DETROIT – The Red Wings tied up a few loose ends before heading to the NHL draft in New Jersey this weekend, signing veteran forward Drew Miller and defenseman Jakub Kindl to long-term deals.
The club announced Saturday that they have signed Miller to a three-year contract through the 2015-16 season, and Kindl to a four-year deal, which will expire following the 2016-17 campaign.
Miller, who could have become an unrestricted free agent next week, wasn’t really interested in testing the open market. Claimed off waivers in early 2008-09, Miller, who was a standout player at Michigan State, wanted to stay in Michigan where the Miller name is synonymous with hockey.
“I'm really happy the deal got done,” he told The Associated Press on June 14. “I wanted to stay because I feel like I've become one of the key parts of the team.
“It’s great to have that security. It won’t change how hard I work, but it’s just nice to know you’re wanted for the next three years.”
The 29-year-old Miller produced four goals, including two game-winning tallies in 44 games during the lockout-shortened NHL season. He had a game-winning goal and an assist in six playoff games after coming back from a hand injury that sidelined him for 12 contests, including the entire first-round playoff series against Anaheim.
Miller is a defensive-minded, penalty-killing forward and he played a crucial role for the Red Wings on a fourth line centered by Cory Emmerton, but when Miller was out of the lineup with a broken right hand the Wings’ penalty-kill clearly suffered.
“I'm a huge fan of Millsie,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said last month. “Millsie’s an important part of this team. When he was out, we missed him.”
Meanwhile, Kindl avoids becoming a restricted free agent on July 5. His signing means the Red Wings have seven NHL defensemen currently under contract, leaving Brendan Smith as the only unsigned blueliner. He is eligible to be a RFA next Friday, as are forwards Gustav Nyqust and Joakim Andersson.
The Red Wings also have to decide what they will do with center Valtteri Filppula, and wingers Daniel Cleary and Damien Brunner, all will become UFAs on Friday.
Like Miller, Kindl said he too had no interest in playing anywhere other than Detroit.
“Absolutely, absolutely,” said Kindl when asked last month if he hoped to return to the Wings next season.
At least for the next day, Kindl remains the highest overall draft pick taken by the Red Wings in the last 21 years. The 26-year-old from Sumperk, Czech Republic, was selected No. 19, however. Detroit hold the No. 18 overall pick in this Sunday’s NHL draft, which will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Kindl’s stock rose this season as he began to gain greater confidence. He played with more grit, purpose and determination as he received increased playing time with a cluster of injuries sabotaged the defensive unit during the season. He played the last 31 straight games of the regular season and in all 14 playoff games.
Kindl had a career-high four goals, including two game winners, while tying a career-high with 13 points in 41 games. He collected a goal – which happened to be the game winner in Game 4 against Chicago – and four assists in the playoffs. He also led all Wings’ defensemen in plus/minus in both the regular season (+15) and postseason (+4).
The improvement shown by Kindl in the last half of the year kept veteran defenseman Ian White out of the lineup from early April through the end of the Wings’ playoff run. White, who will be a UFA, has been told by the Red Wings that he won’t be brought back.
“I’ve said it many times, it’s all about confidence,” Kindl said during the season. “It’s different when you play 10-minutes or 20-minutes, you know? That’s how I look at it. … Every time I play I just try to do the right things. Play simple, play good defensively and I believe if I do all of that stuff, play hard, that good things will happen. That’s how I look at it.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose