DETROIT >> The Detroit Red Wings are no longer one of the big fish in a little pond.
If more proof was needed, look at how things have gone through the first two days of NHL free agency.
The Wings went into this period with one major need, a right-handed shooting defenseman, making pitches to a number of them. And once the dust finally settled, they came away with none of them.
“The game has changed,” Detroit general manager Ken Holland said. “It’s free agency and players can go wherever they want.
“We all have the same money,” Holland added. “We made some pitches. Those players chose to go elsewhere.”
The leveling of the playing field is due to a salary cap.
Teams can spend up to the maximum of $69 million and must meet at least a minimum $51 million in payroll.
So the days where there were six big money teams all competing for all the big time guys are over.
“There are 30 teams that are destinations now,” Holland said. “Don’t know the reasons why we weren’t able to get players we targeted. The main reason is the cap.”
Defensemen Dan Boyle, their top priority, and Matt Niskanen both chose to sign with other teams within the Eastern Conference.
Boyle, who turns 38 on July 12, signed a two-year deal with the New York Rangers for $9 million instead of a better deal Detroit had on the table, three years at $12.5 million.
Niskanen informed the Wings a couple hours into free agency that they were not on his list of teams he was considering to sign with. He finally chose the Washington Capitals, getting a seven-year deal worth $40.25 million.
Detroit was in the ballpark with its offer, seven years at $38.5 million, for the 27-year old defenseman.
“There are still lots of players out there that could be good one-year bargains,” said Holland, who wound up having to re-sign Kyle Quincey (two years, $8.5 million). “We’ll keep kicking tires. Ideally we’d like to have a right-handed shooting defenseman.”
While their two main right-handed targets on the blue line decided to go elsewhere, the second tier also got deals done with other teams.
Tom Gilbert inked a two-year deal with the Montreal Canadiens at $5.6 million.
Stephane Robidas chose to take the three-year deal at $3 million offered by Toronto instead of a similar offer the Wings had structured for him, choosing the Maple Leafs for family reasons.
Finally, Anton Stralman was given a five-year deal worth $22.5 million by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The length of a deal turned off the Wings.
“I was hoping to get one and hoping to come up with two,” Holland said. “They signed elsewhere, that’s their prerogative. That’s going to happen more and more with the cap ceiling and floor going up.”
Christian Ehrhoff, a left-handed shot, signed a one-year deal worth $4 million with the Pittsburgh Penguins. A source said Ehrhoff’s agent had told the Wings he was seeking a five-year deal at roughly $5 million a season.
The Wings were never given a second chance by Ehrhoff, who was bought out of the final seven years of a 10-year deal with Buffalo, to better the Penguins’ offer.
Ehrhoff said during his introductory press conference that he felt Pittsburgh was the best place for him to win a Stanley Cup.
Holland shrugged off the idea that free agents are not willing to play for Wings coach Mike Babcock, who was behind the bench for Canada’s last two Olympic gold medal-winning efforts.
“I think we’ve got a fabulous coach,” Holland said. “Steve Yzerman has picked him for two Olympic teams and the results speak for themselves.”
With close to $60 million tied up in 20 players for next season, and still in need of signing restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Tomas Tatar, the Wings have close to $6 million to spend on other free agents.
“All I can say is we targeted right-handed shot defensemen,” Holland said. “There were a few on the market. We didn’t land one.”