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Holland concludes first day of free agency

by Dana Wakiji / Detroit Red Wings
Darren Helm, who has played parts of nine seasons with the Red Wings, signed a six-year contract Friday that goes through the end of the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Red Wings created cap space and on the first day of free agent signings created some organizational depth.

After the loss of Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings needed another top-line center, which they got in Frans Nielsen, 32, the former New York Islander, signing him to a six-year deal.

With the league placing a high value on speed, the Wings then re-signed speedy forward Darren Helm, 29, giving their 2005 fifth-round pick a five-year contract.

That was not all Wings general manager Ken Holland got done before his holiday weekend started.

After losing out on Alexander Radulov (one year, Montreal Canadiens) and Matt Martin (four years, Toronto Maple Leafs), the Wings signed Thomas Vanek, 32, to a one-year, $2.6 million deal and Steve Ott, 33, to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

Ott has 106 goals, 175 assists and 1,475 penalty minutes in 795 career games.

"To be honest with you, I’ve waited for this moment ever since I was drafted," Ott said on a conference call. "I’ve always wanted to be a Detroit Red Wing. It’s my childhood team that I always grew up admiring with the teams and runs that they had with Steve Yzerman and the rest leading the way. It has always been a dream to wear the winged wheel and now that this has all come together this is the most exciting contract I have ever signed."

In addition, the Wings signed forwards Matt Lorito (two years, two-way) and Ben Street (one year) and goaltender Edward Pasquale (one year).

Lorito, 25, led the Albany Devils (AHL) with 54 points (18 goals, 36 assists) in 71 games.

Street, 29, has 29 games of NHL experience with the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames and has 98 goals and 139 assists in 293 AHL games.

Pasquale, 25, played in both the AHL and ECHL last season. He went 13-10-3 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in 30 games with St. John's.

Lorito, Street and Pasquale are likely slated for the Grand Rapids Griffins, who lost leading scorer Andy Miele to the Philadelphia Flyers Friday.

Vanek might be the most interesting signing, depending on what he brings to the table.

The Minnesota Wild bought him out of the final year of his contract but Vanek was once one of the elite scorers in the league.

From 2006-09, Vanek scored 43, 36 and 40 goals for the Buffalo Sabres.

In his last two seasons with the Wild, Vanek had 21 and 18 goals. Only Dylan Larkin (23), Tomas Tatar (21) and Justin Abdelkader (19) had that many for the Wings this past season.

Obviously, the ideal scenario for the Wings is that Larkin becomes a top scoring center in the league, Riley Sheahan builds on his offensive progression and fellow youngsters Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou develop quickly into top-six forwards.

"Obviously as we go along you’re always hoping as an organization that your young players are going to take bigger roles and take some of the responsibility away from the older players so they can still continue to be important contributors," Holland said. "That’s what (Henrik) Zetterberg and Datsyuk did for Steve Yzerman and some of the great players when they first came along.

"As we go here over the next three-four years we’re hoping that the Athanasious and Larkins and Manthas and Sheahans are going to start to play a bigger role, and it allows you to have a changing of the guard."

It would also help if young veterans Tomas Tatar, 25, and Gustav Nyquist, 26, are able to return to their offensive pace of two seasons ago, when Tatar led the team with 29 goals and Nyquist was right behind him at 27.

The two had 21 and 17 goals this past season, respectively.

Some of those young players were part of what drew Nielsen to the Wings.

"I felt Detroit was just too exciting to turn down," Nielsen said. "With the young talent, the mix of young and old, it was exciting and a place I wanted to go to."

Holland still has to sign restricted free agents Danny DeKeyser and Petr Mrazek, so likely any other moves will have to come via trade.

"You need to have a push from underneath with your young people," Holland said. "That’s the only way we’re going to get better. But I think we’ve got a good mix of veterans and a good mix of younger kids."

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