An Alternate Rebuild

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big alternate history fan, and have posted a few hockey-related alternate history timelines here before.

The Athletic’s Max Bultman took a look today at what the Red Wings’ roster might look like if they had embraced the rebuild sooner. I think it’s a fun piece with a really solid premise and point of departure but I’d love a look that included alternate draft choices.

Bultman specifically mentioned that he left them out on purpose, which I get it as they’re a pain.  I’m going to spitball a little, anyway, and riff off his idea. I should note that this was originally going to be a comment at The Athletic but it got to be long enough that I didn’t feel like it was fair to dump there.


Let’s say the Red Wings not trading for David Legwand in 2014 and Erik Cole in 2015 costs them just a single win for the remainder of those respective seasons. Neither player did much for Detroit so I can’t see them being that much worse without them. Now they pick at #14 in 2014 and #16 in 2015.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think it’s safe to say they still take Dylan Larkin at #14, with Julius Honka on the board. The next year, though? You could be looking at Mathew Barzal at #16 instead of Evgeny Svechnikov.

And the streak stays alive even without those deals.

Assume it’s Larkin and Barzal and that Larkin debuts in 2015. The only difference on the roster at this point is that Justin Abdelkader has a shorter contract, so 2015-16 plays out as expected.

Summer of 2016, the Pavel Datsyuk contract trade still happens; the Red Wings don’t sign Frans Nielsen. I’d also say that the Wings don’t sign Darren Helm, giving his minutes to Andreas Athansiou, because that’s what I called for at the time and I don’t feel like I should go back on that.

The streak ends on schedule but the team is slightly worse for the 2016-17 season. This is where the butterflies really come in, though, because – for the first time in this scenario – the Red Wings are in the draft lottery and we can’t say the lottery will go the way it did in reality.  Wherever the Wings are slotted based on the standings, it’s harder to know exactly where they’ll end up. I’ll have Colorado win the lottery, Detroit pick seventh instead of ninth, and the Wings get Cale Makar instead of Michael Rasmussen.

Does Barzal still have his Calder-winning performance if he’s in Detroit? Not sure but these 2017-18 Red Wings might be better than ours were. Lets say, since the butterflies have pushed us pretty far off course at this point, by the 2018 draft the Wings aren’t in position to draft Filip Zadina but get Quinn Hughes instead. I can’t see Barzal making the Wings so much better that they’re out of that range but it might be a reach.

However the Wings do in 2018-19 doesn’t really matter because the players selected in the 2019 draft aren’t going to be on the roster today, unless they manage to win the lottery in this alternate world. That said, I question whether or not Taro Hirose would sign in Detroit in this scenario. I’ll assume that he does.

With Makar and Hughes in the fold, I don’t see Patrik Nemeth getting signed this summer. I also think the Wings would be less likely to have taken Madison Bowey back in trade for Nick Jensen, but I’ll allow it. However, I don’t see Oliwer Kaski signing in Detroit in this scenario.  Bowey and Kaski might be interchangeable for this exercise.

Bultman’s takeaway was that his alternate Wings would be simlar to the existing team, simply younger and cheaper. With these draft adjustments, they’ve got a better blue line as well. You’ve swapped out Svechnikov, Rasmussen, and Zadina for Barzal, Makar, and Hughes, giving a lineup that looks as follows:

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou – Roope Hintz – Mathew Barzal
Mattias JanmarkCalle JarnkrokTaro Hirose
Justin AbdelkaderLuke GlendeningChristoffer Ehn

Danny DeKeyserFilip Hronek
Cale Makar – Mike Green
Trevor DaleyQuinn Hughes
Jonathan EricssonMadison Bowey

Jimmy Howard
Elvis Merzlikins

Author: Clark Rasmussen

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996 with no idea what it would lead to. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development.