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Red Wings fill needs, sign Filppula, Nemeth and Pickard to two-year deals

Athanasiou now free to move back to wing; Larsson will have veteran mentor

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT -- The Detroit Red Wings didn't make big headlines on the first day of free agency.

But that doesn't mean they did nothing. They just made some understated but important moves to fill needs.

The Red Wings signed forward Valtteri Filppula, defenseman Patrik Nemeth and goaltender Calvin Pickard, each receiving a two-year contract, which was by design.

"We were looking at doing shorter-term deals with everyone we spoke with," general manager Steve Yzerman said on an afternoon conference call. "Being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly, kind of get to know what we have in the organization. I think I have a good handle on the NHL team but the kids, the prospects we have coming, the players we have in Grand Rapids, I wanted to give the flexibility of providing opportunities for our young players but also trying to help the Detroit Red Wings immediately as much as possible.

"I thought the shorter-term deals made the most sense for us at this stage, hence we signed three players on two-year contracts. They all are designed to help us immediately, but our hands aren't necessarily tied into long-term contracts."

Filppula, 35, returns to the place it all began as he was originally a Wings' third-round pick, 95th overall, in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Fil's back in #Hockeytown.

Yzerman has great familiarity with Filppula as he signed him to a deal with the Lightning when he was in Tampa Bay.

"It's always important that you feel the team wants you," Filppula said on a conference call. "That's definitely a big thing. I've known Stevie from before and I had a good relationship with him, so of course that's a part."

Yzerman said bringing Filppula back gives the Wings needed roster flexibility at center and allows them to put Andreas Athanasiou where he fits the best.

"We had a hole in the middle, we felt, on our roster, with Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening down the middle, potentially (Jacob) de la Rose can play there, Abby (Justin Abdelkader) can even play there, Darren Helm could play there," Yzerman said. "We have options but we're looking for someone that, playmaking, can play on the power play, so we wanted to add another centerman and that allows the coach to put Andreas Athanasiou back to the wing.

"He played some center at the end of the season and looked good there, but his natural position is on the wing. That allows us to put him on the wing. Fil's a very good two-way centerman. He can win face-offs, he can play in all situations. We really felt we were going to plug a hole by bringing him in."

Filppula said he has already discussed his role with coach Jeff Blashill.

"I'm gonna start at center and obviously I've played wing as well, so if that happens I don't think it will be too big of a surprise," Filppula said. "But the plan is to play center."

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Welcome back, Fil!

Filppula spent last season with the New York Islanders, recording 17 goals and 14 assists and finishing plus-19 in 72 games.

"I don't really want to name teams but I talked to obviously the Islanders," Filppula said. "Pretty quickly it came down to the Island or coming back to Detroit. I'm definitely happy about this decision.

"I'm really excited. Obviously you never know what's going to happen. I had a great time there the first time on the team. Everything was good. That way, it was an easy decision to make the call. Obviously the team is a lot different than what it was but there's still a few guys that I played with, so it's going to be fun to see those guys again. It's a lot younger roster now."

Filppula remains friends with Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall and would often chat with them after games when they were on opposing teams.

Kronwall is still pondering whether he wants to continue playing, and Yzerman has said he has a spot on the Wings' roster if he does.

Filppula isn't sure which way Kronwall is leaning.

"I haven't talked to him yet but I'm sure I will in the next couple of days," Filppula said. "I obviously hope to get to see him."

Nemeth, 27, is a native of Stockholm, Sweden, and has spent the last six seasons with the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Welcome to #Hockeytown, Patrik. 👋

"He's a big, strong, solid, defensive defenseman," Yzerman said. "He kills penalties well, he defends well, he's a heavy body and we felt whether playing with Mike Green or Filip Hronek, he's going to be a very good partner for that type of player, a puck-mover, offensive right-handed shot.

"We felt with the uncertainty of Nik Kronwall and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson missed time with injuries and going into the last year of their contracts, it was important to bring in a defenseman that can play now on the left side and help us in the future as well."

Nemeth is perhaps best known by Red Wings fans as the player who fought Anthony Mantha last season. During the bout, Mantha suffered a damaged ligament in his hand and missed 15 games.

Last season, Nemeth played a career-high 74 games for Colorado, had one goal, nine assists and was fifth in the league with 185 blocked shots.

Pickard, 27, has played 104 games with Colorado, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Philadelphia Flyers and Arizona Coyotes.

Yzerman clarified that Pickard's deal is a two-year, one-way deal.

Tweet from @DetroitRedWings: Happy to have ya, Calvin! 🙌

"One, we feel with the two goalies we have, if we were to have an injury, we feel that this third goaltender position is very important," Yzerman said. "Filip Larsson is projected to be in Grand Rapids with Calvin to start the season and we wanted to put a goaltender with some experience to partner with him, a guy who's a good leader for a young goaltender, someone with a good work ethic and high character. We believe he fits that bill. Doing it over two years, that gives us, for us, a little bit of security, hopefully, knowing that we have him over the course of two years.

"He's got NHL experience and can up-and-play games should we need him to. He's proven he can do that, excellent in the American Hockey League. Maybe the biggest reason is we really liked the character and the attitude that he has so he'll be a benefit to the young goalies and the young players in the system."

Pickard is 32-50-9 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in his career.

In addition, Pickard has played 200 AHL games with the Lake Erie Monsters, San Antonio Rampage, Toronto Marlies and Tucson Roadrunners, going 93-71-15 with a 2.61 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

In 2018, Pickard won the Calder Cup with the Marlies.

Yzerman said he expects Green and the players who were injured at the end of the season to be ready to go for training camp.

Although the Wings appear to be done for July 1, that doesn't necessarily mean they are done signing players.

"We have a spot potentially on our roster, on right wing," Yzerman said. "I don't want to fill it just to fill it just because it gives us some options for some of our younger players to see if they're ready, and it leaves opportunity, maybe, for something to come along between now and the start of the regular season. So I'm not really in a hurry but if I could add another winger, I would consider that.

"And potentially maybe look at another defenseman. But we weigh adding another one versus just leaving a spot for one of our younger guys on the roster, maybe decide it at training camp or after training camp. If the right player and the right contract comes along, we would consider signing another one."

Yzerman emphasized that adding a veteran wing or defenseman would not rule out a young player earning a spot in Detroit.

"If they're ready to play, they're going to push somebody out and we'll deal with it at that time," the GM said. "Whether we sign another forward or another defenseman, it does not box out any of our young players. What it does, it gives us a little protection if they're not ready to go in the fall."

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