Red Wings focused on fixing defense

PHILADELPHIA — Having used the weekend to stock up for the future, the Red Wings plan on using the coming week to improve the present.

They urgently need to upgrade the defense. The goaltending is set, and the forward group is in good shape, especially with the likelihood of regaining Daniel Alfredsson. It is the back end that needs attention, either via trade or via free agency.

The ideal scenario would be adding a right-handed shot to a corps made up of lefties. The ideal scenario would also include accomplishing this via free agency, because all that costs is money — not the draft picks and prospects it’d cost via trade.

The top-two candidates available on the market that fit that description are Matt Niskanen and Dan Boyle. Boyle is likelier to be reeled in, because Niskanen’s price is going to be prohibitive.

NHL general managers have been able to talk to all unrestricted free agents since Wednesday, including outlining contract parameters. Offers can’t be fielded until noon today, but the pre-chatter should facilitate the market’s opening.

Wings GM Ken Holland said he has “talked to lots of players’ camps.” That includes Boyle, whom the Wings would love to add on a two-year deal, in the $10-million/$11-million ballpark. Niskanen is the marquee unrestricted free agent defenseman, but at 27 and coming off a breakout year, some team likely will offer him seven years and money in the mid-$40 million.

Boyle has more miles on him — he is 38 next month — but he’d be an ideal bridge for the Wings while they wait for prospects such as Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Mattias Backman and Alexey Marchenko to ripen. Boyle could help nurture Danny DeKeyser and Brendan Smith, both offensively gifted defensemen who’d benefit from having an experienced partner.

Boyle has played 431 of a possible 458 games over the past six seasons, and he’d undoubtedly boost the power play, where he has scored 66 of his 144 career goals.

The other way to add a defenseman — not necessarily one who shoots right — is trade. Arizona’s Keith Yandle is appealing, but the price would be a prize prospect and a high-end pick, at least. Buffalo wouldn’t give up 6-foot-8, 24-year-old Tyler Myers without a hefty cost, either.

“It all sounds easy,” Holland said. “There are 30 teams in the game. Ten years ago, there were eight or 10 teams in the game. Today there’s 30, because of the money game. Because of the cap. Our top priority is a d-man. For the most part, we’re happy with our forwards. We’re going to explore the market.”

The Wings have about $15 million to work with against next season’s $69-million salary cap, but a chunk of that is tabbed to re-sign restricted free agents Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar and DeKeyser.

Most teams are re-signing their elite players or trading them at high costs. July 1 has become more like an outlet mall than premium shopping.

“Maybe there is one or two that are front-line players, but lots of teams are after those. Most of the players are going to be support players,” Holland said.


Posted by Tribune News Services

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