An(other) Alternate Rebuild

Over the holidays I ended up in several conversations with family members about the state of the Red Wings’ rebuild.

There was a lot of disbelief about how bad the Red Wings are (which shows me which of my family members don’t follow this site on Twitter).  The general assumption was that the team would have rebounded more quickly than they have.  When looking at rebuild timelines, I found myself comparing the Red Wings to the New York Rangers.

The difference between the teams is that the Rangers had assets to give up in trade when they started their rebuild.  They shipped out Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, Rick Nash to Boston, and Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg, among others.

The Red Wings, meanwhile, had to watch a market not develop for Jimmy Howard, and a market not develop for Thomas Vanek, and Mike Green get hurt in the lead up to the trade deadline.

Former Detroit GM Ken Holland deserves credit for some of his deals, certainly, but he was working from a disadvantage from the start, as the Red Wings haven’t had big pieces to sell for futures.

So start the rebuild earlier, right?  When the Red Wings actually had tradable assets?  I’ve looked at what the Red Wings’ rebuild might have looked like if they’d stopped buying at the deadline sooner, but what if they were actively selling?

Let’s call the lockout-shortened 2013 season the Red Wings’ last chance at a deep run, an overtime loss away from a spot in the conference finals.  As such, this rebuild doesn’t begin until the 2014 trade deadline.  Perhaps they not only choose not to acquire David Legwand but they decide to actively sell and start the rebuild.

Daniel Alfredsson has value at that point but he also had a no-move clause; I’ll assume he stays put.

Jonas Gustavsson could have some value as a pending free agent.  The goalie market is fickle and he has a modified no-trade clause.  It’s unlikely he’s bringing in a difference-making haul but there’s room for something there.

Kyle Quincey is a pending free agent in the summer of 2014, so there’s an interesting rental option.  Similarly, Jonathan Ericsson is on an expiring deal (though with a modified NTC).

I’ll assume Gustavsson, Quincey, and Ericsson all get traded, replaced by the earlier promotions of Petr Mrazek and Ryan Sproul and an Adam Almquist that stays in North America with a roster spot reserved for him.

Come February 2015, the Red Wings are out of contention but don’t have any obvious candidates to deal away.  Brendan Smith could be an option but I’m going to say he’s young enough for the Wings to keep and not good enough for a team to throw a great deal at Holland to pry him away.  It’s possible that Detroit signed a veteran defenseman instead of going with Sproul/Almquist and that this veteran could be flipped here but that’s going to be the case at every deadline.

In 2016 we’re looking at Darren Helm and Justin Abelkader being possible trade deadline departures.  We’re also getting into a series of years where the Red Wings should be looking to deal Howard and go with the younger Mrazek in goal.

So by the time we catch up with when Detroit’s rebuild actually happened, we’ve moved out Gustavsson, Quincey, Ericsson, Helm, Abdelkader, and Howard.  We might have also seen the Red Wings sign some veterans to one-year deals only to flip them at the deadline (which could be how this alternate Red Wings team still ends up with Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott in time for the 2017 deadline).  We also might have seen Sproul and Almquist (or anyone else who stepped up with more ice time available) flipped.

I can’t see them having moved Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, or Niklas Kronwall.

The problem is I also can’t see any of those deals having brought back large pieces for Detroit’s rebuild.

Quincey is two seasons removed from having fetched a first-round pick but hasn’t really proven that he was worth that investment.  Ericsson is comparable.  Neither Helm nor Abdelkader has dropped off quite as much as we’ve seen since then.  Possibilities are there, for certain.  But there’s no McDonaugh in that group.

That said, that doesn’t mean there would have been no benefit to starting the rebuild sooner.  While I lament the Red Wings’ lack of high-value draft picks, high quantity of draft picks is still a good thing.

Dropping out of contention sooner also makes the Red Wings’ draft picks from 2014 on better, perhaps with bouncing lottery balls being kinder as well.  The 2019 version of this team could be benefitting from those draft picks rather than a 2014 draft that has produced only Dylan Larkin and Christoffer Ehn.

Given that we know the Red Wings got nothing for Quincey and Gustavsson and will likely get little to nothing for Ericsson, Helm, and Abdelkader, it’s safe to say that starting the rebuild sooner would have allowed them to cash in on more pieces.  However, that doesn’t mean that the team would be back in contention by now.


A deeper comparison of the Red Wings and Rangers…

Detroit’s streak of making the playoffs ended in 2017, with their rebuild beginning six weeks earlier at the at the trade deadline.  The Rangers, meanwhile, notified their fanbase of their intent to rebuild via letter in February 2018, in advance of that season’s trade deadline.

