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Availability of Ehrhoff sweetens free agent pool; Boyle still seems likely fit

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings’ chances of landing a top-four defenseman through free agency just got better.

The very limited pool of top four unrestricted free agent defensemen got a bit bigger Sunday when the Buffalo Sabres decided to use a compliance buyout on Christian Ehrhoff, who still had seven years left on a 10-year deal with an average salary cap hit of $4 million.

That’ll make Ehrhoff, who turns 32 on July 6, an unrestricted free agent so he can sign with any team beginning at noon on July 1.

Detroit had interest in Ehrhoff in 2011 when Brian Rafalski decided to retire, leaving a huge hole on the blue line, but didn’t want to overpay him.

The teams have also had decisions a couple of times about a possibly trading Ehrhoff, but Buffalo decided to hang onto him.

Even though the Wings would like to land a right-hand defenseman, the left-handed Ehrhoff (6-2, 196) has the offensive abilities they’re looking for.

He’s a premier skater, who logs a ton of minutes, can move the puck and likes to join the rush. He can also quarterback the power play.

“We’ve got seven left-hand D,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I love it but how do you get (a righty)? It’s great to have this fantasy, like Kenny Holland would tell you, there’s no tree. I’ve been all over him but there’s no tree to grab them off of, so we’ll get what we get.”

Ehrhoff, who’ll get $12 million over the next 14 years, had six goals and 27 assists in 79 games last season. He however was a -27. In 692 career regular season games he has 69 goals and 244 assists. In the playoffs he’s totaled seven goals and 27 assists in 73 games.

“I just think it’s so much easier when you have a right and lefty on every pair,” Babcock added. “All you’ve got to do is look at LA, a right and lefty on every pair. It makes it easier to get through the neutral zone. It’s easier off D-zone faceoffs to execute, you have the puck more. You can get it off the wall and shoot it ion the offensive zone. To me it just makes sense.”

The free agent pool for right-handed defensemen is thin and the asking price via a trade – Buffalo’s Tyler Myers or Arizona’s Keith Yandle – is quite steep – Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar or Tomas Jurco.

The Wings, along with numerous other teams, met with the agents for right-handed defensemen Dan Boyle (New York Islanders) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) Thursday in Philadelphia.

Niskanen, 27, is most likely looking for a lengthy deal, probably a maximum seven years and possibly upwards of $6 million a season to sign.

The Wings would be OK with the length, but they’re not going to break the bank to get him. They may not want to pay him much more annually than what Niklas Kronwall ($4.75 million) is making.

Boyle, who’ll turn 38 next month, and could be had for a two-deal at around $5.5 million a season.

Detroit, which wants its young right-handed defensemen to start the season in Grand Rapids, also could settle on Anton Stralman (Rangers), Stephane Robidas (Anaheim) or Tom Gilbert (Florida).

Detroit has $54.2 million tied up in 18 players for next season and still need to sign restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan.

With the salary cap at $69 million for next season that’ll leave the Wings close to $10 million to spend on other free agents.

Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who’s unrestricted, is expected to hit the open market.

Daniel Alfredsson and Daniel Cleary, who was promised a possible extension after signing a one-year deal on the first day of training camp, could both re-signed as well.

Ehrhoff, who Wings were interested in 2011, being bought out by Sabres

In 2011 when Brian Rafalski told the Wings he was suddenly retiring it left a huge hole on their blue line.

One player they were looking at in free agency, but wouldn’t overpay for, was Christian Ehrhoff.

Well it appears Ehrhoff is back to being available.

TSN.ca’s Bob McKenzie reported Sunday morning that Ehrhoff is being bought out by the Sabres.

If he is that’ll make him an unrestricted free agent and he can sign with any team on July 1.

Ehrhoff still had seven years left on a 10-year deal with an average salary cap hit of $4 million.

He’s the offensive defenseman the Wings are in need of but he shoots left.

Ehrhoff had six goals and 27 assists in 79 games last season. He however was a -27.

