It feels like every offseason we talk about the logjam on the Red Wings’ blueline. With Libor Sulak bolting the Griffins for the KHL on Tuesday and Jake Chelios doing the same last week, now’s a good time to take a look at where things stand in the Detroit organization.
Last season, the Red Wings came out of camp with the following 14 defensemen spread out between Detroit and Grand Rapids, excluding players signed to AHL deals:
There were also part-time defenseman Luke Witkowski and signed-but-assigned-to-Europe Gustav Lindstrom but I’m ignoring them for the purposes of this.
With everyone healthy, it made for a nice, even split of seven defensemen each for the Red Wings and the Griffins. For most of the season, though, not everyone was healthy, leading to everyone on that list with the exception of Saarijarvi playing at least one game in Detroit.
As an aside, it drives me slightly nuts that the Red Wings brought up Chelios – who had no future in the organization even then – late in the season, rather than giving Saarijarvi a look. In meaningless games, there’s no harm in giving an actual prospect minutes, even if you’re concerned he’s not quite ready. McIlrath could be swapped for Chelios in this argument as well.
By the end of the season, Jensen was gone but Madison Bowey had joined the group, keeping the numbers the same.
Since then we’ve seen the addition of Finnish free agent Oliwer Kaski and the departures of Chelios and Sulak. Not much of a difference. What else could we see this summer?
The big name is Kronwall, whose contract is up this summer. Ken Holland had stated that, should Kronwall want to return, there would be a spot for him. Holland is in Edmonton and this is Steve Yzerman’s team now, so does that offer still stand? It feels like buzz about Kronwall returning for one more season has died down in the last several weeks. Is that meaningful or is it just the nature of the news cycle? My gut feeling is that Kronwall is done.
Hicketts is also something of a question mark. He’s a restricted free agent so he has limited options but it’s possible he bolts for Europe, seeing few options in the Detroit organization. I wouldn’t call it likely, though.
Then there are trade options. Early “What Will Yzerman Do as GM?” stories pushed the possibility of trading Jonathan Ericsson or Trevor Daley before the start of the season. While I’d like to see that, I think they have more value at the trade deadline and Yzerman will hold onto them until then.
On the flip side, there’s the question of whether or not Lindstrom will come over this season, adding a body back to the mix. Gut feeling again… I’m going to say he spends another season in Europe. That could change if Ericsson or Daley are moved in the summer.
So coming out of camp next fall, that gives the Red Wings and Griffins something like the following:
That’s still 12 names, so the logjam isn’t gone but there might be some room to work.
Let’s say Detroit starts with Bowey, Cholowski, Daley, DeKeyser, Ericsson, Green, and Hronek. Bowey could be buried in GR but he can also be your seventh defenseman so we’ll assume he and Cholowski split time.
That puts Hicketts, Kaski, Lashoff, McIlrath, and Saarijarvi in Grand Rapids. Maybe Kaski has a great camp and swaps out for Bowey… Whatever.
The thing to see here is that, while the roster is still pretty packed, minutes in Grand Rapids have become available. The ascension of Hronek and Cholowski, combined with the departures of Chelios and Sulak, means that Saarijarvi and Kaski (again, assuming he’s in GR) could have the opportunity for a decent amount of playing time to prove that they’re ready, which will be important if Daley, Ericsson, and/or Green are moved at the trade deadline.
Of course, it’s still early in the summer. The Red Wings could make another Chelios-like signing to put a body (or bodies) in Grand Rapids, making those minutes harder to find. Jared MacIssac could make the jump from juniors over the summer. As of right now, though, there has been some movement on the logjam.
My gut feeling is Kronwall attempts one more season so he can get to 1000 games.
Kronwall might want to get to 1000 but I’m not sure Stevie thinks the roster spot is worth getting him to that milestone.
If Kronwall returns, one of Ericsson, Daley, Cholowski, or Bowey isn’t on the roster to start the season. And there’s certainly no spot for Kaski.
Maybe Kronwall can get to 1000 by following Kenny to Edmonton and playing a Chelios-in-Atlanta postscript season.
Green might be out with the virus in his liver still.