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Where Do You Think We Are? Taking Stock of the "Yzerplan"

I'm not sure why it was the case, but the Red Wings' acquisition of defenseman Jeff Petry at 37.5% of his original cap hit for Gustav Lindström and a 2025 conditional 4th round pick set off a frenzy of commentary on the "Yzerplan". Comments ranged from calling Yzerman's tenure in Detroit "terrible" to calling Yzerman brilliant for fleecing yet another general manager. Given this, I wanted to take a measured look at where the Red Wings are and where I think they are heading.


As always, these are my independent thoughts and I will most likely be wrong in some capacity. With that being said, if you don't feel inclined to read through my process, I'll leave you with my conclusion below as the "tl;dr":


Rebuilding an NHL team is hard and there is no one-size fits all methodology. Ultimately, any successful rebuild will benefit from a substantial amount of luck, whether it be through the draft lottery, the unexpected development of a later-round prospect, or other factors outside of a team's control. I do believe Yzerman's moves the last two years demonstrate his intention to build a playoff-contending team during the first half of Dylan Larkin's current contract. I believe that the sum of Yzerman's moves the last two offseasons have narrowed his margin of error a fair bit and that the ability to build a successful contender will ultimately hinge on how quickly and to what degree the salary cap rises and how many of their current top prospects reach their developmental ceiling. Furthermore, the slight overpays from the past two offseasons will add up such that Yzerman will have to make additional moves to clear cap space to be aggressive in the trade and free agency markets, something that will be necessary for the Wings to add upper echelon talent. It is by no means impossible for Yzerman to do this, but it will ultimately require a series of things to go his way.


Where Does The "Yzerplan" Appear To Be Heading?

Using the publicly available information we have about the salary cap in addition to inferences made about Yzerman's vision, we can venture a guess as to where the Yzerplan is heading. In order to get started on this exercise, we first have to evaluate the Red Wings current salary cap situation.

A table depicting the Red Wings' active roster cap hits
Data via CapFriendly. Salary cap estimates from The Athletic's Joe Smith

As it stands, the Wings currently have 22 players signed with only Joe Veleno remaining as a restricted free agent. The 22 signed players plus dead cap hits from the Jakub Vrána trade and the Justin Abdelkader and Kailer Yamamoto buyouts amounts to a total cap hit of $77,630,973, which leaves the Wings with just under $6 million in cap space. I expect Veleno's contract to be finalized ahead of training camp for two years at an average annual value (AAV) of approximately $1,125,000, so for the purposes of this exercise we will assume the Wings enter the regular season with ~$4.75 million in cap space. In the short-term, this cap space (in addition to two remaining salary retention slots) offers the Wings flexibility to be buyers or third-party facilitators depending on the trajectory of the season.


With that out of the way, let's next evaluate how the NHL salary cap may rise over the next few seasons. In The Athletic's most recent discussion on the potential rise of the salary cap, estimates from NHL sources suggest the cap could increase by ~$10-12 million over the next three seasons. Following this estimate and the memorandum of understanding in the current collective bargaining agreement dictating that the cap can only increase by five percent in any one year, the cap could rise as follows:

  • 2023-2024: $83.5 million

  • 2024-2025: $87.7 million

  • 2025-2026: $92.1 million

It's also worth noting that the memorandum of understanding allows for an increase beyond the maximum of five percent should both sides agree to such an increase. Thus it is conceivable that the NHL cap increases by $10-12 million in the next three seasons, as estimated by the sources in Smith's article. For our purpose, we will proceed more cautiously, using just the maximum five percent increase outlined above.


With this increase, Yzerman will have two primary objectives to create a playoff contender:

  1. Sign Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider (and to a lesser extent Michael Rasmussen and Jonatan Berggren) to manageable extensions

  2. Create enough cap space to be a legitimate player in the 2024 and 2025 free agent/trade markets

Most important for Yzerman will be getting Seider locked up long-term and getting Raymond signed to a manageable contract, whether it be a bridge deal or a longer extension. Both players have been eligible to sign an extension since July 1st, 2023. With both players, the longer they remain unsigned, the more Yzerman runs the risk that one or both players drives their price up with a breakout year in 2023-2024. Obviously one or both players having a breakout year will be a positive sign for the Wings' future, but the earlier those deals can get finalized, the more likely it as that Yzerman can walk away with a team-friendly deal. Great examples of early extensions leading to team friendly deals include the Jack Hughes/New Jersey extension at the start of the 2021-22 season and the Tim Stützle/Ottawa extension prior to the 2022-23 season.


Unless something changes in the next six weeks, the Wings will head into the season without extensions in place for Seider and Raymond. Starting with Mo, we can estimate a contract based on historical comparables.

A table comparing Moritz Seider's stats to comparable defensemen who signed contract extensions at a similar age
*Stats at the time of contract extension. Data from CapFriendly and NHL.com

Over the past decade, these four players represent a reasonable comparable based on signing age and statistical performance. Thus we arrive at an estimated cap hit percentage of ~10-11%. Given that the NHL salary cap for 2023-2024 will likely not be finalized until June or July of 2024, the extension will be negotiated off of an estimated rise so for the purpose of our exercise we will use the $87.7 million salary cap previously described. This would put Seider at an 8-year extension with an average annual value between $8.77 million and $9.65 million. As a gut check, Evolving-Hockey's contract projection model has a Seider 8-year extension worth $8.375 million in a $87.7 million salary cap environment so we are at least in the ballpark with our estimate. I suspect the longer the season goes on, the more likely it is that the average annual value ticks closer to $9 million as I expect Seider to have a strong year that is more reflective of his performance in the second half of last season. As such, I will carry forward an 8-year deal with an average annual value of $8.75 million forward for Seider.


