The Red Wings lost 54 goals when Brendan Shanahan bolted for the New York Rangers and Steve Yzerman retired, and management sees Jason Williams as integral to softening those losses.
Williams had a career-high 21 goals last season, delivering in spurts in what was his first stint as a top-six forward and a power-play quarterback. He became a restricted free agent July 1, and the Wings have less than a week to sign him before Monday's scheduled arbitration hearing will force a deal on them.
Assistant general manager Jim Nill said Monday the sides are negotiating and hoped an agreement could be reached before the hearing.
Arbitration decisions can't be appealed by the player, and the team either has to take the deal or let the player become an unrestricted free agent.
The Wings, though, won't let Williams go, no matter what.
"Either way, we have him," Nill said.
"We're getting him signed no matter what."
Williams, who turns 26 on Aug. 11, made $450,000 last season.
In comparison, right wing Mikael Samuelsson scored 23 goals and made $537,500 last season. He'll make $1.2 million this season.
The Wings are also negotiating with restricted free agent forward Johan Franzen and remain in the hunt for a veteran defenseman and, of course, a goaltender.
Two weeks have passed since the agent for Ed Belfour said a deal was imminent, two weeks that have, if anything, put the Wings in a stronger bargaining position regarding the 41-year-old netminder.
Last week Belfour flirted with joining the Panthers, but that fell apart because the Panthers have committed to Alex Auld as their starter, and Belfour is seeking a No. 1 job.
That limits his choice to Detroit.
Belfour's agent didn't return a phone call Monday, but Nill said the sides spoke Friday.
The Wings want Belfour for a $500,000 base salary plus bonuses, and negotiations hit a snag over the bonuses. The Wings have to be careful, because if attained, the bonuses will count against the salary cap.
"We're being patient," Nill said.
"We want the right situation for the right person."
Contact HELENE ST. JAMES at 313-222-2295 or email@example.com