The Detroit Red Wings have signed defenseman Justin Holl to a three-year, $10.2 million contract, carrying a $3.4 million average annual value.
Holl was a polarizing figure with the Toronto Maple Leafs and that may be putting it gently. A free-wheeling defenseman prone to heightened defensive lapses, Holl quickly became one of head coach Sheldon Keefe’s favourite players, a coveted right-shot defenseman capable of eating heavy minutes. He was the Maple Leafs’ most commonly-used penalty killer during the 2022-23 campaign and was playing some of the best hockey of his career from October to December.
The 31-year-old recorded two goals and 18 points in regular season games, adding one assist in eight postseason contests.
Holl was well-liked by teammates and other members of the Maple Leafs organization, but whether unfair or not, a large faction of the fanbase grew uneasy every time he took the ice. His defensive woes were magnified during the 2022-23 postseason: he was on the ice for 18 goals in all situations, and though Keefe constantly defended him against criticism levied by the media, Holl was benched briefly, before factoring into the final three games of the Maple Leafs’ postseason.
Detroit slightly overpaid for a player who is better than his reputation suggests. Holl is a plus-skater who is capable of creating offense, he’s always looking to join the rush where possible, he can be deployed on the penalty kill, and he’s proven to be a durable player during his tenure with Toronto.
For the upcoming season, the Red Wings receive a player who can play top-line minutes but will need to be shielded with a partner who is defensively sound and risk-averse. It’ll be compelling to see whether he’s stapled to Jake Walman on the left side, or whether Holl is paired with ascending prospect Simon Edvinsson instead.