Starting with the 2017 trade deadline, through the end of the 2018-29 season, Detroit turned nine roster players (Nick Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist, Steve Ott, Riley Sheahan, Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Thomas Vanek) and a draft pick (a 2018 fifth-rounder that became Justin Almeida) into two players (Madison Bowey and Dylan McIlrath) and 13 draft picks.

None of the players selected with those picks have made the NHL, so it’s far too early to tell how the trades turned out overall.  That said, I want to look at what the Red Wings traded for, not the specific players they used those picks on.  Using PDWhoa’s Consolidated Draft Pick Value, the thirteen picks come to a total value of 481.24 (excluding the two future draft picks that don’t have a value yet, as we don’t know their overall position in their respective drafts).

The pick that became Almeida carries a value of 19.36, giving Detroit an increase of 461.88 in draft pick value.

That number feels underwhelming to me.

The Rangers, on the other hand, acquired 480.29 in draft pick value.  That doesn’t seem like much difference but New York started their rebuild one year later, giving them two drafts worth of picks to work with instead of three.  They also added players such as Brendan Lemieux and Brett Howden.

New York was also able to leverage the number of picks they’d acquired into deals for long-rumored Red Wings’ target Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox.

I’m not saying the Rangers’ rebuild is complete by any means.  They’re simply my example for how different a rebuild looks when a team has pieces to work with from the start.

Red Wings Lose Comrie to Jets via Waivers

Less than three weeks after acquiring him via trade, the Detroit Red Wings lost goalie Eric Comrie to the Winnipeg Jets via waivers.

The Jets are the team that originally drafted Comrie before losing him to the Arizona Coyotes via waivers to start the season.

As I Tweeted yesterday, this move feels wrong to me.  If waiving Comrie was about clearing a roster spot for Jimmy Howard to return from injury, that could have just as easily been accomplished by sending Christoffer Ehn to Grand Rapids.

The argument against that seems to be that this team needs more than one spare at forward or defense due to injury and illness.  I’d counter that the Wings will also need insurance in goal with Howard coming back from injury.

Mostly, though, it seems like waste of resources.  Yes, Vili Saarijarvi, who was traded for Comrie, probably had no future with the Red Wings.  He was still an asset, though, who could have been traded for someone who did have a future.  The two starts and one relief appearance made by Comrie could have been taken care of by Calvin Pickard and cost Detroit nothing.

Finally, there’s this:


Update, 12/20/2019: I’ve gotten some replies to the above Tweet scoffing at the idea of judging Steve Yzerman for such a low-risk move and want to address that further.

As I noted above, Vili Saarijarvi probably had no future in Detroit.  I don’t like how that came to be, I liked Saarijarvi back when he was with the Flint Firebirds, but there were simply too many prospects who had passed him on the Detroit depth chart so his lack of future was undeniable.  As such, trading him for something makes sense.

My problem with how this all went down is three-fold.

First off, why trade for a goalie at all if Howard’s injury was only going to keep him out for three weeks?  That’s what Calvin Pickard is for.  I’m sure the argument could be made that, with Filip Larsson struggling, the Griffins needed Pickard, but that’s the nature of being a farm team.

Secondly, Max Bultman of The Athletic notes today that Jeff Blashill had issues with Comrie’s rebound control.

“That’s an area that I know that he’s got to get better at, and I thought he struggled a little bit in Winnipeg that way, too,” Blashill said.

If rebound control is such an issue for Comrie – an issue bad enough that the Red Wings felt comfortable losing him on waivers – why didn’t their pro scouts note that before the trade?  If this is a dealbreaker now, why wasn’t it three weeks ago?

Finally, two games is just an absurdly small sample size to judge Comrie on.  A player who is in his third organization of the season, joining a team that’s the worst in the league with a god-awful goal differential, has two bad starts?  Yeah, I can see how that would happen.

But maybe it was some kind of 3D chess for Steve Yzerman to turn a low-value defenseman into a goalie rental for three weeks.  Maybe it was, in fact, necessary to rent a goalie for three weeks.  I just don’t see it.

Red Wings Deal Kaski to Hurricanes

The Detroit Red Wings swapped AHL defensemen with the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, sending out Oliwer Kaski in return for Kyle Wood.

Kaski was Best Defenseman and MVP of the Finnish Liiga last season, signing with the Red Wings over the summer.  He had five points with the Grand Rapids Griffins this season, playing in only 19 games due to the blueline logjam throughout the Detroit organization.

Wood was an AHL All-Star with the Tuscon Roadrunners in 2016-17.  This season he scored five points in 14 games with the Charlotte Checkers.

Kaski was technically a Steve Yzerman signing but he agreed to come to Detroit under Ken Holland.  My gut feeling is that he wanted out, as he didn’t come to North America to be an AHL team’s seventh defenseman.  That said, he had to have seen what the Detroit blueline logjam looked like when he signed, so I don’t know.

