Based on average ice time alone, Danny DeKeyser was already a top-two defenseman in Detroit. The Red Wings rearguard averaged 21:48 of ice time during the 2015-16 campaign, second only to veteran Niklas Kronwall. Come next season, though, expect DeKeyser to top that list.
Tuesday morning the Red Wings and DeKeyser, 26, agreed to terms on a six-year deal worth a reported $30 million, according to CBC's Tim Wharnsby. The deal will see him become the second-highest paid blueliner in Detroit with only Mike Green, set to make $12 million over the next two seasons, carrying a higher average salary. And while DeKeyser may not be paid as handsomely as Green, it’s a big contract for the 26-year-old and one that locks up the hometown kid long-term in Detroit.
The deal sees DeKeyser more than double his salary, but the big raise won’t come without added responsibility. Already relied upon as second on the depth chart to Kronwall in 2015-16, DeKeyser’s no doubt moving into the top spot this coming season. It’s about time for the Red Wings to make that switch, too.
Kronwall had very apparently lost a step this past season and was a shell of the defender he was even two seasons ago. Long relied upon as Detroit’s top defenseman, he simply couldn’t keep up in the speedy Atlantic Division. The signs the Red Wings were planning to lessen Kronwall’s role were there, too. Because even though he logged the highest average ice time of any Red Wing, it was DeKeyser who skated the most 5-on-5 minutes of any Detroit defenseman.
It wasn’t just that DeKeyser saw the most even strength ice time, though. That DeKeyser’s role was beginning to increase was seen in the amount of hard, shutdown minutes he took on the Red Wings blueline. No regular defenseman in Detroit took a lower percentage of offensive zone starts and none faced the quality of competition that DeKeyser did on a nightly basis. With Kronwall showing signs of slowing, Detroit allowed DeKeyser to step into the shutdown role.
On top of being a shutdown defender, DeKeyser was also a decent offensive contributor. He didn’t come close to matching his career high of 31 points, which came during the 2014-15 campaign, but DeKeyser set a new career mark with eight goals in 2015-16 and his 20 points still made him a consistent enough scorer from the backend.
And with DeKeyser stepping into the top spot on the Red Wings’ blueline, the six-year deal likely makes him the face of the Detroit back end moving forward.
DeKeyser is the second-youngest defenseman who played a regular role last season — only Alexey Marchenko, 24, is younger — and the other three members of the top-four, which includes Kronwall, Green and Jonathan Ericsson, are 30-plus. With the likes of Xavier Ouellet, Robbie Russo, Ryan Sproul and Nick Jensen hopefully on their way into the NHL in the next few seasons, it will be DeKeyser who plays the role of veteran rearguard as the younger blueliners start to work their way onto the roster.
Detroit was said to have been working on a long-term deal for DeKeyser, and Tuesday’s signing gets that done. But the hard work and improvement DeKeyser has shown since entering the league as a full-timer in 2013-14 is going to have to continue. Working his way to the top blueline spot on his hometown team wasn’t easy, and now the hope is DeKeyser continues to improve, round out his game and become the No. 1 defenseman the Red Wings clearly believe he can be.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.