In 692 career regular season games he has 69 goals and 244 assists. In the playoffs he’s totaled seven goals and 27 assists in 73 games.

Bloodline factors in as Wings add more depth at center

If the Detroit Red Wings were drafting bloodlines on the second day of the NHL Entry Draft they may have nailed it with their first pick.

The Wings moved up in the third round to pick center Dominic Turgeon of the Portland Winter Hawks (WHL) Saturday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

His father, Pierre, who was selected first overall by Buffalo in the 1987 NHL Draft, totaled 515 goals and 812 assists in 1,294 career NHL games.

“It plays into it a lot,” Detroit’s new director of amateur scouting said Tyler Wright when asked how does a bloodline factor in when selecting a player. “You can tell by the way he plays, he’s got great hockey sense.

“It’s a hard league to play in and it’s a hard league to excel in, and when you’re surrounded your whole life with a sport that is your ultimate thing, which means a lot to the family, it’s all about winning at the end of the day,” Wright continued. “We want guys who want to win. We don’t just want to be content with being a player in the NHL. Let’s be a good player and at the end of the day let’s win.”

Detroit traded up with Columbus, sending pick No. 76 and a third-round pick in 2015 to the Blue Jackets to select the two-way center.

Dominic’s uncle, Sylvain, played 12 seasons in the NHL.

“I guess we’re pretty different,” Dominic said when asked to compare his game to his father. “He was a highly offensive player in the NHL. I feel that right now my game is very strong defensively. But I feel as time goes on my offensive game is going to really jump.”

Dominic had 10 goals, 21 assists and was a plus-18 rating in 65 games with Portland last season. He had two goals and six assists in the playoffs leading his team to the WHL final before losing in seven games to the Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

“I’m going to be a two-way forward,” Dominic said. “I’m going to be a very strong defensive player but I’m also going to be able to produce a lot of offense in my game.”

Dominic was one of five centers the Wings drafted out of their seven picks. They also nabbed a goalie and winger.

Detroit also selected centers Christoffer Ehn (Frolunda Jr., Sweden, 106th), Axel Holmstrom (Skelleftea Jr., Sweden, 196th) and Alexander Kadeykin (Mytischi, Russia, 201st).

With their first pick on Friday, 15th overall, they nabbed Waterford native Dylan Larkin.

“Well, some of them play the wing but we took a lot of forwards, guys who are interchangeable,” Wright said. “But Larkin and Turgeon are both centermen. Dominic Turgeon is a guy that we targeted really high. If we would have had our second (round pick) we would have taken him there. So it prompted us to make a move. He was a guy that we thought if we could get him in the second and he fell into the third we didn’t want to risk that chance by waiting a couple of more picks. We wanted him and he’s got good blood lines.”

After center Calle Jarnkrok was included as part of the deal to land David Legwand prior to the trade deadline it depleted Detroit’s depth chart up the middle.

The Wings’ top centers in the organization are Andreas Athanasiou, Mattias Janmark and Landon Ferraro, who is out of AHL options.

They also added center Tomas Nosek, of the Czech Republic, who’ll compete for a job at training camp.

“We have a bunch of guys that if one pans out, we might have a centerman for (Anthony) Mantha one day,” said Hakan Andersson, the Wings’ long-time director of European scouting. “That’s what we’re hoping. We’ll see. Draft a bunch of guys and then hope.”

They’re a little deeper at forward with Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Mitch Callahan, Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi.

In the fifth round the Wings took goalie Thomas (Chase) Perry (Wenatchee, NAHL, 136th) and winger Julius Vahatalo (TPS Jr., Finland, 166th) in the sixth round.

“We always take the best player,” Andersson said. “If we end up with eight defensemen, if they’re just good enough, we can trade a few of them for other assets.

“Calle Jarnkrok was a good prospect for us, we traded him because we needed urgent help,” Andersson continued. “We looked down our lineup before this draft and we were a little bit thin at center. So we did talk about it a little. It just fell that way for us. If there would have been a defenseman we liked more we would have still drafted him. As it turned out, we drafted a couple of centermen that we seriously liked.”

