The Big 50: Detroit Red Wings

My first thought when I saw longtime Red Wings beat writer Helene St. James’ new book, “The Big 50: Detroit Red Wings” was, “Oh, great, another one of these books.”

I’ve admitted in the past that I have a hard time with Red Wings history books because, in the world of Wikipedia and social media and blogs and so many outlets for storytelling, it’s hard for a physical book – with its long lead time – to have anything new.  When we’ve heard all the stories, the book has to find a new angle to grab us.

To make matters worse, on its face, “The Big 50: Detroit Red Wings” is built a lot like 2014’s “100 Things Red Wings Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Kevin Allen and Bob Duff.  It’s a collection of independent stories, each focusing on a different topic, without a narrative thread to follow aside from everything being about the Red Wings.  The two books even have the same image – a replica version of Henrik Zetterberg‘s home jersey – on their covers.

With that in mind I wasn’t expecting much and ended up happily surprised.

Many of the chapters, specifically early chapters on Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, and Mike Ilitch, are surprisingly in-depth.  The Ilitch chapter, notably, includes a sidebar on often-overlooked Marian Ilitch.  This is repeated in a later chapter on James E. and Bruce Norris, where the sidebar covers the short reign of Marguerite Norris.

While certainly not a scathing commentary, St. James doesn’t shy from touching on some of the negatives of the Red Wings’ history.  The chapter on Bob Probert, for example, focuses as much on his off-ice issues as his on-ice successes.  With Probert it’s hard to separate the two but it can be – and has been – done, and St. James doesn’t take that out.  These books have the tendency to lean towards “fluff” but this one doesn’t, with the Probert chapter a particularly painful read.

Additionally, while the Red Wings organization has a tendency to ignore Larry Aurie and his retired sweater number 6, St. James includes it in a sidebar in the chapter about the team’s retired numbers.  As someone who thinks #6 should be in the Little Caesars Arena rafters, I think she could have taken that further, but just mentioning it at all is more than usually happens.

The book’s format does prove difficult from time to time, as it leads to a lot of repetition.  The story of the Russian Five, for example, is told in their own chapter, chapters on individual members, the chapter on the Red Wings’ playoff streak, Scotty Bowman‘s chapter, and the chapter on the 1989 Draft.  Somewhat humorous, to me, is that despite all of that repetition, there is no reference to the short-lived Russian Five II featuring Dmitri Mironov (though Mironov himself gets a mention in Tomas Holmstrom‘s chapter, with Mironov’s acquisition being the catalyst for Holmstrom’s early-career jersey number change).

There were also two editing errors that jumped out at me, taking me out of the story.  At one point, Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is referred to simply as “Sebastien Giguere” while the 2016 Stadium Series game in Denver is referred to as the Winter Classic.  Those things happen in publishing but seeing them made me laugh.

My original thought did hold in one part: There’s no getting away from comparing this book to Allen and Duff’s.  In my opinion, this one is the better of the two.

“The Big 50: Detroit Red Wings” by Helene St. James will be available from Triumph Books on October 13, 2020.

Red Wings Add Defenseman Stecher

The Detroit Red Wings continued rebuilding their roster on Saturday afternoon, adding defenseman Troy Stecher.

Stecher was linked to the Red Wings pretty much immediately after Vancouver failed to give him a qualifying offer.  His two-year deal reportedly carries a $1.7 million salary cap hit.

With Stecher in the fold, Detroit’s blueline appears to be set for the coming season.  Assuming that none of the Red Wings’ prospects currently playing in Europe come back for the start of the NHL campaign, they would be able to roll out pairings something like this:

Danny DeKeyserFilip Hronek
Patrik Nemeth – Troy Stecher
Marc StaalJon Merrill
Alex Biega

Jersey number geek notes: This is Detroit’s fourth free agent signing of the season who had been wearing a number that’s unavailable with the Red Wings, as Stecher wore #51 for the Canucks.  He wore #2 with North Dakota and while that’s currently assigned to Joe Hicketts, Hicketts seems to have lost his chance in Detroit.  I wonder if they might assign Hicketts a different number and give Stecher #2.  I could also see Stecher getting #52 with Jonathan Ericsson gone.

