Vladislav Namestnikov has memories of being in the Detroit Red Wings’ locker room with his uncle, and has autographed hockey cards of those Stanley Cup-winning teams somewhere in his house.
Namestnikov moved to the Detroit area when he was 4 years old, which united him with his mother’s brother, Slava Kozlov. A year later, Namestnikov watched the Wings win the Stanley Cup. His love for the Wings never faded; when he was drafted at 27th overall in 2011 by the Tampa Bay Lightning, he already had history with the general manager at the time, one Steve Yzerman.
When the Wings called and offered a two-year, $4 million contract, Namestnikov wasn’t interested in entertaining any other offers in free agency. “It’s awesome,” he said Sunday from his home in Wolverine Lake, a few miles outside of Novi. “I grew up in Michigan. I was always around the team when my uncle played, so I am familiar with the area. I skate every summer with the guys so I am familiar with all the players here. I’m excited to join the team.”
Namestnikov didn’t talk with Yzerman leading up to the contract, but knowing he’s in charge of the Wings, “definitely came into play when I made my decision,” Namestnikov said. “I’m happy it worked out.” (From what Namestnikov can recall, the first time he met Yzerman was in a park in Birmingham; Namestnikov was there with his aunt, Yzerman was there with one of his daughters.) One of the first people Namestnikov reached out to after agreeing to the deal was Kozlov, who works as a coach in their native Russia.
“I messaged with him, told him I signed, he was extremely happy,” Namestnikov said. “He’s excited. He played here for a long time and it was his home. I’m sure he’s proud.” Kozlov won two Stanley Cups with the Wings as a member of the Russian Five. Namestnikov, however, joins a team that is coming off a 17-victory season. He fits the pattern established by Yzerman since taking command of the Wings in April 2019: A short-term contract to a player who can help the team be more competitive, while waiting for prospects to advance the rebuild. Namestnikov is the fifth player Yzerman has signed since free agency began Friday, joining forward Bobby Ryan (one year, $1 million), defensemen Jon Merrill (one year, $925,000) and Troy Stecher (two years, $3.4 million) and goaltender Thomas Greiss (two years, $7.2 million). For Namestnikov, a two-year deal offers a measure of stability after stints last season with the New York Rangers (two games), Ottawa Senators (54 games) and Colorado Avalanche (nine games).
“It was definitely a hard year last year, being traded twice,” Namestnikov said. “I kind of, it’s hard to say, I didn’t feel part of a team, I guess. It’s nice that I signed two years and hopefully I can build off that and stay here for a long time and find a home.