Though the Detroit Red Wings failed to make the playoffs last season, the roster is loaded with the contracts and no-trade clauses of a cup contender. In fact, the Red Wings tie the Ottawa Senators for the most no-trade contracts in the league. Certainly the Wings have to overpay free agents to entice them to sign with the Wings at this point in their “retool”, however the amount of NTC’s that Kenny Holland has given out is questionable.
A no-trade may entice some free agents to sign, or keep the teams assets from signing elsewhere, but it also handcuffs the team when it comes to roster moves. Many frustrated fans will point towards a player and bemoan a trade, but with a NTC it is not that simple. Multiply that by the Wings 10 no-trade clauses, and is it any wonder Kenny hasn’t been making any big moves? Having almost half your roster on NTC’s makes it hard to change up the roster or make beneficial trades. It isn’t just the sheer number of no-trades though, it is the fact that they are going to Red Wings veterans. While the team looks to get younger, most of the players without the no-trades are the younger players, so the only talent available for trade on the team, is the very talent the Wings refuse to part with. It is the vets, the players it would be most advantageous for the team to move, that by the nature of their contracts can not be traded.
A no-trade clause is a great way to show loyalty to a player, but in the new salary cap era this can only be done with a couple of your very best players. It can’t be handed out to every deserving player anymore. Showing loyalty is very important to the Wings, as it should be, especially in today’s rent-a-player world. Also, Loyalty can help build a winner. Players see loyalty as a very big selling point, especially if they think playing for a team might lead to employment opportunities and a way to stay in the game after they retire. That said, there are other ways to show that loyalty other than a no-trade clause. These clauses can also be a valuable tool to sign a free agent with many offers on the table, but again, should only be used on top players. If a player is willing to walk because you don’t offer a NTC, then perhaps you should take your lumps and let him walk. If a team’s struggles are real enough to a free agent that a NTC is what is going to stand in the way, then perhaps the GM should take a hard look at his team and see if it is time to start rebuilding through the draft until the team is ready to compete and can entice players with cup runs rather than a no-trade.
How can the Red Wings respond? It is difficult and Holland has put himself into this position, but here are some of the limited options available.
- The team can let free agents walk. This means excepting this is a rebuild not a retool and start the process of building a cup contender from the bottom up.
- Again loyalty is very important to the Wings, and it is to be commended. Still, the Wings excel in this area and don’t need to hand out no-trades like crazy to accomplish this. Scouting jobs, coaching jobs, ambassadorships and giving former players “keys” to the arena are just some ways. The Wings can just expand what they already do so well.
- Trade players with a no-trade to a contender, and let them know the Wings would always be interested in possibly bringing them back during or after their playing careers. This shows loyalty and the player might be willing to waive their no-trade for a chance to win a cup. Holland might not get as much in return, but it is an option.
- Or as Bill Agius has pointed out, you can go the Scotty Bowman route with a player and sit him. This is not easy to do when you don’t have a stocked roster and free agents aren’t tripping over themselves to sign with your team, but it can be effective. A last ditch effort, but again Holland has painted himself into this corner, it might just be time for him to get his shoes messy.
It is not an enviable position, and I don’t see Holland doing much this season with the new arena opening and squeaking into the playoffs being a possibility. Still, it is getting harder to ignore and Holland is going to have to address this sooner rather than later.