On the Blueline Logjam

It feels like this is a topic that comes up every year.  Throughout the entire Red Wings organization, there is a logjam at defense.

It’s been this way for several seasons.  The initial answer was that the team would trade defensive depth for help at forward but those trades never materialized.

Other moves have happened.  They did lose Alexey Marchenko on waivers to Toronto last season and then traded Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers.  Nathan Paetsch and Conor Allen chose to leave the Griffins for Rochester.  They also added Trevor Daley and sometimes-defenseman Luke Witkowski in Detroit while Filip Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi graduated from juniors to Grand Rapids.

This led to last night, where Hronek and Saarijarvi, two of the organization’s top prospects, couldn’t even crack the lineup for the Griffins’ home opener.

Some of that is politics, I’m sure.  You don’t send Ryan Sproul to Grand Rapids to have him sit there and the other five guys all played on the Griffins’ championship-winning team last year, so of course you dress them for the banner-raising.  But that you have to deal with issues like that shows a bigger problem.

When healthy, the Red Wings expect to be playing Danny DeKeyser,
Daley, Jonathan EricssonMike GreenNiklas Kronwall, and Nick Jensen.  Xavier Ouellet slots in as the seventh defenseman, and he filled in on opening night with Kronwall hurt, while Witkowski is your thirteenth forward or eighth defenseman (depending on injuries).

That pushes Ryan Sproul down to Grand Rapids, where he, Brian Lashoff, and Dylan McIlrath are the vets on the blueline.  That’s three spots out of six taken up by players who are legitimately no longer prospects.  Dan Renouf and Robbie Russo, who both made it into games in Detroit last season, come next, followed by Joe Hicketts.  Hronek and Saarijarvi have nowhere to play.

Oh, sure, there will be injuries.  And players will rotate in and out of the lineup.  But is that how you want these guys to start their pro careers?  Slotting in irregularly, hoping someone else gets hurt so they get a chance?

The organization has made no move to fix this.  In fact, they’ve only added to it by bringing back players such as Lashoff and McIlrath, opting for veteran leadership in Grand Rapids over a chance for their prospects to play.  In fact, if the rumored Riley Sheahan for Derrick Pouliot trade had gone through, it would have only made the situation worse.

This has been an issue for several seasons.  I can’t help but think that this is the year it becomes a big problem.

Morning After: Red Wings @ Maple Leafs

This was a hard game to watch.

The Red Wings shot themselves in the foot early with a Darren Helm giveaway leading directly to a goal by Alexey Marchenko – the defenseman Detroit gave away for free via waivers because Ken Holland has such a weak grasp on the concept of asset management.

Then Niklas Kronwall takes a penalty and the Leafs score pretty quick on the power play and, ugh, it looks like it’s going to be one of those nights.

Nazem Kadri makes it 3-0 early in the second and the Toronto-based media is calling for a blowout but a strange thing happens.  Despite not managing a shot for about 15 minutes in the middle period, the Red Wings turn it on for the last five minutes and Gustav Nyquist scores.

Nyquist adds another just 36 seconds into the third and suddenly it’s a game.  But not really because most of the rest of the period is just the two teams fumbling around with each other.

We end with controversy, as Henrik Zetterberg gets high sticked – with a significant amount of blood drawn – and there’s no penalty.  Not that I want to have games relying on the Red Wings’ power play, but that could have made a massive difference.

After an earlier marginal goalie interference call on Nick Jensen, the missed high stick just adds to the “hard to watch” aspects of the game.  Yes, missed calls always go both ways and over a season they probably even out, but combined with the “Toronto Maple Leafs: Team…  Of…  Dessssstiny” narrative, it feels like the ice is tilted.

In the end, it wasn’t all bad.  Most of the losses this season haven’t been.  They just haven’t been good enough.  Late start, comeback falls short, blah blah blah.

On the plus side, Robbie Russo didn’t look horrible in his NHL debut.  A beat too slow in his decision making, probably (Mickey Redmond was harping on Russo taking too many hits), but his skating looked good.

Nyquist and Zetterberg also looked good.  Like the game mattered to them more than it did to some others.  There’s been some talk about not losing the culture of winning that the Red Wings have had and how Zetterberg is carrying that on even as the team misses the playoffs and I think you could really see that last night.

