Thoughts on the Red Wings’ 2021 Roster

The Red Wings made a series of assignments to their taxi squad and to the Grand Rapids Griffins yesterday and, with that, their roster for the 2021 season is pretty much confirmed.

I qualify that because the Red Wings are starting with Bobby Ryan, Darren Helm, and Christian Djoos out of the lineup. So, while this might be the roster on opening night, it’s probably not exactly the one they’d hoped for, nor is it the expected roster on a nightly basis.  Even if they are small changes, we’re probably going to see a bunch of adjustments to this roster over the first month of the season.

Right now the taxi squad consists of Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindstrom, Kevin Boyle, and Calvin Pickard.  You can bet that, once the Grand Rapids Griffins’ season gets going, five of those players will be in GR.  The Red Wings won’t want any of their youngsters sitting in the press box (or wherever the NHL has mandated that taxi squad players sit) when they could be playing in the AHL. They’ll keep one of the goalies up, as required, then swap out everyone else who isn’t playing for guys like Turner Elson and Dylan McIlrath.

Meanwhile, on the playing roster, we’re seeing these lines:

Obviously we’ve got some taxi squad guys in there but they’re not in positions we need to worry about. Rasmussen and Smith on a “fifth line” with a no-contact Bobby Ryan isn’t a real line and while Lindstrom may very well effectively be the Red Wings’ eighth defenseman right now, they’re not going to roll four pairings in a game so his play alongside Alex Biega in practice doesn’t matter.

The top line has been virtually set in stone since last season so there are no surprises there.  Vladislav Namestnikov with Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina is somewhat unexpected but likely influenced by Ryan’s injury.  Mathias Brome got some buzz in camp and seemed likely to get some NHL playing time once Helm and Ryan were out.  The fourth line looks a whole lot like a “and everyone else” line as I don’t see a reason for Frans Nielsen to be there.

I think once Ryan returns, we’ll see Nielsen drop out of the lineup (unless he’s rebounded strongly from last season but there’s been no camp chatter to say we should expect that) and Brome drop down a line.  Namestnikov could also move to the third line to make room for Ryan with Fabbri and Zadina.

Helm’s return (which I’m assuming would come later as he’s not even skating right now) would then seemingly push Adam Erne off the fourth line, unless Brome is shown to need AHL time to adjust to the North American game and he is the one who comes out of the lineup.

On defense, the big thing left to see is Djoos’ role on the team.  He’s sticking in the Detroit lineup as he would otherwise have to clear waivers and the Red Wings didn’t claim him just to be a tradable asset as they also can’t trade him without first waiving him.  Does he bump Marc Staal or Troy Stecher off that third pairing or is he just here as another depth guy, effectively replacing Lindstrom alongside Biega?

Assuming what I’ve suggested, a healthy lineup would need one more change, though, as the Red Wings would have 14 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies, putting them over the 23-man roster limit.  The easy answer there would be to drop Brome down to the Griffins as he wouldn’t need to clear waivers.  That said, I’ve already advocated for keeping Brome in the lineup over Nielsen and Erne, so a more interesting option would be to waive Nielsen and (assuming he’s not claimed) put him on the taxi squad.  The Red Wings have the salary cap space to eat his contract and the one-season taxi squad gives a place for Nielsen to go where he can’t take a spot with the Griffins from one of the kids who needs it.

Given that the Red Wings just re-confirmed that Nielsen will be an alternate captain under new captain Dylan Larkin, I can’t see them punting him to the sidelines so easily, though.

Obviously further injuries could change this quickly but I think this is an approximation of what we could be looking at under ideal conditions.

Red Wings Claim Defenseman Djoos via Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings claimed defenseman Christian Djoos off of waivers from the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Djoos, 26, split last season between the Washington Capitals and the Ducks at the NHL level but spent most of the season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. In 119 career NHL games, he has five goals and 22 assists for 27 points.

Christian Djoos is the son of former NHLer Per Djoos, who played 26 games for the Red Wings during the 1990-91 season.

This pickup is a little weird to me.  Detroit’s blueline seems set with Danny DeKeyser, Filip Hronek, Patrik Nemeth, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher, Marc Staal, and Alex Biega.  That’s with Gustav Lindstrom on the outside looking in.

Djoos could have been claimed to fill space on the taxi squad this season but he will have to clear waivers to be assigned to it, just as if he were being assigned to the AHL.  In that case, Anaheim would have the right to claim him back and – if no other team placed a claim – send him to their own AHL affiliate, as they originally intended.

Maybe Detroit GM Steve Yzerman thinks the Ducks just didn’t want Djoos anymore and he’ll make it through waivers.  There’s no risk in trying it.  Best-case scenario, the Red Wings add a depth defenseman.  Worst-case scenario, they’re right back where they started.

Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings kick off their training camp for the truncated 2021 season tomorrow, announcing the camp roster and schedule today.

With the roster announced, I can do one of my favorite things of the season: Look for oddities surrounding jersey numbers.

The team is only taking forty players to camp, so there aren’t as many numbers to look at, and most of those were known already.

The team’s offseason free agent signings – Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher, and Thomas Greiss – were all previously known to be wearing #54, #92, #24, #70, and #29, respectively.  Additionally, trade acquisition Marc Staal was already known to be wearing his usual #18.

Ryan’s #54 was previously worn by Matt Puempel, who the Red Wings did not re-sign over the offseason.  Stecher’s #70 was worn last season by Christoffer Ehn, who was unsigned and returned to Europe.  Greiss’ #29 was worn in last year’s camp by Vili Saarijarvi before being taken by early-season acquisition Brendan Perlini (with Saarijarvi traded away a few weeks later anyway), who was not re-signed by Detroit.  Staal’s #18 had been assigned to Albin Grewe at the 2020 Development Camp.

European free agent signing Mathias Brome has been assigned #86, his usual number.  It was worn in last season’s camp by Charle-Edouard D’Astous.

Depth signings Riley Barber, Kyle Criscuolo, and Kevin Boyle have been assigned #26, #42, and #34, respectively.

Barber’s #26 was worn in camp last season by Griffins captain Matt Ford, who is not in Detroit’s camp this year.  Criscuolo’s #42 was worn by Mathieu Bizier.  Boyle’s #34 had been assigned to Victor Brattstrom at the start of last season and temporarily given to Eric Comrie for the few games he spent in the Red Wings organization.

The only returning player to change jersey numbers is try-out goalie Pat Nagle, who will wear the #68 that the team usually reserves for goalies who aren’t actually in the Red Wings’ system.  In that role last year, he wore #60, while Sean Romeo wore #68.

Criscuolo isn’t a returning player but has been in a Red Wings’ camp before, wearing #74 in 2016 before spending that season with the Griffins.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
41 Luke Glendening
42 Kyle Criscuolo
43 Darren Helm
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
51 Valtteri Filppula
54 Bobby Ryan
57 Turner Elson
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
67 Taro Hirose
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
81 Frans Nielsen
86 Mathias Brome
89 Sam Gagner
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Alex Biega
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
22 Patrik Nemeth
24 Jon Merrill
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stecher

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
34 Kevin Boyle
36 Kaden Fulcher
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Pat Nagle

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 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 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 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.