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).

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