Detroit Red Wings: Frans Nielsen proving to be another atrocious signing

July 25th, 2020 in Red Wings By Bob Heyrman

When the Detroit Red Wings signed forward Frans Nielsen, it seemed like a perfect signing.  Unfortunately, it’s been one of the worst free-agent signings in recent memory.

The Detroit Red Wings had a glaring need entering the summer of 2016.  Detroit struggled mightily during the regular season shootout format, often missing out on that extra point during the individual skills competition the NHL established to break regular season ties.

It was the perfect storm for the Red Wings, why not add a potential second-line center that will look to replace Pavel Datsyuk and provide the team with a complete complementary player behind Henrik Zetterberg down the middle of Detroit’s lineup?

It was the ideal depth signing, plus Frans Nielson proved elite converting on his shootout opportunities. Ken Holland signed Nielsen to a six-year deal worth $31.5 million, also attaching a no-movement clause over the first two seasons plus a modified no-trade clause for the duration of the contract.

Nielsen played second fiddle to John Tavares with the New York Islanders, where he spent the first ten years of his career.  Nielsen accounted for 119 goals, 230 assists totaling 349 points in 606 games played with New York.  Nielsen’s best years came during a three-year stretch to end his Islanders career where he recorded 58, 43, and 52 points in consecutive seasons.  He’s a two-way player; he really did fit the Detroit Red Wings model for an NHL center.  The Wings historically enjoy a two-way center that is very reliable in the defensive zone.  The Wings prefer their top players not only to provide offense when it comes to special teams; they’ve historically used their top players in penalty-killing situations.  Again, something Nielsen excelled in, although his faceoff success rate had been a bit lower than Detroit would expect, hovering a touch below 50%.

Nielsen seemed like the perfect second-line center, and his near 50% shootout conversion rate would be a breath of fresh air.  The only player with more shootout goals in the history of the league is Jonathan Toews, with 50 goals on 101 attempts.  Neilson sits with 49 on 105 tries.  Patrick Kane sits third with 47 on 110 shots.  Washington’s T.J Oshie is the name that stands out, having buried 45 goals on just 87 attempts providing the Caps with a stellar 51.7% conversion rate over his career.  Some of those did come as a member of the St. Louis Blues.

Since joining the Detroit Red Wings, Nielsen’s production has steadily declined. In his first year, Nielsen recorded 17 goals and 41 points. Year two, it was 16 goals and just 33 points, year three, ten goals totaling 35 points.  Last season, year four of his six-year deal, he recorded only four goals and nine points during 60 games.  Nielsen’s lack of effectiveness saw him fall down the Detroit depth chart playing on the third and fourth lines with the likes of Justin Abdelkader, Adam Erne, Christoffer Ehn, and Brendan Perlini.

It’s clear the 36-year old’s best days are behind him and will go down as one of the Red Wings worst free-agent signings. Maybe not as bad as Stephen Weiss, but not a whole bunch better considering the organization will pay Nielsen a whopping $5.25 million over the next two seasons for what appears to be abysmal productivity.