Not even two years ago, Danny DeKeyser had a lot of freedom. As an undrafted free agent, he had the chance to pick any of the teams that were willing to offer him a contract. It's believed all 30 showed interest in the spring of 2012 after DeKeyser decided to leave Western Michigan after his junior year.
He picked the Detroit Red Wings, the team he loved growing up and the one closest to his hometown of Clay Township, Mich. Now he's a restricted free agent and his options are limited. Unless a team swooped in with an offer sheet, the Red Wings are the only team DeKeyser can play for in the NHL heading into next season. That means he has to play the waiting game without much leverage to speak of.
After finishing second on the Red Wings in average ice time as a rookie, DeKeyser has to know that he's not only an important part of the Red Wings present, but also its future.
The 24-year-old told Bob Duff of the Windsor Star that he is confident a deal will be done before camp, but the two sides are not close to a deal at this point.
“I watch all the contracts but it's hard to compare unrestricted free agents with restricted free agents as far as rights go,” DeKeyser said. “I think with a lot of restricted free agents it takes a little bit longer than with unrestricted guys just because there's not much room for guys (RFAs) to go anywhere.
“It just seems like it's a longer process.”
“It would be nice to figure something out long-term but we'll just have to see where everybody's at,” DeKeyser said.
A long-term deal would be nicer for DeKeyser, but it seems less likely the Red Wings would go that route. He may need to look no further than the three-year deal teammate Tomas Tatar signed earlier this summer. Also a restricted free agent, Tatar inked a three-year, $8.25 million extension. Tatar has only 24 more career games under his belt compared to DeKeyser's 76 over the last two seasons.
That's not a bad contract for the player or team considering the contributions to date, but it's fair for these players to want to earn what they think they'll deserve as they grow into a better player.
Another important factor complicating an impending deal with DeKeyser is Daniel Alfredsson's situation. The veteran has not yet said if he will return for another season, but if he does, it will be with the Red Wings.
General manager Ken Holland recently addressed the Alfredsson situation with MLive.com:
"My take is we're probably going to try to do something with Alfie," Holland said Monday. "He had a good year. When he was healthy, he was valuable."
That would likely be a one-year deal for the 41-year-old forward.
The Red Wings currently have about $5.27 million in cap space remaining according to CapGeek.com, with only DeKeyser and Alfredsson to re-sign.
Alfredsson had a base salary of $3.5 million with $2 million in bonuses last season. He would likely get a bonus-laden deal that would be prone to bonus overage penalties potentially transfer over to next year's cap while keeping the Red Wings cap compliant for this season. Even so, fitting both deals underneath the cap definitely could prove tricky.
As to DeKeyser's hopes for a long-term deal, he might have to wait on that one. Though bridge deals can prove risky and DeKeyser has much potential at 24 years old, it's hard to imagine the team going long-term with more for DeKeyser to prove having not yet played a full NHL season. He missed 17 games last year with injury.
DeKeyser seems to be one of the most promising youngsters for the Red Wings, a team that certainly has needed an influx of youth. He definitely carries a lot of value, but without much leverage besides the possibility of holding out, the Red Wings may be in the driver's seat here.