Raymond, on the other hand, is much trickier. After a very strong rookie season, Raymond struggled to find consistency in his second season, making it tougher to jump at a long-term extension the way the Minnesota Wild did with Matt Boldy. It leaves the Wings with two options - pursue a shorter bridge deal and risk a breakout driving up the price of his next contract substantially, or pursue a long-term extension and risk Raymond not living up to the deal.


Taking a look at comparables for Raymond is also a tougher task as very few wingers at his age are given the level of responsibility he has been given in his first two seasons. However, I believe the above five players most closely align with Raymond's early career and this gives us an estimated cap hit percentage of ~7-7.5% for Raymond's next contract. You'll also notice that these players were not signed to the maximum 8-year extensions and instead were signed to medium-length contracts. I believe this is the route Yzerman will take with Raymond unless he has a massive breakout this season. Thus, let's estimate Raymond's next contract at 6 years, $6.6 million average annual value, as this buys two UFA years, takes us to his age-28 season, and staggers the expiration of his, Larkin's, and Seider's contracts.


Alright, enough forecasting - we now have enough information to start seeing how the "Yzerplan" could play out when it comes to adding elite talent. We know this team still needs elite talent and that it will need to come from outside the organization unless one or more of Simon Edvinsson, Marco Kasper, Nate Danielson, and Axel Sandin-Pellikka substantially outperform their expected ceilings. As constructed, the betting markets view the Wings as a ~86 point team, which would be six more points than last season but also six points fewer than the final wildcard team. To squarely elevate this team into a playoff contender, you're likely needing one more solid top-four defenseman and at least one more forward in the Dylan Larkin/Alex DeBrincat talent tier. Given that the Wings are now likely drafting between 10th and 16th, the Wings won't likely find players at those draft slots that can reach the NHL quick enough to help the current core. As such, the Wings will have to turn to the world of unrestricted free agency, trades, and the much lamented offer sheet. Below is a quick snapshot of some of the top free agents in 2024 and 2025, along with their ages in that offseason.



Right off the bat we can see that there are some players in this pool that fit exactly what Detroit needs. Landing a player such as William Nylander in 2024 followed by Jakob Chychrun or Aaron Ekblad in 2025 would immediately vault the Wings into a legitimate contender. However, this is where the minor overpays from the past two seasons start to add up and decrease the margin of error for Yzerman. With the re-signing of Seider, Veleno, and Raymond to the aforementioned deals, as well as dishing out team-friendly extensions to both Michael Rasmussen and Jonatan Berggren (who will be due new contracts next offseason), the Wings could enter the 2024 offseason with just over $5 million in cap space in an $87.7 million cap environment.


Obviously $5.2 million would not be enough to land a player of Nylander's caliber in a competitive market. Therefore, the Wings will have to explore additional moves to create cap space, whether it be a buyout or a salary-shedding trade. Buying out Chiarot (saves $3.67 million in 2024-2025), Fabbri (saves $2.83 million) or Maatta (saves $2 million) would provide significant savings. Conversely, they could explore a trade that allows them to shed one of the above players. Plenty of teams have shown a willingness recently to eat cap hits when sweetened with attached draft picks and/or prospects. Thus, it's certainly possible the Wings find a way to clear the cap space necessary to be active in the 2024 offseason; it's just a bit more complicated. The Wings also have the option to bide their time again in 2024 and wait for the 2025 offseason, which would potentially come with another significant raise in cap space plus further clarity on how division rivals Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay age. Should the Wings decide to bide their time until the 2025 free agent pool and have the development of Nate Danielson, Marco Kasper, Simon Edvinsson, and William Wallinder continue positively, there may be more of an opportunity to spend.



In this case, the Wings would be left with approximately $25 million to add a first-line winger, a top-four defenseman, and a starting goaltender while hoping that their prospects are ready to contribute in a significant manner while on their entry-level contracts. This is an outcome within the realm of possibility, however there is little room for error and its heavily dependent on prospect development, a notoriously difficult thing to predict.


At the end of the day, this is where I believe the "Yzerplan" is heading based on the information we have available. This represents a best-case scenario dependent on the cap rising the maximum amount as anticipated, the top prospects developing as hoped, and elite players reaching free agency and choosing to come to Detroit or becoming available via trade without Detroit having to give up substantial pieces. There's a lot of "ifs" but if the stars align, there's a possibility to build a contender ahead of Larkin's 30th birthday.


For me, personally, the margins are really tight. I'm nervous counting on rises in the cap, players reaching free agency and choosing Detroit, and the development of the current top prospects. It's time to see if all the failed lottery luck manifests itself in some other fashion for Detroit because that's what they'll need to get to that contender status. There's also so much we still don't know - particularly how the pecking order of the Atlantic Division changes with Toronto facing cap constraints, Tampa's core aging, and Boston losing significant pieces this offseason.


So you're telling me there's a chance...

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Manusafanman Adams
Manusafanman Adams
Aug 22, 2023

I really feel that the lack of top lottery picks when we were such crap is really hamstringing everything.

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