.

Oesterle is a great skater who is able to make smart passes out of the defensive zone. Although in an ideal world, you would like your depth defenders to be able to kill penalties, Oesterle brings value at even strength. Depth defenders aren’t hard to come by, but given how Oesterle has performed in a depth role and his ties to the area, he’s a natural fit on the Red Wings roster.

Matt Luff

Signed on day two of free agency last summer to a one-year, two-way contract, Matt Luff at the moment is still an RFA, given his age. Luff has been a good depth option for three different organizations in his career, producing at nearly a point-per-far pace his last four seasons in the AHL.

Due to injuries on the NHL roster, Luff was called up to Detroit early this past season and appeared in seven games before being boarded by Juraj Slavkovsky, which held him from playing until the end of January.

In 19 games, Luff scored two goals and two assists and added eight goals and 17 assists in 28 AHL appearances. With a young team likely in Grand Rapids next season, having a player like Luff who can play high in the AHL lineup and also serve as a call-up option is valuable to the development of players such as Cross Hanas, Carter Mazur, and Elmer Soderblom.

Likely No

Mark Pysyk

Unfortunately, Pysyk was unable to play at all during the 2022-23 season due to his Achilles injury, as he would have challenged either Jordan Oesterle or Gustav Lindstrom for the sixth spot on Detroit’s blueline.

After not playing an entire season and being 31 years old, I don’t see where giving Pysyk a one-way deal makes sense for Detroit when prospects such as Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson could be ready for primetime.

Robert Hagg

Signed a few weeks after free agency opened after the Red Wings announced that Mark Pysyk suffered an Achilles injury, Hagg was brought in as depth on the blue line and was just that. Hagg only played 38 games this season, scoring two goals and five assists, granted he has never been billed as an offensive defenseman.

While Hagg is a good shot blocker, he is often blocking shots because he was unable to move the puck out of the defensive zone. With the Red Wings needing to improve on the backend, I don’t see where Hagg fits in on the roster, even in a depth capacity.

Gustav Lindstrom

If recent reports out of Europe are accurate, it seems a decision on Gustav Lindstrom has already been made. In a report from Expressen, it is believed that Gustav Lindstrom is actively looking for a place to play in Europe.

At the beginning of the 2021-22 season, it really looked like Lindstrom could be a potential bottom-pair defenseman as he was shutting plays down and making smart plays in his own end. But, from 2022 onward, Lindstrom has looked as if he is consistently chasing the play.

Lindstrom only appeared in 36 games this past season, and his average ice time was cut from 16:07 in 2021-22 to 14:10 last season. While Lindstrom is still a pending restricted free agent, he hasn’t warranted a new deal as he isn’t a consistent NHL defenseman.

Definitely No

Alex Nedeljkovic

While Nedeljkovic had a handful of quality starts the last few weeks of the season, there isn’t enough track record of bringing him back and expecting him to be a quality 1B option behind Ville Husso.

Aside from the first two months of his Red Wings tenure, Nedeljkovic has been inconsistent as in the 53 games since he has an average save percentage of .892. Among goalies who started 15 or more games this past season, Nedeljkovic was the 11th worst in goals saved above expected with -8.9 per Money Puck, granted Ville Husso was sixth worst with -14.7.

Nedeljkovic seems to have all the talent of a starting goalie, but his confidence on a night-to-night basis isn’t at the same level. Also, with being waived in favor of Magnus Hellberg, it seems the organization has also decided on Nedeljkovic’s future in Detroit.

Magnus Hellberg

Claimed off of waivers from Seattle in November to provide stability behind Ville Husso, Hellberg struggled to find consistency in his second stint in Detroit.

In 17 appearances with Detroit this past season, Hellberg posted a 4-8-1 record, a goals-against-average of 3.29, and a save percentage of .885.

Hellberg did have his bright spots, whether in the 2-0 loss to the Islanders or a 3-2 loss to the Bruins, but his lows were below NHL standard. In his end-of-season media availability, Steve Yzerman made it clear he wanted the goaltending to improve, and I don’t see how Hellberg factors into that on the NHL roster.

Adam Erne

After a strong 2020-21 campaign which saw him lead the Red Wings in goals, Erne has struggled to be anything more than a fourth-line option the past two seasons.

While he is a solid forechecker who can grind down opponents, he doesn’t provide any real upside anywhere else. With his limitations, Derek Lalonde and Steve Yzerman chose to keep Jonatan Berggren on the roster over Erne, which led to him being waived and assigned to Grand Rapids.

I think there’s a role on an NHL team looking for a traditional bottom-six checker that Erne can fill, but ultimately I don’t believe that’s in Detroit.


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