Wings shorten list to Boyle, Niskanen; Ehrhoff wants too many years

DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings have one need to address when teams can begin signing free agents at noon Tuesday … a top four defensemen, who’s preferably a right-handed shot.

“We’ve got a couple of specific needs,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said on the eve of when free agents can sign deals. “Free agency is always competitive. It appears to be a little deeper pool than last year, but there are lots of teams in the mix. It’ll be an interesting time.

“I anticipate things will happen fast (Tuesday),” Holland continued. “There should be lots of activity the first four or five hours.”

Detroit’s shopping list for a right-handed blue liner starts at Dan Boyle (New York Islanders), who’ll turn 38 next month, and could be had for a two-deal at around $5.5 million a season.

Boyle could however be looking for a third year on the deal which could be a sticking point or the Wings will meet his demands.

Matt Niskanen (Pittsburgh) is next on the list.

The 27-year old defenseman is looking for a lengthy deal at the maximum seven years and possibly in the upwards of $6 million a season to sign.

The Wings are fine with the length and they may meet his salary demands when all is said and done.

Originally they didn’t seem willing to pay him much more annually than what Niklas Kronwall ($4.75 million) is making.

Niskanen had a career high in goals (10), assists (36) and plus-minus (plus-33) last season with the Penguins.

“(Brendan) Smith can play left or right,” Holland said. “(Jonathan) Ericsson has played the off-side for a number of years, but ideally you’d like to have three left and three right but it doesn’t always work out that way.”

The Wings could get lucky and land both Boyle and Niskanen since they have enough room to fit them under the salary cap.

The Wings, who want their young right-handed defensemen to start the season in Grand Rapids, also could settle on Anton Stralman (New York Rangers), Stephane Robidas (Anaheim) or Tom Gilbert (Florida).

They also could stand pat if Boyle or Niskanen decide to go elsewhere.

From that point it could be a left-handed shot the Wings have to settle for.

Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out of the final seven years of a 10-year deal with Buffalo, has the offensive abilities they’re looking for. He’s a premier skater who logs a ton of minutes who can move the puck and likes to join the rush. He can also quarterback the power play.

Ehrhoff appears to be asking for a five-year deal and the Wings are only willing to give him three years at roughly $5 million a season.

Detroit had interest in Ehrhoff in 2011 when Brian Rafalski retired, but didn’t want to overpay him. There was also talk between the teams a couple of times about possibly trading Ehrhoff to the Wings, but Buffalo decided to hang onto him.

“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.”

Lefty Michael Del Zotto (Nashville) was also added to the pool of unrestricted free agents on Monday.

“I just think it’s so much easier when you have a right and lefty on every pair,” Babcock said. “All you’ve got to do is look at L.A., 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 in 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).

“We’ll explore the forward market a little bit, but we’ve got 13 forwards and we can send Tomas Jurco to the minors if we wanted to,” Holland said. “We’ll see how Daniel Alfredsson is and where (Anthony) Mantha is in September.”

The Wings also have enough money to sign two high-end blue liners.

Detroit has $54.2 million tied up in 18 players for next season and still need to sign restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser, 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 will hit the open market. Daniel Cleary, who was promised a possible extension after signing a one-year deal on the first day of training camp, could also be back.

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