Rebuilding Red Wings sign Vanek, Bernier and re-sign Green
Ken Holland once transitioned the Detroit Red Wings from Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and that generation of greats to the one that followed with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Now he’s trying to do it again.
The veteran general manager knows it won’t be as easy this time, so he’s adding and keeping some older players to bridge the gap. On Sunday , the Red Wings signed 34-year-old winger Thomas Vanek and 29-year-old goaltender Jonathan Bernier and re-signed 32-year-old defenseman Mike Green.
Vanek signed a $3 million, one-year deal, Bernier got $3 million per season on a three-year deal and Green will make $5.375 million annually over the next two years as part of a series of transitional deals for the rebuilding Red Wings.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, we have to have some patience,” Holland said. “I believe we’re headed in the right direction. In the short term, trying to bring in some veteran players obviously to mentor, to role-model the young kids. We need to be competitive. It’s important to develop players if they’re in an environment that’s positive and we go into every game we have a chance to win and we’re trying to obviously juggle having veterans on the roster and moving young players into the roster.”
Vanek enjoyed his 48 games with the Red Wings in 2016-17 so much he wanted to return last summer, but they didn’t have the salary-cap space. He’s not the prolific scorer he was a decade ago, but Vanek was in demand after putting up 15 points in 19 regular-season games with the Blue Jackets as a trade-deadline pickup.
“We had a few options, but Detroit, ever since I’ve been there, I loved it,” Vanek said. “I really liked the whole culture of the organization and the guys were great.”
As a right-shot defender who can run a power play, Green would’ve drawn serious interest if he became an unrestricted free agent. He never seriously considered leaving.
With the neck injury that cut his season short has healed, he wanted to remain with the Red Wings and help bring along the next generation.
“There’s a lot that weighed on my decision to stay,” Green said. “I think it’s easy sometimes just to go somewhere else, especially with the transition that’s going on there in Detroit, but I feel like I can be useful in the next couple years kind of helping the younger guys develop quicker and speed up that process.”
Having better goaltending might not speed up the process, but it’ll make the Red Wings more competitive. They think they’ll get that from Bernier, who was the odd man out in Colorado and will split duties in net with Jimmy Howard.
“We’re going to push each other to bring this team back to the playoffs,” Bernier said. “I didn’t want to be in a position where I played 15, 20 games. I want to come in and have a chance to play as much as possible obviously depending on play. I just thought it was a great opportunity that me and Jimmy can battle for our games.”
Holland isn’t worried about clogging the roster up for young players. Sixth overall pick Filip Zadina should be able to play right away up front, and the Red Wings have begun to rebuild their prospect pipeline.
One immediate problem could be the health of captain Henrik Zetterberg, who has been hampered by back problems and is no sure bet to be able to play next season. Zetterberg, who turns 38 in October, cast doubts on his future after the season, and Holland can’t say with any certainty what will happen with the Swedish center.
“Last I talked to him, I think he’s planning on playing,” Holland said. “Obviously his back is going to determine whether he can or he can’t. ... When you’re dealing with the back and you’re dealing with the health of a person, it’s hard to read the future when it comes to health. Obviously that’s a key piece for us. I’ll stay in touch with Henrik as we get into July to see how his health is.”
AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed.
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