Red Wings Sign Goalie Greiss

The Detroit Red Wings got their goalie on Saturday, signing Thomas Greiss to a two year deal.

The Red Wings didn’t announce financial terms, of course, but even before they confirmed the deal, it was reported to carry a $3.6 million salary cap hit.

The hit feels a tiny bit high to me but I really don’t care, because it’s a two-year deal, which was my biggest hope.  They could have dropped $7 million on Marc-Andre Fleury as long as it was only two years.  That term gets them through the Seattle expansion draft but not to the point that the rebuild should be done, so there’s a ton of flexibility.

Also, $3.6 million is less than I expected even if I feel like it’s a little high, so it’s a win either way, I’m just nitpicking the amount.

Greiss was one of my top two targets for Detroit, along with Cam Talbot.  So the Wings got the cheaper of the two on shorter term.  Win all around.

Jersey number geek thoughts: Greiss has worn #1 throughout his NHL career, which won’t be possible here.  He wore #40 with Germany but probably can’t have that.  He wore #33 early in his career in the minors but it seems like if anyone gets that in the Detroit organization, it’s going to be Kienan Draper.  Will the Red Wings hold #35 out of respect to Jimmy Howard?  If not, that makes sense for Greiss.  With Brendan Perlini gone, #29 could make sense.


Some additional contract talk:

I wonder if that structure is with the Seattle expansion draft in mind.

The Red Wings will have to make at least one goalie signed for the 2021-22 season available via the expansion draft.  Right now, only Greiss and Kaden Fulcher are signed for that season, so Fulcher would be the one available.  But if Detroit happened to pick up another goalie between now and then, someone they wanted to protect, putting more of the actual cash owed to Greiss in the 2021-22 season could serve to scare off the Kraken, making it so that Greiss could be left unprotected but not selected.

Of course, it could also be that, for the 2020-21 season, Greiss is expected to split time with Jonathan Bernier.  For 2021-22, with Bernier possibly gone, Greiss would be the starter and would get paid like it.

Free Agency Day One Recap

It’s probably safe to say that Day One of NHL free agency is done and the site was down for a big part of the day so let’s do a recap.

Ryan and Merrill

The Red Wings started their day by signing forward Bobby Ryan to a one-year, $1 million deal.  As I said at the time, I love it.  Is it possible that Ryan ends up injured and/or worthless?  Absolutely.  At $1 million for one year, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

The one funny thing about the Ryan deal is that, in an interview after signing, Ryan said he might want to wear #17 because it was Brett Hull‘s number in Detroit, apparently unaware that it belongs to Filip Hronek now.

As far as Merrill goes, well, everyone expected a hometown defenseman to be signing with Detroit today, right?  The Merrill signing signals to me that the Wings expect some of their young guys to not be available this season.  Mortiz Seider in Sweden, for example.  They need veteran guys to fill in for a season in the meantime.  Merrill can burn minutes on this team cheaply.

Talbot, Markstrom, Turris and Shattenkirk

Coming into the day, the Red Wings were linked to both Cam Talbot and Jacob Markstrom to fill their gap in goal.  I would have liked Talbot in Detroit but he got three years for $11 million from Minnesota.  I actually don’t dislike that cap hit but wouldn’t have wanted to give three years.

Markstrom was never going to sign that cheaply so I was glad to see him go to Calgary just to get him off the board, just in case Steve Yzerman did something ridiculous.  I think the six-year, $36 million he got from the Flames is ridiculous, too, but I don’t have to care what they pay.

Kyle Turris was linked to Detroit if for no reason other than his chemistry with Anthony Mantha playing for Team Canada.  He seemed like a prime candidate to want to sign with a contender for cheap, though, and that’s pretty much what he did, going to the Oilers for two years and $3.3 million.  Not a bad deal and I’d have been happy to see him sign it in Detroit, but the Wings aren’t a contender.