Given Wood’s inability to stick with Arizona, San Jose, or Carolina, it doesn’t seem like he has much value.  This seems like a Detroit loss, which only makes me think more that the deal was made at Kaski’s request.

Red Wings Deal Defenseman Saarijarvi for Goalie Comrie

With goalie Jimmy Howard injured, the Red Wings improved their depth at that position on Saturday, trading defenseman Vili Saarijarvi to the Arizona Coyotes for minor league goalie Eric Comrie.

I’ve always been a Saarijarvi fan but over the last several years it’s become clear that he was not in the Red Wings’ long-term plans.  As such, with it seeming like Howard will be out for an extended period, it makes sense to use the player you’re not going to use to acquire something you need right now.

Comrie is not waiver-exempt, and Calvin Pickard has already cleared waivers, so it seems likely that Comrie will back up Jonathan Bernier while Howard is out with Pickard heading back to Grand Rapids (and Pat Nagle headed back to Toledo from there).

At only 24, Comrie could also have a future with the organization, rather than just being a stop-gap.  He’s signed through the end of next season, as is Bernier, so Detroit could be looking at a Bernier/Comrie tandem for 2020-21, with Howard a free agent this summer and potentially departing.

Of course, Pickard is also signed with Detroit for next season, so it gives the team options.  The Red Wings will want Filip Larsson getting playing time in Grand Rapids, though, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see both Pickard and Comrie with the Griffins at any point in the next 18 months.

Red Wings Continue Roster Shuffle, Acquire Fabbri from Blues for de la Rose

Detroit Red Wings General Manager Steve Yzerman continued to shuffle his team’s roster on Wednesday night, swapping forward Jacob de la Rose to the St. Louis Blues for Robby Fabbri.

Fabbri is the second player drafted in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft that Yzerman has acquired in the last two weeks, after bringing in Brendan Perlini from the Chicago Blackhawks.

The way I see it, de la Rose maxed out as a fourth liner and the Red Wings have enough of those.  Additionally, de la Rose was acquired for “free” via waivers last year, making it easier to part with him.

Like Perlini (and Adam Erne before him), Fabbri is someone who Yzerman likely thinks could use a change of scenery and a different role.  I’m not sure how much I agree with that but, at such a relatively cheap cost, I’m on board with the throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks approach.

Fabbri marks the third player the Red Wings have acquired since the start of the season, having previously traded for defenseman Alex Biega and Perlini.  Additionally, the team parted ways with longtime defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, sending him through waivers to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Red Wings Acquire Forward Perlini from Blackhawks

The Detroit Red Wings acquired forward Brendan Perlini from the Chicago Blackhawks in return for defensive prospect Alec Regula on Monday.

My snap judgement is that Perlini seems underwhelming and unnecessary.  Regula may not project to a future all-star but I don’t understand this deal.

That said…

Perlini is only 23 and a season removed from a 17-13-30 campaign with the Coyotes.  He wasn’t getting playing time with the Blackhawks.  The Red Wings’ offense is a mess.  There is definitely an opportunity in Detroit for him.

Of course, the flip side of that is that this is exactly the expectation for Adam Erne, who hasn’t exactly looked spectacular since joining the Red Wings.

With Perlini now on the roster, Evgeny Svechnikov will almost certainly rejoin the Grand Rapids Griffins, as will Givani Smith (though Smith was likely headed down with Erne and Justin Abdelkader coming back).  That roster math implies that the Red Wings are higher on Perlini than they are on Svechnikov.

I don’t know what to make of this one and I think I’ll have to leave it at that.

Red Wings Waive Ericsson, Shuffle Roster

Slightly surprising news today, as the Red Wings have placed Jonathan Ericsson on waivers.

As I noted via Twitter, I’d expected Ericsson to somehow never recover from his injury and just ride out the season on IR, then retire this summer.

At his age and coming off of injury, any other team claiming Ericsson is unlikely.  That said, it doesn’t mean that he’s bound for Grand Rapids at noon tomorrow, as the team also made a series of other moves.

With Ericsson coming off of IR, Alex Biega was sent down to the Griffins.  Biega had cleared waivers while he was still with the Canucks organization so he didn’t need to be waived again.

Forward Adam Erne went on IR retroactive to October 18, with the team using that roster spot to call up Evgeny Svechnikov from the Grand Rapids.

The Erne/Svechnikov moves are a pretty simple one-for-one swap.  With Erne out, the Red Wings want to get Svechnikov up.

Biega being sent to Grand Rapids clears a spot for Ericsson to come back.  I was under the impression that a player on waivers did not count against the roster limit unless he played in a game while on waivers, which could be wrong but I swear Detroit did it with Drew Miller at one point.