Wings move up to take Turgeon in the third round

The Wings continued to stockpile centers as the second day of the NHL Entry Draft go underway Saturday at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Trading up to the 63rd pick in the third round, sending No. 76 and a third-round pick in 2015 to Columbus, Detroit chose Dominic Turgeon.

With the Wings’ first pick, 15th overall, on Friday nabbed Waterford native Dylan Larkin.

His father, Pierre, was selected first overall by Buffalo in the 1987 NHL Draft totaled 515 goals and 812 assists in 1,294 career NHL games with the Sabres, New York Islanders, Montreal, St. Louis, Dallas and Colorado.

Turgeon, who plays a strong two-way game, had 10 goals, 21 assists and was a plus-18 rating in 65 games with Portland in the Western Hockey League last season. He had two goals and six assists in the playoffs for the Winterhawks, who advanced to the WHL final for the fourth straight year, losing in seven games to the Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

Soon-to-be Wolverine Larkin in the place he wanted to be after getting drafted 15th overall by Wings

DETROIT >> Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told Dylan Larkin he would be in good spot at the University of Michigan under the watchful eye of Red Berenson.

After that the Waterford native can focus on cracking the Wings’ lineup.

“This is the place I wanted to be,” said Larkin, who was taken 15th overall Friday by Detroit in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “I’m happy with the result.”

Larkin, who’s enrolled at the University of Michigan this Fall, was the second-line center at the U.S. National Team Development Program and finished fourth in scoring with 31 goals and 25 assists in 60 games.

“I’m looking to improve on my strength,” said Larkin, who was drafted by Erie in the 2012 Ontario Hockey League. “To play at the next level, even in college, you’ve got to be strong. It’s important to get in the gym and spend time on my body and nutrition.

“School has always been important to my family,” Larkin continued. “There were other college options, even Michigan coaches said go around to different campuses, see what you like. You got to find what fits for you.”

Larkin is considered more of a shooter than a passer and has a potent slap shot.

He’s also a strong technical skater that can build up speed quick and isn’t afraid to go hard to the net.

“I think I play all 200-feet on the ice,” Larkin said. “I’m a strong skater. I get around the ice well because of my skating. I think the game, I go to areas most people don’t want to go to score goals and find a way to produce.”

Larkin is 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.

“I came in as a kid and left as a young man, physically, mentally, all areas,” Larkin said of his time in the U.S. development program that’s located in Ann Arbor. “They give you resources and it’s up to the players how much you want to use them. I feel like I used them and became a well-rounded young man.”

The Wings’ organization is in desperate need of centers.

After Calle Jarnkrok was included as part of the deal to land David Legwand prior to the trade deadline it depleted Detroit’s depth chart up the middle. The top centers in the organization are Landon Ferraro, who is out of AHL options, Andreas Athanasiou and Mattias Janmark.

“I was open-minded but in the bottom of my heart I really wanted to be in Detroit,” Larkin said. “They’ve got the new rink they’re building. It’s going to be an exciting time for the organization.”

The Wings are a little deeper at forward with Anthony Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Mitch Callahan, Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi.

Larkin was an assistant captain on Team USA’s gold-medal winning club at this year’s Under-18 World Championship, scoring two goals and two assists, including a goal in the championship game.

He also won a bronze medal with the U.S. at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.

The Wings have seven picks in this year’s draft, which concludes with round two through seven Saturday.

They traded their second round pick this year to obtain Legwand from Nashville.

Detroit does have two picks in the seventh round, one of which came from San Jose as part of the Brad Stuart trade two seasons ago.

The Wings’ selection was their highest since choosing Martin Lapointe with the 10th overall pick in 1991.

Larkin’s favorite player growing up was Steve Yzerman.

“The way he led his team,” Larkin said of the former Wings captain. “He played a two-way game. Off the ice, the way he acted, he was a true professional, a class guy.”

