Money not the issue with Wings’ free agents

DETROIT – As the Friday free agency period gets even closer, the Wings have still yet to reach deals with three of their own unrestricted free agents.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland continues to talk with the agents for defenseman Jonathan Ericsson and forwards Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller in hopes of getting deals done prior to the noon deadline.

Once that noon deadline passes, any one of them can sign deals with other teams.

The Wings have made offers to all three.

Holland has been talking with Ericsson’s agent seemingly every day since the NHL Entry Draft this past weekend and will continue to do so as the deadline approaches.

“We’d like to sign him,” Holland said in a phone interview Tuesday. “We’re close on money, but there’s more involved in his decision than just money. We’re talking about his role this year and going forward.”

With the retirement of Brian Rafalski, the Wings have just three top-four defensemen – Nicklas Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart.

Despite not being as consistent as the Wings would like each of the last two seasons, they still see a lot of potential in the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Swedish defenseman.

Ericsson made $1.25 million last year and has been offered a deal just over $2 million per season.

If the Wings can’t satisfy Ericsson’s needs they will look for the fourth defenseman on the open market.

“We’ll continue to talk,” Holland said.

Vancouver’s Christian Ehrhoff, Montreal’s James Wisniewski and Boston’s Tomas Kaberle continue to remain unsigned and could land that fourth defensive role on the Wings’ blueline if Ericsson decides to test the market.

Opportunities up front could also be sticking points with Eaves and Miller.

“We want to keep them,” Holland said. “We think they’re going to grow and develop into bigger roles and have bigger responsibilities.”

Eaves has been a third- or fourth-line player in Detroit. He has developed into a stellar penalty killer and good forechecker. He has also contributed a bit offensively with 25 goals in the past two seasons.

Holland said Eaves’ agent was going to talk to his client today and then get back with the Wings by Thursday.

Despite being praised quite often for his work on and off the ice 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. “They think they can have a bigger role with other teams.”

Two of the Wings’ unrestricted free agents – Chris Osgood and Kris Draper – won’t be offered deals before free agency begins Friday.

“We’re going to explore the market first,” Holland said. “We have cap space. The players we’ve got want us to build around them. They want to stay. They want to be important players.”

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.

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