In the middle of the day, news broke seemingly out of the blue that the Wings were in on defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.  Just as quickly, he signed a three-year, $11.7 million deal with the Ducks.  So much for that.

Depth Signings

The Wings’s last move of the day was around 5:00 PM with a trio of AHL-level deals, bringing back forward Kyle Criscuolo, a former Griffin from the 2017 Calder Cup run, and adding goalie Kevin Boyle and forward Riley Barber.

If the AHL actually has a season, the Griffins will need bodies.  Even more so if some of the Wings’ kids are in Europe to start the year.  I’ve got no complaints about any of these moves.

The one thing I find interesting is that Detroit brought in a minor-league goalie even with Cal Pickard, Filip Larsson, and Kaden Fulcher all signed, plus Pat Nagle on an AHL deal.  I don’t think it means that Pickard has been tabbed as Jonathan Bernier‘s backup in Detroit but it could.

Torey Krug

The big late-night news was Torey Krug signing with the St. Louis Blues for $45.5 million over seven years.  For months we’ve heard about the possibility of him coming to Detroit but that was from a lot of people ignoring his exit interviews with the Bruins.  He made it clear that his top priority was getting paid, not coming back to his hometown team, and he got his money.

Tyler Johnson

To close out the night was a weird rumor from Frank Seravalli:

So the theory behind this is that Lightning tried to trade Johnson as a salary dump but he has a no-trade clause and would have used it to block a move to any team who could take his salary.  Unable to trade him, the Lightning instead waive him, which he can’t block.  Nominally, it’s for the purposes of a buyout, in which case they’d be on the hook for part of his cap hit but not all of it, so it’s a small win.

But what if a team, such as Detroit, claimed him?  His full cap hit would be gone from Tampa and Johnson would have no recourse to stop the transaction.  And if Tampa then just happened to complete a deal with the Red Wings to send something of value in to Detroit in return for peanuts, well, that’s a totally separate thing, certainly not a handshake deal to send Johnson (and his salary) to the Red Wings, circumventing Johnson’s no-trade clause.

That’s a lot of conspiracy theory talk for me, and I like sports conspiracy theories.  I can’t see Yzerman going for a move that would likely be subject to a grievance if there was any chance of it being perceived as less than legal.

That said…  I want the Wings to take bad cap dollars on to gain other assets but Johnson’s deal is really bad.  Four more seasons at $5 million per year for a guy whose numbers dropped off dramatically during the Bolts’ Cup run.  That side deal would have to be extremely impressive to make that move.

What’s Left?

As free agency moves on, the Red Wings still need a goalie, probably at least one defenseman, and maybe some forwards.  I’d hold off and save some of those roster slots for potential salary dump deals but that’s just me.

In goal, Thomas Greiss is still on the board, and he’d probably be my top choice.  As I write this, Corey Crawford signed with New Jersey for less than $2 million per season, which seems to be a sign that goalie contract numbers are getting back to sane after Markstrom’s ridiculous deal.

I wonder about Tyson Barrie on defense.  Coming off a relatively bad season in Toronto, a “show me” deal could work.  I still think I’d prefer a trade candidate, though.

Red Wings Announce Three Depth Signings

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signings of forwards Kyle Criscuolo and Riley Barber and goalie Kevin Boyle on Friday.

All three are likely AHL-bound, assuming there actually is an AHL campaign in the coming season.

Criscuolo should be a familiar name to Griffins fans, having played 80 games with the team during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, winning the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids the second year.

Boyle is a little bit of a surprise as Detroit already has Cal Pickard, Kaden Fulcher, and Filip Larsson under contract for next season.  Given Larsson’s struggles at the AHL level, though, an insurance policy does make sense.

Wings Sign Defenseman Merrill

The Detroit Red Wings added some depth to their defense on Friday, signing former University of Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill to a one-year deal.

