There are two stories here: how the Canucks signed Mikael Samuelsson, and the cap problems that the Red Wings are facing.
DETROIT — The NHL salary cap continues to eat away at the Detroit Red Wings’ depth.
On Friday, Mikael Samuelsson became the third free-agent forward the Red Wings lost in three days when he signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Red Wings have between $3 million and $4 million in cap space, depending on who they keep on their roster.
General manager Ken Holland said he is close to signing restricted free-agent forward Ville Leino to a two-year deal and is continuing talks with Jiri Hudler, another restricted free-agent forward who could file for arbitration by Sunday’s deadline.
If Hudler and Leino return, the Red Wings — who lost Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday — still will have only 11 NHL forwards on their roster. They will need to pick up a low-priced free-agent forward or start the season with young Justin Abdelkader on the roster, rather than in Grand Rapids (AHL), as originally planned.
“We’ll let the market settle a bit and later in the summer we’ll see what cheaper players are out there,” Holland said. “Right now, if we start the season, it appears (Abdelkader) will make the team. He’s real close to being an NHL player, but we like to get some depth in the organization and create some competition for jobs.”
Leino, 25, is a skilled offensive player who, because of the cap, spent most of last season with Grand Rapids, where he had 15 goals and 31 assists in 57 games and 13 points in 10 playoff games. He was impressive during his 13 games with Detroit (five goals, four assists).
“We lost 60 goals (with Hossa and Samuelsson),” Holland said. “Hopefully we can get a deal done with Jiri.”
The odds will increase if Hudler files for arbitration — or the club files by Monday. In that case, he would be precluded from receiving an offer sheet from another club. He and the Red Wings would continue negotiating in hopes of reaching an agreement before the hearing.
If Hudler goes to arbitration — no Red Wing has since Ray Sheppard in 1995 — the club can accept the one- or two-year deal he is awarded or walk away from it and receive no compensation.
Samuelsson, 32, more than doubled his $1.2 million salary from last season, when he contributed 19 goals and 21 assists in 81 games. He had five goals and five assists in the playoffs.
The Red Wings could offer him no more than $1.5 million per year due to salary-cap constraints. Samuelsson said he mulled offers from several teams before choosing Vancouver over Detroit.
“It was a bunch of reasons, not only the money, although it was the key,” Samuelsson said. “I liked it in Detroit, no hard feelings, but they came up too short, too late. In my mind, they made a choice. I know they had a cap issue. That’s the way it goes, that’s the system.”
Samuelsson, whom the Red Wings signed as a free agent during training camp in 2006, collected 67 goals and 92 assists in 278 games over four seasons in Detroit.
Coach Mike Babcock was one of Samuelsson’s biggest supporters, stating several times that the well-traveled, 6-foot-2, 213-pound right wing would be a much better player if he had more confidence in himself.
Samuelsson was one of the team’s leaders in shots on goal every season. He played mostly on the third line, but often saw second-line duty. He was a streaky scorer who scored goals in bunches but slumped for long periods. His right-handed shot earned him point duty on the second power-play unit.
Holland anticipates Brad Stuart or Ericsson replacing Samuelsson on the power play.
Samuelsson said he’s looking forward to expanding his role with the Canucks, logging more minutes, playing on the first power-play unit and possibly playing on a line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, like he did during Sweden’s run to the Olympic gold medal in 2006.
“I know (the Canucks) are a good team and they have a chance to win,” Samuelsson said. “It’s a great city, and I’ve never played for a Canadian team, so that’s exciting. Everything fell into the right place. They said they wanted me, so it wasn’t too hard a decision.“
courtesy of sportsnet.ca