As the stalemate between the Detroit Red Wings and Andreas Athanasiou drags into the season, there’s reason to believe that what was unthinkable just a short time ago is now a possibility. And that is whether the Red Wings manage to sign Athanasiou or not, there’s a chance he could be traded.
A couple of things have become clear here. One is that the 23-year-old Athanasiou is not your average young hockey player who is willing to take what is offered him on a bridge deal and simply accept that he has almost no negotiating power. He is working out with HC Lugarno in Switzerland and currently has an offer of $2.5 million to play for Omsk in the KHL this season, and three offers from Swiss teams – Lugarno and Lausanne being two of them – to play for less.
What we are also learning is that while the Red Wings are not actively shopping Athanasiou, teams are calling about him, with the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings displaying the most interest in him. The Canadiens, who are currently being outscored by Alex Ovechkin and are tied with Mika Zibanejad, James Neal and Brandon Saad, desperately need a player who can provide them with offense. (Could a deal involving Alex Galchenyuk make sense at this point? Yes. Yes, it could.) Athanasiou fits the Kings’ new philosophy tilting toward more speed and offense and the Senators could use a player of Athanasiou’s skill and speed to supplement their left wing corps.
Athanasiou’s agent Darren Ferris would not comment on the speculation, but said the situation will be resolved one way or another within a week, meaning if Athanasiou is neither signed nor traded, he will likely sign either in Russia or Switzerland. Any contract with a European team would include an out-clause to return to the NHL, provided he signs a deal prior to Dec. 1. If he is not signed to an NHL deal by that date, he will be ineligible to play in the league this season.
And if that doesn’t happen, look for Athanasiou to be the centerpiece of the Canadian Olympic team. Athanasiou has already filled out all the paperwork and submitted his passport with the Canadian Olympic Committee. If Athanasiou were not under contract and available to the team, he would instantly become one of the key players and a part of the leadership group.
It’s acknowledged that an awful lot will have to go down between now and Dec. 1 for that to become a reality, but the chances that Athanasiou stays in Detroit in the long-term are diminishing by the day. That’s not to say that he won’t sign and play in Detroit, but what once was a virtual certainty is not so much anymore. There has been almost no traction in negotiations between the two sides and Athanasiou and his camp are digging in on a bridge deal worth $2.9 million per year. The Red Wings, who show to have zero dollars in cap space according to CapFriendly, are offering somewhere in the $1.9 million range.
And it seems that opponents of the Red Wings are beginning to sense that Detroit is in a difficult spot here. First, it doesn’t have the cap space to make Athanasiou an offer he thinks he deserves. Coming out of his entry-level deal with similar numbers, Tomas Tatar was offered a three-year deal from the Red Wings at $2.75 million per season, which actually makes Athanasiou’s $2.5 million demands seem pretty reasonable. But it’s actually not that simple because after this season, restricted free agents Anthony Mantha and Dylan Larkin will be entering the same situation as Athanasiou is in right now – restricted free agents coming off entry-level deals with no arbitration rights and almost no hope of being tendered an offer sheet.
One thing that has emerged from all of this is it’s not just about money at this point. The fact that Athanasiou might be willing to play for less than he’d make in the NHL to play in Europe indicates this is as much about pride and a player being paid what he thinks he’s worth. There doesn’t seem to be much of an appetite on Athanasiou’s part to take a bridge deal and be content to take the Red Wings to arbitration in a couple of years. The only question now is whether or not the relationship has been poisoned to the point where there is no turning back, either for him or the Red Wings.
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