DETROIT – As the free agency deadline fast approaches, the Wings seem to be getting closer to locking up two of their three unrestricted free agents.
Wings general manager Ken Holland said Thursday night that they’ve made progress with defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forward Patrick Eaves, but still nothing has been finalized.
“We’re still talking and I think we’re making progress,” Holland said. “But once you get to noon (today) it’s wide open for anyone to sign them.
The Wings have until noon today to work out deals with their unrestricted free agents before those players can get offers from other teams in the league.
Money doesn’t seem to be an issue with Ericsson or Eaves, it’s more about where they fit on this team.
With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, the Wings have just three top-four defensemen – Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart. Ericsson wants to be the fourth to solidify the unit.
“I am set to stay,” Ericsson told Swedish newspaper Norrkopings Tidningar. “It should happen within a week. From 1 July, although other clubs come into the picture. I’m not worried, it will work out.
“I had hoped to get his place, but they have said they are looking for a new (defenseman) there,” Ericsson continued. “I like it in Detroit. The contract proposals, we have talked about two or four years.”
The Wings have reportedly offered Ericsson a multi-year deal worth just over $2 million a season. Ericsson made $1.25 million last year with a cap hit of $900,000.
Despite not being as consistent as the Wings would like him to be each of the last two seasons, they still see a lot of potential in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Swedish defenseman.
“We’d like to sign, he’d like to stay,” Holland said.
Eaves has been a third- or fourth-line player in Detroit. He has developed into a stellar penalty killer and good fore-checker. He has also contributed a bit offensively with 25 goals in the past two seasons.
With progress seemingly being made with Ericsson and Eaves, the same can’t be said about Drew Miller.
“We’ve just had a philosophical conversation (with his agent),” Holland said. “I made an offer, but I can’t say we’re making a lot of progress.”
Despite being praised quite often during the season by Wings coach Mike Babcock, Miller found himself a healthy scratch 15 games last season. He has scored 10 goals in each of the past two seasons.
“I’m sure they look at our depth and they’re not sure where the opportunities are going to present themselves,” Holland said earlier in the week. “They think they can have a bigger role with other teams.”
The Wings have 16 players (11 forwards, four defensemen, one goaltender) signed for a salary-cap hit of $47.6 million. This year’s cap is $63.4 million.
The Wings also have to sign rookie forward Cory Emmerton since he’s out of minor league options. If he doesn’t make the roster Emmerton could be claimed off waivers if they try and send him to the minors.
“What happens with some of our own guys impacts our thinking (today),” Holland said. “We have money.”
Ericsson’s decision will impact what Detroit needs to target in free agency.
“On defense, we’d like to do something, it depends on Ericsson,” Holland said. “The market is getting picked over. It’s an expensive market.”
On Thursday, the Buffalo Sabres signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff for 10-year deal worth reportedly $40 million.
Earlier in the week, Vancouver reached a five-year deal with defenseman Kevin Bieksa worth $23 million.
“We’re just looking for the right fit,” Holland said. “We’ve got quite a bit of cap space, we’ll see if we use it all or not.
“We’re set in goal,” Holland added. “We’re not going to spend a lot on a backup. Chris Osgood is an option, but we want to explore that’s out there. There are a number of players we have interest in at forward, defense and in goal.”
Osgood and Kris Draper won’t be offered deals until after the Wings are done with free agency.