The Red Wings finally got their man. Alex DeBrincat is coming home.
All summer long, the potential match-up between Detroit and dynamic goal-scoring DeBrinkat has been looking close to perfect: the Farmington Hills, Mich., native is uninterested in an Ottawa extension and his hometown Red Wings are in desperate need of a scorer. The fit seemed very natural, even if the finer details — a trade with the Senators and a contract with DeBrincat — were less so. Will Detroit be willing to pay a capital project? And big contract? Would the Senators be willing to trade the 25-year-old leading scorer within the Atlantic Division?
In the end, those questions were just details. And on Sunday night, Detroit finally stopped its signature summer stride, acquiring DeBrincat a conditional 2024 first-round pick, winger Dominic Kobalik, prospect Donovan Sibrango, and a fourth-round pick in 2024. Immediately, the team also announced a four-year contract with DeBrincat with an average An annual value of $7.875 million.
There is a lot to unpack with the move, even as anticipated and discussed as it has been over recent days and weeks. But the most important piece is that the Red Wings have, at long last, gotten a much-needed top scorer.
Even in his press conference discussing free signings with the team last week, Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman made it clear he still had designs on such a move for a team that finished with the ninth-fewest goals scored in the league last season.
“We all love two great goalscorers,” he added. “Hopefully we’ll get that. Again, we’ll continue to work at that, and how we do that is kind of a challenge.”
Without DeBrincat, the Red Wings would still run deeper into the next season. They signed JT Compher as a versatile forward, potentially a center, who would make them tougher to play against and contribute to the secondary offense as well, coming out with 52 points. They also added Daniel Sprung, who scored 21 goals and 46 points last season in Seattle. The Kraken made the playoffs largely because of their impressive depth.
And as of that press conference, it looked as though the Red Wings might have to try and emulate that approach to scoring. They had an advanced midfield capable of scoring 80 points in Dylan Larkin, a veteran leader in David Perron who had just scored 24 goals, and a young player capable of taking a big step forward in Lucas Raymond.
But mostly, they had their depth. If they are going to win, it will likely be by getting along well and getting opportunistic contributions from players like Compher, Sprong, Andrew Copp and Jonatan Berggren – all of whom are certainly good players, and Compher and Copp are multidimensional who can help at both ends.
Now though? DeBrincat gives them the kind of goalscorer they’ve been missing on the wing. Detroit hasn’t had 40 goals since Marian Hossa in 2008-09. DeBrincat has achieved that number twice in the past five years.
That’s not to say he’s a perfect player – he’s an exciting man who still needs a middleman and, as such, saw his production drop to 27 goals last season in Ottawa. But that number would have been second to the Red Wings, as would have been 66 points. by a large margin.
And despite losing 20-goal scorer Kobalek when this deal was discussed, acquiring a scorer of DeBrincat’s caliber outweighs Detroit’s greatest need this summer and could make him a wild card contender in 2024.
The Red Wings were an 80-point team last season, so they still have a few hills to climb on that front. But if you think Sprong can replace Kubalik offense, then between DeBrincat, Compher, improved positioning behind Ville Husso in goal, blue line improvement potential, some expected internal growth as well, then getting into the low 90s looks entirely possible. Last season, last place in the wild card class went to the Panthers at 92 years old.
That number was a bit low — the year before, it took 100 points in the Eastern Conference — but especially with the changing of the guard in some of the permanent locker rooms, particularly in Boston, there’s potential for a change in the East. And Detroit has positioned itself, if nothing else, in the race to take advantage.
But the bigger takeaway is that trading in DeBrincat seems to signal the next phase in the Red Wings’ rebuilding.
This isn’t the first time Yzerman has traded draft picks, mind you, dealing with third and even second round picks in recent years for the likes of Nick Leddy, Hosso, and Alex Nedeljkovic. But first-round picks are a different animal. And after years of preaching patience, Yzerman has just shown that he’s willing to drop a pick that could fall into the top 20 to get better now.
Debrinkat, though, represented the exact kind of attitude such a move would take. Not only because he is a top-class goalscorer, but because he is 25 years old. He’ll help the team on day one but might also be on shortstop — though on his four-year extension, he’ll still be able to reach unrestricted free agency at 29.
That doesn’t mean the Red Wings have to go all out now to win during DeBrincat’s contract. But they should at least tell you that they think competition in that time frame is possible. Yzerman was loathe to give any kind of schedule to the Red Wings tussle and was wary of getting wrong with the terms of the negotiation, but here seemed to be the obvious solution: The next phase of the long Detroit build-up had arrived.
It may not mean that the sell-off ends on the trading deadline, although that possibility certainly seems less likely than it did 24 hours ago. And that may not mean making the playoffs next season either.
But suddenly, that doesn’t seem so far-fetched. The Red Wings could attack a squad next season which should have at least three front-line goalscorers, with most of those capable of tackling tough games.
Their defense will be tested, as well as their strength, and they will need to see Husso rebound. All of these questions are real, and DeBrincat doesn’t answer them.
But whether it’s right away, or a year or two later, the Red Wings’ path to the postseason is a lot easier to see.
They got their man. And now the next chapter can begin.
(Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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