The first couple days of NHL free agency are over, and Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland’s reputation in Hockeytown does not look like it’s gotten any better. Holland used the first days of free agency to sign a pair of veterans that have Detroit fans up in arms, but while also signing a much needed backup goalie. The signing of goalie Jonathan Bernier makes sense, but the signings of 34-year-old forward Thomas Vanek and 32-year-old D man Mike Green make the Red Wings look to be caught up in somewhat of an identity crisis.
The Wings are a team still in the early stages of a rebuild, missing the playoffs the last two seasons and losing their status as a hockey powerhouse from the 90s and 2000s. The current issue for Detroit is: how can a rebuild and youth movement proceed with the signing of these veterans? Does Ken Holland have some long-term vision yet to be revealed, or is he hesitating to let the Wings become a youthful team?
The logic behind singing Vanek and re-signing Green does make some sense. Have a veteran presence in the locker room to help the young talent grow into the NHL, but the problem is the Red Wings have almost too much young talent waiting for a shot at being on the roster. Adding Vanek takes up a spot on a forward line that could be used for 2018 first round pick Filip Zadina or 2017 first round pick Michael Rasmussen, who tallied 59 points in 47 games for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL in 2017-18.
When it comes to rebuilding the Red Wings, it seems that Ken Holland is hesitant to go for the “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” strategy for building a team for the future. Fans in Hockeytown have seen a trend in recent years of head coach Jeff Blashill and GM Ken Holland favoring giving playing time to veterans instead of prospects. That mindset may have benefitted Detroit 15 years ago, but is certainly not working today. Whether Holland wants to realize it or not, Detroit is no longer a destination for big-time free agents, and the NHL has changed to a younger and faster league.
However, there is some upside to Holland’s early free agency signings. 29-year-old goalie Jonathan Bernier could be the perfect backup to a streaky Jimmy Howard now that Petr Mrazek is gone. Despite his age, Mike Green is still a very desirable presence to have on the blue line, which will make him a valuable asset to have come trade deadline season. His new contract is a bit on the heavier side at just over $5 million a year, but it would not be surprising to see Ken Holland flip him into a few draft picks at the 2019 deadline. If Holland does end up making that move, then maybe things for the Red Wings rebuild will once again start looking up.
Ken Holland has been an outstanding GM for much of his time in Detroit, turning the Red Wings into one of the most dominant teams in professional sports in the 90s and 2000s. Unfortunately, those days are long gone, and the next couple of years have the potential to make or break Holland’s legacy in Hockeytown. The Red Wings’ draft results had many fans excited for the future, but early free agency signings have some now unsure of what is to come. If Holland does have some sort of grand scheme, hopefully, it reveals itself sooner rather than later.