Merrill spent the last three seasons with the Vegas Golden Knights after starting his career with the New Jersey Devils.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have strong feelings about this signing.  He’s a cheap depth guy on a one-year deal, so I’m down with that, but I have no feelings about Merrill himself either way.

Jersey number geek notes: Merrill wore #24 at Michigan and Antti Tuomisto isn’t coming over this year so I’ll guess Merrill takes that number with Detroit.

Red Wings Sign Forward Bobby Ryan to Open Free Agency

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of forward Bobby Ryan as their first deal after the opening of NHL free agency on Friday.

Financial terms were not announced, of course, but the deal is reportedly one year for $1 million.

Ryan was rumored to be interested in joining a competitor after being bought out by the Ottawa Senators, so his interest in a Red Wings team expected to finish near the bottom of the league is interesting.  My expectation as he sees Detroit as a team where he can rebound and audition for a trade to a competitor at the 2021 trade deadline.

I love this deal.  It’s cheap, so it doesn’t hurt the Red Wings if they want to take on salary in a different transaction.  It’s short, so if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.  And if it does work out, the Wings get the benefit of whatever they get back in trade on a potential Ryan deal at the deadline.

Jersey number geek take: My prediction is that, with his usual #9 retired in Detroit, Ryan will wear the #54 he wore as a rookie in Anaheim and internationally for Team USA.

Pre-Free Agency Thoughts

It’s October 9 so, of course, we’re getting ready to kick off NHL free agency.

The Red Wings have been tied to two big names, defenseman Torey Krug of the Boston Bruins and goalie Jacob Markstrom from the Vancover Canucks.  Both make some sense but I don’t like either option.

Krug is from Detroit and played college hockey at Michigan State so there’s a “hometown kid” storyline to enjoy there.  The Wings, despite depth on the blueline, are shockingly short on talent at the position.  Krug would instantly become their top d-man and take pressure off of the still-developing Filip Hronek and the oft-injured Danny Dekeyser.

However, Krug has made it clear that, now that he’s hitting unrestricted free agency, he wants to make sure that he gets paid.  That seems to rule out the idea of a hometown discount.  He’s coming off a deal that paid him $5.25 million per season.  Boston reportedly offered a six-year, $39 million deal in September, which was declined.  That’s a $6.5 million cap hit until he’s 35 and it wasn’t good enough.

Meanwhile, Markstrom is reportedly looking for $6+ million per season.  This, for a goalie whose career numbers are actually pretty close to what Jonathan Bernier put up before signing his three-year, $9 million deal with Detroit.  I don’t actually think that’s a particularly fair comparison but it’s enough to give me pause.

We can be relatively sure that the Red Wings don’t expect to compete for, probably, at least three more seasons.  We also know that the Red Wings have a ton of salary cap space for the coming season, so they can throw money around in the short-term without feeling too pinched.

That said, I don’t see Krug and Markstrom as the right signings.

Krug is 29 and projected to sign for something like $8 million per season for at least six years.  If the Red Wings aren’t going to compete for the first three of those, you end up in 2024 paying 10% of your salary cap to an aging defenseman at a time when contracts are up for guys like Dylan Larkin and Filip Zadina.

With Markstrom, you’re going for one of the more sought-after goalies on the market, asking for a bidding war, just to put the guy behind a team that isn’t good enough to win on a nightly basis.  The goalie position is a problem for the Red Wings organization, absolutely.  Throwing money at it now may not be the answer, though.

I’ll admit, I don’t have an answer on defense.  I’m shooting down Krug without giving a better option to replace him.  Maybe trade is a better way to add on defense, if you were to insist adding on defense was necessary, picking up another Staal-like contract.  Or perhaps helping Carolina’s blueline logjam out.

In goal, I’d rather see a second-tier goalie like Thomas Greiss or Cam Talbot.  Actually, what I’d really like to see is a deal to take Marc-Andre Fleury from Vegas with a sweetener from the Golden Knights, but Fleury has a no-trade clause and it’s hard to see him wanting to come to Detroit.