It’s the sixth consecutive year Detroit has taking a forward with its top pick in the draft.

Wings nab Waterford native Larkin with first pick; organization needed depth at center

DETROIT >> In desperate need of centers in their organization, the Detroit Red Wings selected Waterford native Dylan Larkin with the 15th selection in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Larkin, who’s enrolled at the University of Michigan next year, was the second-line center at the U.S. National Team Development Program and finished fourth in scoring with 31 goals and 25 assists in 60 games.

After center Calle Jarnkrok was included as part of the deal to land David Legwand prior to the trade deadline it depleted Detroit’s depth chart up the middle.

“I think center is a major piece of a building block in most organizations,” Tyler Wright, Detroit’s new director of amateur scouting said last week. “You can never have enough centers.”

The Wings’ top centers in the organization are Landon Ferraro, who is out of AHL options, Andreas Athanasiou and Mattias Janmark.

They’re a little deeper at forward with Anthony Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Mitch Callahan, Zach Nastasiuk and Bertuzzi.

Larkin is considered more of a shooter than a passer and has a potent slap shot.

He’s also a strong technical skater that can build up speed quick and isn’t afraid to go hard to the net.

Larkin is 6-1, 190 pounds.

In past drafts the Wings have focused on drafting players with good size, but would prefer players with good hockey sense.

“That’s what wins you games,” Wright said. “You can still have smaller players in the lineup, but you have to surround them with bigger players. Size is something we definitely will take into consideration.”

The Wings have seven picks in this year’s draft. They traded their second round pick to obtain Legwand from Nashville.

Detroit does have two picks in the seventh round, one of which from San Jose as part of the Brad Stuart trade two seasons ago.

The Wings’ selection was their highest since choosing Martin Lapointe with the 10th overall pick in 1991.

It’s the sixth consecutive year Detroit has taking a forward with its top pick in the draft.

Detroit scored big last season, trading down to snatch Mantha, who led the QMJHL in scoring and was also named the league MVP.

In the second round the Wings took forwards Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi, who have both been invited Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp.

Alfredsson and Wings in no hurry to get a deal done; August will be when decision is made according to Holland

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings and Daniel Alfredsson are in no hurry to get a deal done according to general manager Ken Holland.

Holland confirmed via text message that they’ll wait until August before deciding on whether Alfredsson will return for another season in Detroit or retire.

However, Alfredsson and his family will remain in Detroit next season no matter what the final decision is on his career.

When Detroit was eliminated from the playoffs, Alfredsson all but said if he returns for a 19th season he would do so with the Wings.

The only concern seems to be with his back, which caused him to miss a handful of games towards the end of the regular season along with two of the five games in the series with Boston.

Alfredsson had 18 goals and 31 assists in 68 regular season games, but didn’t record a point in the postseason.

“At the moment if I come back, that’s the likely scenario (coming back to Detroit),” Alfredsson said after the Wings’ loss in Game 5 to the Bruins. “As a family we’ve had a fabulous time in Detroit. Everybody likes it. That’s check one, I guess.”

His 49 points was tops on the team.

“I think there is promise with this team,” Alfredsson said. “It will probably be some time before I have a decision. When that is, I’m not sure. The sooner the better, I’d like to think.”

When pushed more on whether he would return or not the veteran said, “I really don’t know. There’s a lot of factors that play in, mentally, physically and family. I still love the game, there’s no question about that. At the same time, you’ve got to end it sometime. I’m sure I’ll be talking to my wife and we’ll come to a decision together.”

Alfredsson, 41, signed a one-year worth $3.5 million on the first day of free agency last year, leaving Ottawa where he had spent his entire 17-year career prior. He had been the league’s longest serving captain until the move.

Alfredsson originally said he left Ottawa to join the Wings because he felt Detroit had a better chance at winning the Stanley Cup that has eluded him throughout his career.

Then, during a press conference in Ottawa on Aug. 15, he said the move was aided by a broken promise by the Senators.

