DETROIT – Justin Abdelkader grew up a fan of the Red Wings, now it appears that the Muskegon, Mich., native will get to spend his entire NHL career with the organization.
That’s because on Thursday, the club announced they signed Abdelkader to a seven-year contract extension, which is reportedly worth $29.75 million and carries with it a $4.25-million annual salary cap hit.
“To hopefully end my career here in Detroit is a dream come true for me,” Abdelkader said. “When you come into the league you never know how long you’ll be on a team. But it’s been very special for me and I’m very thankful, obviously, to the Ilitch family, Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch, Ken Holland, the management team, my teammates throughout my years here.”
The 28-year-old Abdelkader is one of the Wings’ best and most versatile forwards, having finished fourth in team scoring last season with 23 goals. He was off to a quick start this season – scoring four goals, including a pair of game-winners in the first two games – but has since cooled.
His early performance earned him recognition as the NHL’s First Star of the Week, on Oct. 12. Since then, Abdelkader has just two assists and is a minus-6.
Without Johan Franzen in the lineup, the Red Wings have really leaned on Abdelkader to be a productive power forward, who can make life miserable for opposing goaltenders while creating second- and third-chance scoring opportunities for the Wings.
In his seventh full season with the Red Wings, Abdelkader, who was a second-round draft pick in 2005, has produced 65 goals and 139 points in 413 regular-season games. Through 15 games, he has four goals and seven points with a minus-2 rating.
“He does a lot of things,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s real valuable to this organization and this team. First of all he’s a bit unique in the sense that we don’t have a whole bunch of power forwards. He’s a power forward when he’s playing his best. He can be a net-front guy on the power play, he can kill penalties. He’s very versatile and good in that role as a power forward.”
Versatility and strength on the puck are definitely key components for Abdelkader, who can play top-six minutes or be an affective grinding agitator on the third line.
It’s a combination that Wings general manager Ken Holland said made it important to lock up Abdelkader now and not allow him to test the free-agency market, where he would certainly draw interest from other clubs.
“He’s a person that I think Jeff Blashill and I are looking to going forward to eventually be one of the leaders on the team,” Holland said. “At some point in time we’re going to need some of the younger people in the organization on the team to take a bigger leadership role. He’s one of them.”
But Thursday, Abdelkader remained steadfast in his desire to stay with the Red Wings.
“For me I’m very happy and content here in Detroit,” he said. “This is where I want to be. This is where I’m from. The organization has been great to me since I walked in the door, helped my develop into the player and the person I am today, and I’m very thankful for that.
“Now, to get the opportunity to spend the rest of my career here and finish a Red Wing is something that gives me butterflies and gets me excited. Each and every day of putting the Red Wings sweater on is something special and you can never take it for granted, and I don’t. Just look forward to the future. It should be a bright future for us.”
The seven-year deal, which runs through the 2022-23 season, is currently the team’s longest on the books. The deal for captain Henrik Zetterberg goes through 2020-21. Franzen and Jonathan Ericsson have contracts that expire after the 2019-20 season.
A former Michigan State standout, Abdelkader – who received his business degree last month from the East Lansing university – will be 36 years old when the contract expires.
“I wanted to make it clear in negotiations that I wanted to stay here and be here long term,” Abdelkader said. “So it worked out that we could get a seven-year deal. I’m excited. I’m gonna keep fully committing myself to this team, this organization on and off the ice, and do what I can to be a leader.”
While some are critical of the term that Holland gave to Abdelkader, the GM said theuse pundits don’t know the individual like he does.
“I know the person. I know his passion, I know his commitment,” Holland said. “I’m with him every day. … If you’re outside the organization you might have some hesitation but I know the person. I’ve watched him since he was 18 years of age. I know his commitment. I know what he’s all about. So I think at the end of the day if it’s too long, you worry about it six years from now. The most important thing was to get him signed up. I know I’ve talked to some people in the industry that think it’s a fabulous deal for us. I think it’s a fabulous deal because we’ve found a way to keep him signed and we couldn’t afford to lose him.”