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Wings move quickly on first day of free agency

Green re-signs for two years, Vanek returns for one and Bernier signs for three years

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- The Red Wings did not wait long on the first day of free agency to add players.

Two were familiar faces and another filled an important need.

The Wings agreed to a two-year extension with defenseman Mike Green, which they announced before noon as he is remaining with the team.

"He played the most minutes on our team," Wings general manager Ken Holland said on a conference call. "I think he was close to 24 minutes a night. His skating is a strength for him and in a league that is heavy on speed and mobility, those are his strengths and his assets. He can go back and get the puck. He can join the rush. He wanted to be in Detroit. He likes it here. He likes his role on the team."

Green, 32, was the team's representative at last season's All-Star Game in Tampa.

Since joining the Wings, Green has led the defensemen in points with 35, 36 and 33 in the last three seasons, respectively.

"I love it there in Detroit, I really do," Green said. "I love the organization, I love the culture, I love the guys. There's a lot that weighed on my decision to stay and yeah, I think it's easy at times to go somewhere else, especially with the transition that's going on there in Detroit, but I feel I can be useful in the next couple of years to help the younger guys develop quicker and speed up that process."

Green underwent surgery on his cervical spine on April 5, forcing him to miss the end of the season and go through two months of rehabilitation.

"I've gone through rehab, a process, and talked to the doctors and everything has gone beyond what we've expected and I've been training full throttle and I feel great," Green said.

Green said he would visit with the doctor before training camp to receive final clearance on contact.

Just after noon, the Wings welcomed back forward Thomas Vanek on a one-year deal for $3 million.

"I loved it there," Vanek said. "It was a good fit. I really liked the whole culture of the organization and the guys were great. We tried to make it work last year, it didn't work out, so I'm happy it did this year."

Vanek spent 48 games in Detroit during the 2016-17 season.

They sent Vanek to the Florida Panthers that season in exchange for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a 2017 third-round draft pick.

That pick turned into defenseman Kasper Kotkansalo, who just finished his second development camp with the Wings and will be entering his sophomore season at Boston University.

This time around, Vanek has a no-trade clause that he would have to waive in order to be moved at the deadline.

"I'm not going to lie. You want to finish with the team you started with," Vanek said. "I understand the business side of it. I get it. But having the option for myself this year is great but at the same time I'm hoping it won't come to that and we'll be in the mix and we can add."

Vanek, 34, had 15 goals and 23 assists in those 48 games with the Wings.

Last season, Vanek had 24 goals and 32 assists in 80 games split between Vancouver and Columbus.

Wings coach Jeff Blashill always praised Vanek for his offensive creativity and Vanek would serve as a great mentor for some of the younger forwards like Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

That group could include Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina if they make the team as expected.

"I've done that the last 2-3 years, getting to know the young guys, and if they want some advice I'll give it to them," Vanek said. "In Detroit, I did that with AA, Mo, Larks, all those three guys. They are great players. They just need a little bit of time. I'm there to help everyone, help myself. The good, young kids we have, Rasmussen, Zadina, I'll be there to help them as well."

Vanek, a native of Austria, speaks fluent Czech so he could be particularly helpful to Zadina.

Also just after noon, the Wings announced they had signed goaltender Jonathan Bernier to a three-year contract. That contract is for $3 million per season.

"We traded away Petr Mrazek at the trade deadline," Holland said. "You've got to be strong in net. Jonathan Bernier played so well in Colorado and Anaheim the year before and in Toronto. He's a veteran guy, he's 30 years of age, really a good age for a goaltender. We need to be strong in goal and we thing with Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier that we're going to have a good 1-2 punch in net."

Bernier, who turns 30 on Aug. 7, had several options but decided that the Wings were the best team for him.

"I think they are obviously Original Six, it's always unbelievable to play for a team like that," Bernier said. "I experienced it in Toronto and there's no experience like that. You go away, see a lot of red in the stands and I think it's an unbelievable feeling. They always had great teams, obviously they didn't make the playoffs this year but they had an amazing run before that. Our goal is to come back this year in a playoff position and hopefully do some damage. To me, I just thought it was a great fit. I know Jimmy (Howard) a little bit, playing against him and we're going to push each other to bring this team back in the playoffs. For me, I didn't want to be in a position where I played 15-20 games, I want to come in and have a chance to play as much as possible. Obviously depending on my play but I just thought it was a great opportunity that me and Jimmy can battle for games."

Howard is entering the final season of his six-year, $31.75 million contract.

With the Avalanche last year, Bernier went 19-13-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

Bernier was asked if he believed the Wings could return to the playoffs this coming season.

"I think so, I really do," Bernier said. "When we played them this year, I just thought that they weren't missing much. I think they have pretty much every guy on paper. Sometimes it's just executing on the ice for 60 minutes. I just think they're really not that far."

Red Wings goaltending coach Jeff Salajko has already had a chance to speak with Bernier and came away impressed.

"I feel he got Colorado into the playoffs last year, I think he won nine in a row in that winning streak, year before did it with Anaheim when (John) Gibson went down," Salajko said. "I'm not viewing him as a backup goalie, whether we're talking about a 1-B, this is a guy that can give you 30 to 40 games. A lot of backups are more in the 20-25 range, maybe more. He wants to play. Everybody that I've talked to, the coaches, the players, said he's a worker and he will work and he's a great teammate. That's kind of what we need."

Salajko said Howard is also a hard worker and now the two netminders will be able to have a friendly competition for playing time.

"Now you got two guys that are going to push each other," Salajko said. "Jimmy will embrace it, I know that. We had to sign another goalie, we wanted to get the best one out there. Jonathan Bernier was the best goalie on the free agent market. Carter Hutton's a nice goalie, he's right there, but we feel like we got the best one. I'm excited to work with him. We talked for 20 minutes (the other day), he sounds like a real pro. He's excited to get here and find a house and whatnot. I just think it gives us a little stability and depth in net. Maybe we don't have to play Jimmy Howard 60 games this year, maybe it's 50. The season will dictate that with these guys' play and their health.

"It's a great signing for the organization."

ZETTERBERG UPDATE: On the day the Wings cleaned out their lockers April 10, captain Henrik Zetterberg said as long as he was healthy, he intended to play in the 2018-19 season.

That has come into question recently with some reports saying that Zetterberg might not return.

Holland didn't offer any guarantees but was hopeful that Zetterberg would be able to play.

"The last I talked to him, I think he's planning on playing," Holland said. "Obviously his back is going to determine whether he can or he can't. Do I have a clear green light? I'm expecting him to play. Do I have a clear green light. No, I don't know that I've got a clear green light but I don't really understand what a clear green light actually means.

"Obviously when you are dealing with the back and you're dealing with the health of a person, as well all know, it's hard to read the future when it comes to health. Obviously, that's a key piece for us. I'll stay in touch with Henrik as we get into July to see how his health is."

OTHER SIGNINGS: The Wings also announced they had signed center Wade Megan, defenseman Jake Chelios and goaltender Harri Sateri to one-year contracts and left wing Chris Terry to a two-year contract.

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