Wings looking for ‘best player available’ in entry draft

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings seemed to have scored big in last year’s NHL Entry Draft.

They hope to do so again this year after weeding through all the players who can’t seem to separate themselves from each other.

“I think it’s one of the more challenging drafts,” said Tyler Wright, Detroit’s new director of amateur scouting. “Nobody has separated themselves at the top. There’s a mix of three, four or five guys at the top, but after that anyone can go from there.”

Detroit has the 15th pick in the first round, which begins Friday and runs through Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

It’s the highest first-round selection the Wings have had since choosing Martin Lapointe with the 10th overall pick in 1991.

“I think you have to go for the best player available,” Wright said. “We’re confident we’re going to get a good player where we’re picking. Whether it’s a forward or defenseman, we’ll take the best player available.

“We’d like maybe a right-handed shot on the blue line and players with size, speed through the middle of the ice,” Wright continued. “You can never have enough puck-moving D and scoring wingers.”

Detroit scored big last season, trading down to snatch Anthony Mantha, who led the QMJHL in scoring and was also named the league MVP.

In the second round the Wings took forwards Zach Nastasiuk and Tyler Bertuzzi, who have both been invited Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp.

In past drafts the Wings have focused on drafting players with good size, but would prefer players with good hockey sense.

“That wins you games,” Wright said. “You can still have smaller players in the lineup, but you have to surround them with bigger players. Size is something we definitely will take into consideration.”

Trading down is always a possibility for the Wings, who have seven picks in this year’s draft.

“Trading down is always an option,” Wright said. “With no second round pick we really have to see how the draft goes. If we have a guy who is high on our list and slides down to us I would recommend taking the pick.”

They traded their second round pick to obtain David Legwand from Nashville right before the trade deadline last year.

Detroit does have two picks in the seventh round, one of which from San Jose as part of the Brad Stuart trade two seasons ago.

The chance of Detroit trading up in the draft is highly unlikely because the asking price is more than likely too steep.

Again this year the strength of the draft is at forward.

“We’ve just got to get good players,” Wright said. “We want passionate, hard-working players who won’t stop at anything to get into the NHL. The two big things for me are players with passion and character.”

After center Calle Jarnkrok was included as part of the deal to land Legwand it depleted Detroit’s depth chart up the middle.

“I think center is a major piece of a building block in most organizations,” Wright said. “You can never have enough centers.”

The Wings’ top centers in the organization are Landon Ferraro, who is out of AHL options, Andreas Athanasiou and Mattias Janmark.

They’re a little deeper at forward with Mantha, Teemu Pulkkinen, Martin Frk, Mitch Callahan, Nastasiuk and Bertuzzi.

“We have to be visionaries,” Wright said. “We have to start projecting who’s going to be the best players four or five years down the road. Our organization has done a tremendous job developing players once you get them in the system.”

Wings set to meet with agents for Niskanen, Boyle and many others Thursday in Philadelphia

DETROIT >> The ability of teams to meet with pending free agents prior to the signing date helped the Wings land Daniel Alfredsson last season.

They hope it helps them land another top free agent, this time a defenseman, when players can finally sign on July 1.

“I like it,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “It’s excellent for the players.”

The time to “wine and dine” free agents began Wednesday.

The Wings’ top priority this free agent period is landing a top-four defenseman, one that preferably is a right-handed shot. They would also like to acquire a top-six forward if terms are right.

Defensemen Dan Boyle (New York Islanders) and Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) seem to be the perfect fit and the Wings will meet with their agents Thursday in Philadelphia.

Niskanen, 27, is most likely looking for a lengthy deal, probably a maximum seven years, to sign, which the Wings would be OK with, but they’re not going to break the bank to get him. They may not want to pay him much more annually than what Niklas Kronwall ($4.75 million) is making.

Boyle is older, he’ll turn 38 next month, and reportedly drawing interest from a number of teams, including Toronto and the New York Rangers.

