October 18th, 2017
It’ll be a long, painful season if Wings
can’t sign Athanasiou to new contract
By KEITH GAVE
Yeah, it’s early in the NHL season, and sure, the Red Wings are off to a nice start. But this much we know for sure already: Their margin for error thinner than a whisper in the mist, goals are going to be hard to come by, and they won’t be able to outscore the kinds of brutal defensive lapses that cost them Monday night’s 3-2 loss to Tampa Bay.
They need scoring. More size and speed wouldn’t hurt, either. And there’s a guy out there who can help, and help immediately, one with proven credentials that wouldn’t cost them a thing. Except for a fair salary.
But that’s the issue that’s keeping Andreas Athanasiou reporting for duty. Instead, he’s in Switzerland, working out with a team there while he entertains multiple offers there that don’t compare to the NHL salary he could command in Detroit. But that’s business.
These kinds of salary disputes were once unheard of in Hockeytown, where typically a player asks for a certain amount, the Wings offer even more whether or not he’s worth it, and everybody’s happy. Until the franchise starts heading south. At least that’s how it seems.
So after years and years of doling out horrible contracts with a payroll up against the salary cap with a team nobody expects to make the playoffs, general manager Ken Holland is playing hard. Athanasiou just happens to be the first batter up, to continue the metaphor. Only he’s playing the game, too, guided by his agent, Derrin Ferris.
Athanasiou, 23, scored 18 goals, 17 of them at even-strength, among 29 points in 64 games last season – his first full season in the NHL. For that the Wings say – at least compared to other players in NHL at his age, experience, and production, he’s worth $1.9 million a season if he’s willing to sign for two years, according to Holland.
But can you blame Ferris for trying to make comparisons to the generosity the Wings have shown for players far less productive than Athanasiou – on their own team?
Like Darren Helm, 30, who had eight goals and 17 points in 50 games – for a hefty $3.85 million, last season, this season and for the next three seasons.
Like Gus Nyquist, 27, who had just 12 goals among 48 points in 76 games (and inordinately more power play time than Athanasiou) – for $4.75 million, which he’ll receive (we won’t say earn) this season and next as well.
Like Justin Abdelkader, 29, who produced just seven goals and 21 points in 64 games last season – for $4.25 million, which he’s being paid this season, and for the following four seasons.
Like Riley Sheahan, 25, who scored just two goals (both in the season finale) among 13 points in 80 games (never a healthy scratch like Athanasiou was) – for $2.075 million last season and this season, after which he will become a restricted free agent.
And that’s just among the team’s overpaid forwards. Holland was similarly generous in the extreme to defenseman Danny DeKeyser, 26, who produced a pitiful four goals among 12 points in 82 games – and for that received $5 million, which he will be paid again this season, and for the following four seasons. This may be Detroit’s worst hockey contract.
A close second is the two-year, $8 million contracts Holland gifted goaltender Petr Mrazek, 24, who for $4 million won just 18 of 50 games, finishing with a save percentage of a pedestrian .901 and an unseemly 3.04 goals-against average.
Finally, and this really is sickening, the Wings are on the hook this season for $2.57 million of a brutal contract the Wings – at the obstinate urging of then-coach Mike Babcock – gave to Stephen Weiss, who was bought out two years ago. But it gets worse. They’ll still be paying him $1.67 million in the following three seasons.
Yet they’re nickel-and-diming Athanasiou, one of their most valuable offensive players, when you factor points produced per minutes played. If he got half the power-play time coach Jeff Blashill inexplicably persisted in giving Sheahan last season, Athanasiou would have been even more productive.
Despite growing acrimony between the two sides, the lines of communication remain open, for now at least. Holland has said he hopes he and Blashill can speak with Athanasiou this week in an effort to resolve the impasse. We can only hope they do. And you can bet there are a bunch of players in their plush new LCA locker room who feel the same way.
The Wings need offense wherever they can find it. That certainly will be underscored when they visit Toronto with its high-octane young team on Wednesday, then entertain Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals on Friday (listen on 101.1-FM, WGRY).
Even with Athanasiou, the Wings are a long shot to make the playoffs. Without him, they stand no chance.