So begins the changing of the guard for the Detroit Red Wings.
The club announced Friday they have inked Gustav Nyquist to a four-year, $19 million dollar deal that will make him one of the centerpieces of the next generation of Red Wings mainstays. With Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in their 30s, now begins the passing of the torch to the youth of Detroit -- players such as Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and, eventually, Dylan Larkin.
“We’re very happy to have Gustav locked up for four more years,” said Executive Vice President and General Manager Ken Holland in a statement. “He’s quickly become an important part of our team, and is a critical piece to the Red Wings’ future. He is just now entering the prime of his career.”
Nyquist, 25, has become somewhat of a goal-scoring dynamo in the NHL. Over his past two seasons, Nyquist, who had never scored more than 25 goals during his time in the AHL or NCAA, has posted years of 28 and 27 goals and notched 102 points in 139 games. And that kind of production at $4.75 million per season? That's a deal Detroit will take any day. Not to mention it helps the two sides avoid arbitration, which Nyquist had filed for before the deadline.
The expectation now will be that Nyquist takes his new deal and proves he can be one of the players to carry Detroit into the future. On a team that has had the expectation, not the hope, of competing for the Stanley Cup every season for the past two decades, there will certainly be added pressure on Nyquist to continue to perform as he has, especially as Datsyuk and Zetterberg wind down their careers.
For Zetterberg, who has six more years remaining on a deal that will carry him through to the 2020-21 season, the transition will be longer, but he’ll be there to oversee the change and help guide the young, potential stars. In a recent interview with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Zetterberg believed it would be good for the young players to take responsibility, part of which would be pairing Zetterberg with Datsyuk so as to not give the young players a veteran crutch.
“(Zetterberg) brought up to me that would make the younger players have even more responsibility,” Blashill told Friedman. “To take hold of more leadership by not having one of them on their line.”
Blashill told Friedman that of the young players, Nyquist and Tatar are two that are ready to take over.
“The next step for them might not be more production,” Blashill said. “It might be the same production, but doing it consistently without (Datsyuk) or (Zetterberg). I believe they can do that. There are lots of good young players who are paid lots of money, but don’t carry their line. To be the elite of the elite, that is the next challenge.”
What could certainly help the transition is Nyquist’s familiarity with Blashill. Nyquist was one of Blashill’s star forwards with Detroit’s AHL affiliate, the Grand Rapids Griffins, during the 2012-13 campaign. During the lockout-shortened season, Nyquist returned to the AHL from the NHL in time to help lead the Griffins to a Calder Cup championship. Blashill has a certain familiarity with Nyquist and some trust has been built between the two.
With Nyquist back in the mix, the Red Wings now have roughly $70.1 million tied up in salary for the 2015-16 season with Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen remaining as a restricted free agents. Once Jurco and Pulkkinen sign on, the generation of players set to lead Detroit in the future will be all locked up.