Thoughts on the Red Wings’ Trade Deadline

I was feeling pretty good about the Red Wings’ efforts in the lead up to the NHL’s trade deadline this morning.  Then the Thomas Vanek trade happened.  Those who follow DH.N on Twitter know I am less than happy about that but I’ll look at each of the Wings’ moves piece-by-piece here.

Tomas Jurco
The Red Wings traded Tomas Jurco to the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday.  An upcoming restricted free agent, Jurco never really latched on with the Red Wings.  Detroit got a third-round pick in the deal, which is more than I would have expected.

I don’t think Jurco was ever used properly in Detroit so it hurts to see him go to Chicago, but if the Wings weren’t going to use him, at least they got some value for him.  This is a pretty solid deal.

Brendan Smith
The first of Detroit’s pending unrestricted free agents, the team tried to sign him to a contract extension but the trade offer from the New York Rangers was too much to turn down.  Smith netted the Red Wings a third-round pick in the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round pick in 2018.

This was Detroit’s best move of the week.  I probably would have been happy with a second or a third, to get both feels like larceny.  That said, like Jurco, perhaps Smith just needs a change of scenery.  It’s not that he was particularly bad this year in Detroit, but he’s weighed down by the expectations and the memory of bad performances.

Steve Ott
I never liked Ott’s signing, that’s no secret.  I don’t know why the Canadiens thought they needed him, either.  He wasn’t horrible in Detroit by any means, I just think his role could have been filled by one of the kids in Grand Rapids, namely Tyler Bertuzzi or Tomas Nosek.  Getting a sixth-round pick for Ott seems like a near-miracle.

Thomas Vanek
I’m going to need more space for this one.

Nick Jensen
Not a trade, the Red Wings locked up Jensen for two more years at around $800,000 each.  Jensen has stepped onto the Wings’ blue line and seemingly leapfrogged both Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet (and definitely Alexey Marchenko, now in Toronto).

I like this signing for multiple reasons.  One, it’s only two years, unlike the ridiculous four-year deal that Brian Lashoff got after serving in a similar capacity back during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.  Two, it can entirely be buried in the minors if Jensen ends up being a bust or if the Wings acquire a legitimate top defenseman at some point.

Mitch Callahan
With Ott off to Montreal, the Red Wings called up forward Mitch Callahan to take his place.  I’m okay with this but I’d rather have seen Bertuzzi get the nod, as I mentioned above (Nosek is currently injured and wouldn’t be called up).

Drew Miller
The trade that didn’t happen.  I don’t know if anyone was interested in Miller but he’s the one upcoming unrestricted free agent that Holland was unable to unload.  Part of me thinks that if you can unload Ott, you can unload Miller.  But maybe the Habs were the only team interested in a guy like that.

Thomas Vanek
Okay, let’s try this one again…

Vanek had to be dealt.  He’s been one of the Wings’ best players this season and is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so it was assumed that he had significant value.  At the end of the day, it sounds like there weren’t that many teams interested, though, and he only fetched a third-round draft pick (plus AHLer Dylan McIlrath, minus retaining some salary).  That the Wings got the best deal they could get is good.

It’s kind of hard to see that for multiple reasons, though.  There was a lot of buzz about Vanek in the lead up to the deadline and Minnesota made a massive deal for Martin Hanzal, a player deemed to be somewhat comparable to Vanek.  You don’t trade buzz, though.  The best player the Red Wings had to offer simply wasn’t enough to generate that much interest.

Winging it in Motown’s JJ from Kansas has been talking about getting caught up in the hype about Vanek.  Take a look at Detroit’s history as buyers, though, and it’s hard not to.

In 2015 the Wings gave up a solid prospect in Mattias Janmark, a questionable prospect in Mattias Backman, and a second round pick for Erik Cole and a third rounder.  In 2014 Detroit traded Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves, and a third round pick for David Legwand.

In my mind, 2017 Thomas Vanek is better than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand, so I would expect 2017 Thomas Vanek to bring in more than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand.  But that’s not what this year’s market supported.

