By: Will Burchfield
If it once seemed improbable, it now looks likely.
Andreas Athanasiou could head for greener pastures in the KHL this season.
The restricted free agent has reportedly received a number of appealing offers from KHL teams, and the cap-tight Red Wings haven’t been able to match the money. Per Darren Dreger, Athanasiou is prepared to head overseas if the Wings don’t up their offer.
Detroit’s payroll is already about $3 million over the cap. Even accounting for the relief they’ll get by placing Johan Franzen on long-term injured reserve, re-signing Athanasiou would likely push them back over the $75 million threshold.
GM Ken Holland, who has himself to thank for the team’s salary cap crunch, has acknowledged the Wings would have to make a corresponding move to shed payroll should they reach an agreement with Athanasiou. They may have to make one regardless.
Losing Athanasiou, even for a single season, would be a blow to a rebuilding Wings’ team. The 23-year-old burner is one of their lone difference-makers at the forward position. He scored 18 goals in 64 games last year.
Ice time has been an issue for Athanasiou in parts of two seasons with the Red Wings. Both Holland and head coach Jeff Blashill have called the youngster’s all-around game into question. One has to wonder if his often-limited role in Detroit is factoring into his decision as to where to play this season.
It’s also possible that Athanasiou’s agent Darren Ferris is trying to lure a better offer from the Wings by making the KHL seem like a realistic destination.
Holland told MLive last week that he’s made Athanasiou “multiple good-faith offers” this offseason based on players with similar resumes. He said he continues to talk with Ferris but noted “the ball is in their court. They have a decision to make.”
Should Athanasiou head to the KHL, he’d be no closer to unrestricted free agency when he returns to the NHL. The Red Wings would retain his rights.