September 12th, 2017
To Russia, with love? Cash-strapped Wings
could lose popular Athanasiou to KHL
By KEITH GAVE
TRAVERSE CITY – Ken Holland’s long summer of discontent continues. A few days before his beleaguered Red Wings are to report to training camp, he has yet to sign one of his most important players. And he seems strangely ambivalent about it.
“Andreas Athanasiou is going to have to decide where he wants to play this season,” the Red Wings’ general manager said in an interview with Q-100.
A 23-year-old winger whose speed puts defenders on their heels, Athanisiou is the last player Holland needs to sign before the Wings take the ice to open camp here at Centre Ice Arena. The only problem is, the Wings have so overpaid so many players that they’re already over the
They’re already more than $3 million over the league’s $75 million limits, which pretty much explains why they’re low-balling Athanasiou. Detroit has offered him $1.25 million for one year or an average of $1.9 million on a two-year deal, according to an NHL source familiar with negotiations. Those numbers pale in comparison to the deal Athanasiou has from a team in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia -- $3 million for this season.
“We can’t compete with the KHL,” Holland said.
Yep, one of the most prolific spenders in NHL history – at least when he had access to late owner Mike Ilitch’s check book – actually said that. The Red Wings are getting outbid for one of their best players from a country they used to raid talent from a generation ago.
All’s fair in love and hockey, eh? If Athanasiou takes the money and runs, well turnabout might be fair play, but it it’s going to hurt.
Despite having to fight for ice time, his minutes diminishing for long stretches because of defensive lapses that have been contagious among numerous undisciplined Wings forwards for two seasons under coach Jeff Blashill, Athanasiou nevertheless was one of the most productive players. He scored 18 goals (17 at even-strength) in 64 games. Only Tomas Tatar scored more, with 25. Athanasiou’s three game-winning goals were second only to Tatar’s five.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Holland and the Wings wouldn’t be in this mess if they hadn’t overpaid so many of their players, including and especially defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson, and forwards Gus Nyquist, Tatar and Darren Helm, and goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Still, they could have avoided it entirely if Holland had been a bit more proactive ahead of the expansion draft and spent a cheap draft pick to ensure that Las Vegas selected Mrazek, which many observers expected, thereby clearing the books of $4 million. That would open enough space to sign not only Athanasiou but quite possibly another goal-scoring free agents like Tomas Vanek (who wound up in Vancouver) or even Jaromir Jagr (who remains unsigned).
The Wings will get some relief with Johan Franzen’s $3.955-million cap hit moved off the books when he’s placed on the long-term injured list. With that, the Wings will have about $933,333 available to pay Athanasiou. Which explains why he’s entertaining offers from the Russians.
So yes, one of the Red Wings’ most popular players has a big decision to make in the next few days. The Wings – who enter the season as one of the NHL’s weakest franchises – cannot afford to lose him.
But given the numbers and the circumstances, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if Andreas Athanasiou’s pre-season routine hasn’t involved Russian-language lessons.