So it’s disappointing that costs are high when the Wings are buyers but they’re low when they’re sellers.  It’s hard to swallow.  It feels like if the Wings should have to sell, they should get to sell for the same prices that all the teams that profited from them got to sell at.

Overall
All of that said, the Wings did the best that they could with what they had.  In sheer volume of picks, the last week has been a pretty impressive haul.

I’m not as excited about the upcoming draft as Ken Holland is, though.  Holland has spoken about having so many picks to work with, more than they’ve had since 2002.  This draft is shallow and none of those picks are particularly high.  As such, I don’t see this sell off as sparking a rebuild.  Barring some big changes this summer, I don’t think the assets gained in the last week are going to turn things around next year.

Red Wings Sign Jensen to Two-Year Extension

The Detroit Red Wings signed rookie defenseman Nick Jensen to a two-year contract extension on Monday.

As per usual, financial terms of the deal were not announced. Thankfully, the Freep’s Helene St. James had them seconds later.

This gives the Red Wings six returning defensemen next season, with Xavier Ouellet still scheduled to become a restricted free agent.  I would think this makes trading unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Brendan Smith more likely but this is the team that gave Alexey Marchenko away for free so what do I know?

For the record, I like th

Red Wings Lose Marchenko to Leafs via Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings lost defenseman Alexey Marchenko to the Toronto Maple Leafs via waivers on Saturday.

Marchenko was waived to clear a roster spot for Brendan Smith, who is slated to return from injury tonight as the Red Wings visit the Nashville Predators.

Marchenko made the Red Wings’ roster out of camp last season, then went on to play for his native Russia at the World Championships last spring and the World Cup of Hockey.  Despite that, he lost his roster spot to Nick Jensen this season and fell behind Ryan Sproul on the team’s depth chart.

I’m not surprised that Marchenko was claimed, given how many teams have been clamoring for right-handed shooting defensemen.  I can’t help but think that this is yet another case of asset mis-management by the Red Wings’ brass.

Red Wings Place Marchenko on Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings have placed defenseman Alexey Marchenko on waivers.

The move comes with defenseman Brendan Smith scheduled to return from injury tomorrow against the Nashville Predators, requiring that the Red Wings open up a roster spot.

It would appear that Marchenko, who made the Red Wings’ roster out of camp last season and played for his native Russia at both the 2016 World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey, has been passed on the depth chart by Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, and Ryan Sproul.

I had expected Sproul to be the one to get the axe, given criticism of his play.  I suppose the Red Wings brass sees more upside in him than Marchenko.

With the number of teams looking for right handed shots right now, I find it hard to believe Marchenko won’t get claimed.  That said, I’m still surprised Teemu Pulkkinen is in the AHL right now so what do I know?  If he does make it through, he’ll head to the Grand Rapids Griffins and re-join their already-packed blueline.

Morning After: Mistakes, Instigators, and Howard

A week and a half ago I wrote about how Ryan Sproul made a mistake that directly led to the overtime game-winning goal for the Florida Panthers.  While I didn’t like the mistake, I was glad that Sproul was out there to make it.  I saw it as a sign that he was getting his chance, that the Red Wings were willing to suffer through some growing pains.

The next game, Sproul was on the ice for three of the Penguins’ four third-period goals as Pittsburgh rallied to win. The only mistake I see on those plays is his failure to cut off a cross-crease pass on the third.

He hasn’t played since, having been replaced by Brian Lashoff (of all people) and then Alexey Marchenko, having returned from injury.

Maybe I was wrong about him getting his shot.  Or maybe I’m missing a mistake that earned him a spot in the pressbox.  Xavier Ouellet has been playing while Sproul sits and I think Sproul has been better this season than Ouellet.  But what do I know?


Speaking of Ouellet, he took an insigator minor and a misconduct for jumping Michael Raffl last night after Raffl hit Steve Ott.  I think it’s hilarious that Ott, the guy who was brought in to stand up for guys, needed someone to stand up for him.

While Matt Shepard was quick to throw praise to Ouellet for fighting on behalf of the guy who usually sticks up for everyone else, I think that was a really dumb move.  Midway through the third period of a tied game you put your team down a man for two minutes and short a defenseman for effectively the rest of the game.