Other possible blue line targets are Anton Stralman (Rangers), Tom Gilbert (Florida) and Stephane Robidas (Anaheim).

“Before you’d get to signing day and the player and team would have to make a decision in like an hour or two,” Holland said. “Now teams have the opportunity to let players know they have interest and to tell them how they would fit in on our team.”

This is the second year of this “pitching” period, which was written into the latest collective bargaining agreement.

But unlike last year, teams can now discuss general parameters of a contract, but they still can’t make an offer or reach any agreement.

“It’s an opportunity to see what’s out there, to talk to players we got some interest in, let them know what we’re thinking,” Holland said. “It’s an opportunity to sell your program.”

Last season the Wings’ pitch to Alfredsson convinced the long-time forward to leave Ottawa where he had spent his entire career and sign with Detroit.

They also did the same to sign Stephen Weiss, who had spent his entire career with the Florida Panthers.

Detroit has close to $54 million tied up in 18 players for next season, which includes the $3 million from bonuses for Alfredsson, Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar that carry over from last season.

With the salary cap projected at nearly $70 million, it’ll leave the Wings close to $16 million to spend, some of which will go to resigning restricted free agents Riley Sheahan, DeKeyser and Tatar.

“Ideally, we’ll make a move on the back end and add one more forward,” Holland said. “We’re going to wait until June 30 to see if we’re going to do anything with our guys.”

Defenseman Kyle Quincey, who’s unrestricted, is expected to hit the open market.

Alfredsson and Daniel Cleary, who was promised a possible extension after signing a one-year deal on the first day of training camp, could both re-signed as well.

“Dan Cleary is a guy that when he signed here last year for a one-year deal, we had conversations beyond one year because he had contract offers or three years from a couple of teams,” Holland said last week.

Cleary, 35, struggled last season. In 52 games he totaled four goals, four assists and had a minus-11 rating.

Cleary tried to return from a knee injury he suffered before the Olympic break, but a bad reaction to an injection that he had no side effects two times earlier made his knee inflamed.

“He’s coming off a real tough season,” Holland said. “I know he’s working really hard to try and get some leg strength to give himself the best opportunity he can for a bounce back year.”

Cleary spurned a professional tryout from the Philadelphia Flyers and wound up signing a one-year deal to return to the Wings for $1.75 million on the eve of training camp.

He also shot down a report that he was offered a three-year deal worth $2.75 million a season to join the Flyers.

Signing Cleary put the Wings three players over the roster limit and just over $2 million over the salary cap.

Cleary had rejected the Wings’ two- and three-year offers prior to the opening of free agency they moved on and signed Alfredsson (one year, $5.5 million) and Weiss (five years, $24.5 million).

Gustavsson inks one-year $1.85 million deal to remain with Wings

DETROIT >> Jonas Gustavsson signed his one-year deal Wednesday, getting a slight increase in pay from $1.5 million to $1.85 million to back up Jimmy Howard for a third season.

Gustavsson’s two seasons in Detroit seemed to be spent mainly on the trainer’s table.

Battling injures from groins to shoulders, Gustavsson appeared in just 34 regular-season games with the Wings over two seasons.

“Gus gives us a one-two security punch with Jimmy Howard,” Holland said last week. “He played fabulous for us. The only downside is he spent some time on IR with the groin.”

Gustavsson, 29, missed a total of 23 games on five separate occasions with three different types of injuries last season, but groin injuries have been his Achilles heel since signing a free agent deal with the Wings.

The one-year deal allows Petr Mrazek to mature another season in the American Hockey League before joining the Wings.

Gustavsson had aspirations of being a starting goalie in the NHL.

When Gustavsson played, he played well this season, going 16-5-4 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. He appeared in the final two games of the playoffs, filling in for Howard, who was sidelined with the flu.

Along with missing 18 games due to a groin injury this season, he appeared in just seven of the 48 games during the lockout-shortened first season in Detroit, making just four starts. He didn’t play over the final 27 games of the season, which included the playoffs.