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Wings sign veteran defenseman Trevor Daley as free agency begins

Wings add Michigan native Witkowski, who calls it 'a dream come true'

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji /

DETROIT - The Red Wings accomplished what they set out to do on the first day of free agency.

The Wings signed veteran defenseman Trevor Daley for three years and defenseman Luke Witkowski, a Michigan native, for two years.

"Certainly I think it's a great day for the Red Wings," Wings executive vice president and general manager Ken Holland said on a conference call. "As we headed into free agency, certainly one of the areas we wanted to address was our blue line. Obviously last year with the trade deadline we traded away Brendan Smith, who signed with the New York Rangers this summer. We felt that we needed to do something on the back end."

According to The Athletic Detroit's Craig Custance, Daley's first year is $4 million, the second is $3.3 million and the third is $2.2 million.

"Obviously in Trevor we've added a guy who's just won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins," Holland said. "Trevor is 33 years of age and I think one of his greatest assets is his ability to skate. We signed Trevor to a three-year deal. We think Trevor is really going to be able to improve our defense and make our defense more mobile and deeper. He can play left defense, he can play right defense. He can go back and get the puck, he can snap a pass and at the same time, he can also transport it and join the rush."

Custance also said Daley has a full no-trade clause for the first two years and a modified no-trade in the final year.

On the conference call, Daley said he had really positive conversations with Holland and coach Jeff Blashill on what his role would be.

"To have them contact me and think that I could help them after hearing where their team was at and where they thought they could get to, it was easy for me to make the decision," Daley said. "For a long time I played against Detroit with Dallas and it was a pretty good rivalry. Ever since I came into this league, Detroit has set the mark of what a team should be - their playoff history, their Stanley Cups, just the history in Detroit, for me it was a no brainer to try to be a part of what they are trying to do and trying to get back to.

"I was excited about it, it didn't take me long to agree to come to Detroit. I'm very excited about it, my family is excited about it. We live in the UP area, we spend our summers up in the UP so we're not far from there. My family and I are really excited to be part of the Detroit family."

Daley spent the last two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins, winning the first Stanley Cup championships of his career.

Daley shares a birthday with captain Henrik Zetterberg, Oct. 9. Daley will turn 34 right after the start of the regular season while Zetterberg turns 37.

Daley had five goals and 14 assists in 56 games during the regular season.

Of the Wings' defensemen, only Mike Green with 36 points in 72 games scored more than that.

Daley averaged 20:23 ice time last season and his career average is 20:40.

"Definitely I love to get up the ice and I love to play a lot, too, so that definitely had to factor into the equation for sure," Daley said. "I felt like I have lots of hockey left in me. I don't plan on going anywhere for a while, so I was excited about the three years.

"I was excited to hear what Jeff had to say about where I would play. He was honest. I have to come in like everyone else and earn my ice time. That's all I've expected from anywhere I've went. I'm looking forward to the opportunity and the challenge of knowing what Detroit brings."

The three-year deal offers the Wings a solid bridge to the not-too-distant future when they expect defensemen like Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi and perhaps even one or two of their most recent draft picks - Gustav Lindstrom, Kasper Kotkansalo, Malte Setkov, Cole Fraser and Reilly Webb - to be ready for the NHL.

Holland said Witkowski, a right-shot defenseman, can also play some at forward.

"We think in Luke we're adding a player that gives us versatility," Holland said. "He can play on the back end, and can also go up and play right wing. He played for coach Blashill for one year at Western Michigan. He brings a physicality and a physical presence to the lineup, something that we also wanted to add after trading away Steve Ott at the deadline."

Wings fans might remember Anthony Mantha fought Witkowski on March 30 in Tampa, suffering a fractured ring finger on his right hand.

Witkowski said that he is open to playing both defense and forward.

"I would like to do whatever is best for the team," Witkowski said. "For instance, last year we had some injuries at forward, right wing. I slid up and I felt very comfortable. Some games I'd be going one shift playing right wing, next shift I was playing right D. The transition is not as difficult for me personally, others may be. It just feels like somehow I can make that change and I feel comfortable doing it. I like playing both positions. I think my skating helps me be able to do that."

Witkowski is 6-foot-2, 217 pounds and played at Western Michigan with Danny DeKeyser for Blashill.

"Me and Danny were D partners for three years, roommates for a year," Witkowski said. "I think we really complemented each other really well. We kind of bring different elements to the game. As far as Blash, same thing. I played under him for a year and I learned a lot from him and (assistant coach) Pat Ferschweiler. I owe a lot to Fersch, actually, for developing my game in college and getting me ready for the pro game. I'm excited to get back to play with both of them."

Born in Holland, Mich., Witkowski had four assists in 34 games last year with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Obviously, I'm very grateful for everything that Tampa provided for me and the opportunity they gave me, but to come back to Michigan and play for the Red Wings is a dream come true," Witkowski said. "My phone is going absolutely crazy right now. I'm not even on my phone right now because I don't think I could be making a phone call but personally I'm very excited. It's an opportunity. I got to earn my spot. I'm really looking forward to it."

MINOR LEAGUE SIGNINGS: The Wings also signed forward Turner Elson, 24, who played in 13 games for the AHL's San Antonio Rampage last season, recording one goal and two assists.

Elson's season was limited because of injury. Elson has played in one NHL game, with the Calgary Flames in 2015-16.

The Wings traded a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft for goaltender Thomas McCollum, who was originally the Wings' first-round pick, 30th overall, in the 2008 draft.

Last season McCollum, 27, went 12-2-1 with the AHL's Stockton Heat and Charlotte Checkers and ECHL's Adirondack Thunder.

McCollum spent seven seasons with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins from 2009-16.

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