If my impression is right, it means that Biega only needed to be sent down if there was a chance that Ericsson would play tonight against Vancouver.  If the Wings are in need of a defenseman, it could have just been Biega playing.  This implies that either my impression is wrong or something else is happening.

Assuming that Ericsson does not play tonight and clears waivers tomorrow, Biega being in Grand Rapids already will have cleared a roster spot for Ericsson to stay in Detroit, which could be that “something.”  Ericsson clearing waivers gives the Red Wings some flexibility in setting their roster but it doesn’t mean he has to be sent down.

Biega being with the Griffins puts them in a roster crunch, with Oliwer Kaski and Vili Sarrijarvi already rotating in and out of the third defensive pair.  As such, keeping him there does not seem to be a valid long-term plan.

My gut feeling is that, if Ericsson clears waiver and if he is assigned to Grand Rapids, he could choose to retire rather than report.  This might be the best solution for everyone involved, as Ericsson would avoid riding the bus in the AHL to close out his career while the Red Wings wouldn’t be hit by salary cap recapture penalties as Ericsson is in the last year of his contract.  Additionally, the Wings could then call Biega back up, taking care of some of the blueline logjam throughout the organization.

I admit, though, that scenario doesn’t seem like the “Red Wings Way.”  We’ll have to wait to see how new GM Steve Yzerman plays this.

Red Wings Shuffle Roster as Injuries Mount

The Detroit Red Wings announced an octet of roster moves on Monday night in the wake of a series of injuries.

Defensemen Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley as well as forwards Andreas Athanasiou and Frans Nielsen were all placed on injured reserve.  Neither Ericsson nor Athanasiou played in either of the games in the season’s opening weekend.  Nielsen and Daley were both injured in the Red Wings’ home opener on Sunday.

None of the injured players were placed on long-term injured reserve, meaning there is no required amount of time that they must stay on the shelf before returning to the lineup.

To fill their roster spots, defensemen Alex Biega and Oliwer Kaski and forwards Ryan Kuffner and Evgeny Svechnikov were called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Biega had previously been acquired in a Sunday-night trade with the Vancouver Canucks for forward David Pope.

All four call-ups will be available as the Red Wings host the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night.

So… That Top Line, Eh?

Just a couple days ago I wrote about how a small part of the Red Wings’ lineup this season was actually cause for excitement, and how we should expect those handful of players to be the exception, not the norm.

Over the weekend, those handful of players proved that, at least in the small sample size of two games, they could provide enough excitement for the whole team.

The Red Wings’ top line of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi accounts for eight of the team’s nine goals thus far and is dragging the rest of the lineup kicking and screaming towards respectability.

Again, the small sample size has to be stressed.  Additionally, the schedule has favored the Wings to start things off; opening the season in Nashville, where they’ve had success of late, and then catching a Dallas team mired in a surprisingly slow start.

There were problems, too.  Detroit let a 2-0 lead disappear against the Predators and let the Stars jump out to a 2-0 lead the next night.  Those are the kinds of things I expected to see.

I didn’t expect the top line to be so dominant right out of the gate, though, and that’s been fun to watch.

Red Wings Acquire Defenseman Biega

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Sunday night the acquisition of defenseman Alex Biega from the Vancouver Canucks in return for left wing David Pope.

Biega cleared waivers last week and had been assigned to the AHL’s Utica Comets while Pope had been with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

I’ll admit, the move confuses me.

Biega cleared waivers last week, which means that, if the Red Wings wanted him in Detroit, they could have had him for free.

Sometimes a team will skip out on making a claim only to later trade for the player because they don’t have enough contract spots.  In this case, though, the Red Wings were at 47 out of a possible 50 contracts, so they had slots available.

Perhaps they didn’t make a claim because they wanted him in Grand Rapids, so they needed him to clear waivers first.  That would make some sense, except the Red Wings and the Griffins both already have eight defensemen on their respective rosters.

It could also be that something changed with the Red Wings’ lineup between when Biega was on waivers and this trade.  Trevor Daley did not play the third period tonight against the Stars.  If Daley’s injury is expected to be significant and if Jonathan Ericsson is not expected to return soon, the trade could have been made to give the Red Wings a seventh defenseman with experience.

I find that option hard to believe, though, because the Wings could have just called up Dylan McIlrath, Brian Lashoff, or Joe Hicketts, as they’ve done in the past.

The way this makes the most sense to me is if Daley and Ericsson will not be available long-term and the organization wants to keep McIlrath, Lashoff, and Hicketts all in Grand Rapids to mentor guys like Moritz Seider and Gustav Lindstrom.  I find it hard to believe that one of the AHL veterans couldn’t be spared to fill in with Detroit but I could see if that was the organization’s thinking.

I imagine we’ll learn more about the thinking behind the deal on Monday.