Part of the problem is that Detroit is no longer a destination for free agents.  Gone are the days where a guy comes on the market and we can say that, of course, he’d want to join the Detroit organization.  Just like how Fleury may not want to come to Detroit, players looking to rebound after being bought out might not think the Red Wings are the right team to sign a one-year “show me” deal with.

Which is why it’s hard for me to guess who the Wings should target at forward, where GM Steve Yzerman has also said the team would like to add.

Would recently-bought out Kyle Turris see Detroit as a place he could showcase his skills?  What about Anthony Duclair, who wasn’t given a qualifying offer by Ottawa?  I’d like to see Detroit go after both but the feeling has to go both ways.  Perhaps it’s the condensed offseason but I haven’t gotten the feeling that any free agents see Detroit as a destination without significant money behind it.

And maybe that’s not a problem.  Overpay on two-year deals and flip the player for picks at the 2022 trade deadline.  They’re off the books in time for the next round of raises.

I just don’t want to see long-term, high dollar deals unless the Red Wings are being paid to take them from someone else.

Red Wings Extend Forwards Erne, Hirose

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of forwards Adam Erne and Taro Hirose to one-year contract extensions on Thursday.

Financial terms were not announced because who would want to know that in a salary cap league?

The pair were set to become restricted free agents after receiving qualifying offers from the team yesterday.

As I mentioned yesterday, I don’t like the idea of bringing Erne back.  I don’t think he offered as much as the Red Wings hoped when they acquired him from Tampa Bay last summer.  That said, at a cheap enough salary that could become irrelevant.

These signings – combined with the Red Wings not giving qualifying offers to Brendan Perlini, Christoffer Ehn, and Madison Bowey – leave the team with three pending restricted free agents.

Red Wings Jersey Number Dominoes

I’ve noted before that I’m a jersey number geek.  Part of that includes a desire to see players get to wear “their” numbers.

Often a player is assigned a number in his first camp with no input.  Sometimes high picks get to choose: For Detroit, Moritz Seider got his favored #53, Filip Zadina got #11, and Joe Veleno got #90.  On the other hand, Michael Rasmussen was assigned #27, Dennis Cholowski was given #21, and Dylan Larkin never could have had his #19, bouncing from #25 to #71.

Awhile ago I was wondering what it would take to get the most players to “their” numbers and realized that the first domino that needed to fall was Justin Abdelkader.  Had he changed to #89 – as I was told he was going to do early in his career – it would have caused a conflict with Sam Gagner upon Gagner’s acquisition.  Now that Abdelkader has been bought out, though, it – theoretically – opens up #8 to start a series of dominoes falling.

As I write this, the second day of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is taking forever, so I’m going to follow those dominoes a bit.

With #8 open, Anthony Mantha could claim the number he wore through juniors and with the Grand Rapids Griffins.  This would make #39 available for Dylan Larkin, with Larkin having worn it with the USNTDP when #19 wasn’t available.

That leaves #71 for Filip Hronek, who wore that number with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.  Hronek could also go with the #79 that he wore in the Czech Republic, regardless of changes by Mantha and Larkin, which would leave #17 available.  That number goes to Tyler Bertuzzi. who wore it with the Guelph Storm of the OHL.

A second chain reaction starts with Dmytro Timashov taking the #88 he wore in the QMJHL.  This leaves #15 available for Rasmussen as he claims the number he wore for the Tri-City Americans of the WHL.

With Rasmussen switched, #27 is available for Dennis Cholowski, who wore it at St. Cloud State and both of his WHL stops.  Christoffer Ehn then takes the #21 made available by Cholowski’s switch, as Ehn wore that number with Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League, though he seems set to not be with the team much longer anyway.  Ehn also wore #26 in Sweden but we’ll save that for Lucas Raymond.

All of this could happen, but it probably won’t.  For a jersey number geek, though, it’s fun to look at.