It was not the major splash that Red Wings fans were hoping for, but with the signing of former Wings forward Mikael Samuelsson, former Nashville agitator Jordin Tootoo, Swiss scoring sensation Damien Brunner and former Maple Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson, Detroit was certainly active on Day 1 of free agency.
Many players switched teams on Sunday, but the two top free-agent targets, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, remain unsigned. As of Sunday night, the speculation machine had Suter on his way to the Motor City and the Wings’ chances of landing Parise as remote.
Of course that can all change, so let’s focus on the players that will be joining the Red Wings.
Samuelsson: This should not come as a major shock because the Red Wings have a history of bringing back former players. Detroit’s brass has always liked Samuelsson’s size, 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds, and his laser shot.
When Samuelsson left Detroit for Vancouver in July 2009, the Wings were counting on Jiri Hudler, who unexpectedly bolted for Russia. If the Wings would have had any inclination that Hudler was going to take his talents to the KHL, Samuelsson would have stayed.
This is a safe signing. Samuelsson and the Wings have familiarity in their favor and like each other.
The major drawback is that Samuelsson is a streaky scorer, just like his fellow countryman, Johan Franzen. You have to hope when one is hot, the other is cold, or the Wings could go weeks without scoring many goals.
Tootoo: A bit of a stunner until you bring Red Wings coach Mike Babcock into the equation. Babcock has lobbied for a physical presence on the Wings for what seems like forever.
The burly Tootoo, 5-foot-9 and 199 pounds, brings a rugged attitude along with 725 career penalty minutes in 486 games played.
He’s a rough-and-tumble player who at times plays over the edge and will seek retribution if you take liberties with his teammates, which will bring a smile to Babcock’s face.
For old-school Red Wing fans, Tootoo is a Dennis Polonich type of player without Polo’s offensive up side. But Tootoo isn’t as offensively challenged as you might think.
Not a bad signing because it will appease Babcock.
Brunner: Switzerland’s scoring star first caught the Wings’ eye at this year’s World Championships with his speed, goal-scoring ability and net presence.
Brunner isn’t a large man, 5-foot-11 and 187 pounds, but he has a high-end skill set, which is an attribute that always intrigues the Wings. Playing last season in the Swiss league, Brunner had 24 goals and 36 assists in 45 games.
Detroit has penciled in the speed demon as a top-six forward, which could be wishful thinking if Brunner cannot adjust his game to the smaller ice surface of the NHL.
Brunner is a low-risk signing. He’s on an entry-level, two-way contract, and will either be a steal or a one-year disappointment.
Gustavsson: Nicknamed “The Monster,” Gustavsson is a tall and lanky goalie at 6-foot-3, 192 pounds. A highly coveted free agent back in 2009, Gustavsson signed with Toronto, where for the last three seasons, he toiled in the Maple Leaf cesspool.
An address change to the Motor City could be all he needs to elevate his game.
A butterfly goalie, his large frame covers most of the net, and he’s extremely athletic for his size. Out of all of Sunday’s signings, this could have the greatest long-term impact because Gustavsson has enormous potential and will be playing for a high-quality team.
Many in the Detroit organization believe that Jimmy Howard is a much better goaltender when he’s pushed, and Gustavsson has the talent to compete with Howard for significant playing time.
If the Red Wings are able to land Parise and/or Suter on Monday, when it’s expected they’ll announce where they’ve decided to sign, the Wings will obviously be overjoyed with their free-agent signings.
It’s hard to imagine Suter not being a Predator or Red Wing based on Sunday’s scuttlebutt. Parise’s situation appears to be more muddled.
Whatever happens will dictate if Detroit has to employ an alternative plan, going after a Matt Carle and/or Alexander Semin.
Anyway you look at it, the circus hasn’t left town.