There’s standing up for your teammate and there’s making a smart play.  Sometimes that overlaps.  This time it didn’t.


Jimmy Howard didn’t deserve that loss, but that’s not the first time it’s happened this season.  It’s nothing new that his goal support has been pathetic this season and while a 1-0 loss (even in overtime) doesn’t help the Red Wings much, his play in those games does.

Howard, in all likelihood, will not be a Red Wing next season.  Vegas should claim him in the expansion draft if he’s available.  If they’re not right now, the team should try to trade him at the deadline.

Who knows what kind of market there will be but a team like the Calgary Flames may decide that the Brian Elliot experiment was a failure and, as they scratch for a playoff spot, they need someone more reliable than career backup Chad Johnson.

My point being that Howard’s play makes it easier to trade him, and trading him means that they’re not only free of his contract but also the player who Vegas ends up taking instead of Howard.

This is nothing new, of course.  It’s just worth mentioning that Howard’s play might make it a little more possible to pull off.

Pregame: Marchenko, Athanasiou, Howard Return as Wings Host Jackets

The Red Wings are getting some bodies back, as three players will return from injury tonight.

Goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Alexey Marchenko, and forward Andreas Athanasiou will all be in the lineup as Detroit starts a five-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Howard – who will back-up Petr Mrazek tonight – and Athanasiou back, Jared Coreau and Tomas Nosek returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Brian Lashoff remains with the Red Wings but will likely be a healthy scratch in place of Marchenko.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD+.


Stupid Stat of the Day: The Red Wings have never lost in regulation to the Blue Jackets in December at Joe Louis Arena.  The last meeting between the teams in December in Detroit was a 1-0 shootout win for Columbus.

Red Wings Injury Updates

The Detroit Red Wings made a handful of announcements regarding injuries on Monday.  Any time you make a handful of injury announcements is a problem.

On the positive side of things, Tomas Jurco was re-called from his rehabilitation stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he had a goal and an assist – along with six penalty minutes – in two games played.  He wore #13 in Grand Rapids with his old #28 having been taken by Matt Lorito this season.

Jurco will have a chance to slide into the Detroit lineup immediately in part due to an injury to Tyler Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi left Saturday’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens with a high ankle sprain after a hit by Alexei Emelin.  He’s expected to miss three- to five- weeks.

Meanwhile, defenseman Brendan Smith is expected to miss four weeks after a knee-on-knee collision with Phillip Danault.

Both Bertuzzi and Smith were placed on the seven-day disabled list while Jurco came off long-term injured reserve.  As of today, the Red Wings have seven players on various forms of IR: Andreas Athanasiou, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Joe Vitale, Alexey Marchenko, Jimmy Howard, Bertuzzi, and Smith, though neither Franzen or Vitale are expected to play this season.

The team will go with six defensemen for now, with no call-up planned to replace Smith.

Over the weekend, the Red Wings called up goalie Jared Coreau after Jimmy Howard left Friday’s win over the New Jersey Devils with a groin injury.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Sabres – 11/23

In previous years, much has been made of the fact that, for the most part, if a team isn’t in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, they won’t be in one come the end of the season.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and not only are the Red Wings sitting out of the playoffs, they’re dead last in the Atlantic Division and only one point up on the New York Islanders for the last spot in the Eastern Conference.  A win over the Sabres would lift them past Buffalo tonight but, at 8-10-1 on the season, they’d still be under .500 at Thanksgiving.

If you’re looking for a positive out of that, the good news is that the Red Wings have been under “true” .500 (same number of wins and losses, whether or not they got a point in the loss) a quarter of the way through the season (or later) six times in their current 25-year playoff streak.  In the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, they didn’t get “back” to .500 until the last game of the season.  Last year it wasn’t until Game 78.


As for Wednesday’s game itself, the Red Wings are expected to bring Brendan Smith and Tyler Bertuzzi back into the lineup.  Smith replaces the injured Alexey Marchenko while Bertuzzi takes Drew Miller‘s spot.

Jimmy Howard gets the start against Robin Lehner.

Game time is 7:00 PM on FSD+.