Red Wings Re-Up Mantha on Four-Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Tuesday the signing of restricted free agent forward Anthony Mantha to a four-year deal.

Financial terms were not announced, of course, but Elliotte Friedman reports that the deal carries a $5.7 million salary cap hit.

Getting Mantha for less than $6 million is a fantastic deal for the Red Wings.  I also really like the four-year term.  We’ll know a lot more about this team in four years.  Maybe it’ll make sense to pay Mantha again at that time, maybe it’ll make sense to walk away, maybe it’ll make sense to flip him earlier and focus on a younger core.  The term gives Detroit flexibility as we see what the rebuild looks like.

Red Wings Sign Forward Namestnikov

The Detroit Red Wings signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov on Sunday, continuing the rebuild of their roster.

Namestnikov is a familiar face for Detroit GM Steve Yzerman, who drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft for Tampa Bay.

Financial terms were, of course, not officially announced, but the deal reportedly carries a $2 million salary cap hit, with annual amounts of $1.5 million and $2.5 million.  Like Thomas Greiss‘ deal, more money is in the second year.  Whether as escrow protection for the player or expansion draft protection for the team, we’re seeing that become more common this year.

Namestnikov gives the Red Wings another option at second-line center, should Robby Fabbri not work out there.  Theoretically, the team could roll lines looking something like this:

Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Filip Zadina – Vladislav Namestnikov – Robby Fabbri
Dmytro TimashovSam GagnerBobby Ryan
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningValtteri Filppula
Adam Erne
Frans Nielsen

That’s a completely rebuilt middle six since the start of last season, done entirely on the cheap.  They’re not world-beaters by any means but that’s not a bad accomplishment for Yzerman.  Perhaps most importantly, that’s a lineup where you can clearly see a top nine and then a fourth line, rather than a top line and then a bunch of other players slotted in wherever they can.

The problem is that this leaves no room for Evgeny Svechnikov, who is basically on a “last chance” one-year deal and would have to clear waivers to be reassigned elsewhere.  Maybe this means the Wings let Zadina stay overseas for another year.  Maybe it means they dump a contract.  I don’t know.

Jersey number geek notes: Namestnikov has worn #90 for virtually his entire career, save for a stint as #65 as a rookie. Will the Red Wings let him take #90 from Joe Veleno? If not, I bet Namestnikov goes with something like #60 or #95. It certainly blocks Bobby Ryan from following in the footsteps of Mike Modano and Stephen Weiss, though, and turning his #9 into #90.  Outside chance?  Namestnikov wears #13 in honor of his uncle, Vyacheslav Kozlov.

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 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.

Red Wings Bring Back Forward Fabbri

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Monday the signing of pending restricted free agent forward Robby Fabbri to a two-year contract extension.

Of course, financial terms were not officially announced, but Craig Custance of The Athletic reports that the new contact carries a $2.95 million salary cap hit.

With Fabbri signing, two of Detroit’s ten pending RFAs are set to return, as Evgeny Svechnikov signed a one-year deal earlier this month.

Fabbri was acquired by Detroit from the St. Louis Blues for center Jacob de la Rose on November 6, the biggest “win” of GM Steve Yzerman‘s first season with the Red Wings.  He went on to score 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points, good for fourth on the team over the season.

I think the $2.95 million AAV is solid for the Red Wings.  It won’t hurt too much for too long if it turns out Fabbri’s first season with the club was an outlier and it helps set a baseline for Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi, though they may be looking at longer-term deals which will be framed differently anyway.

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.

Thoughts on the Opening Night Roster

I’ve struggled to put together words about what I think of the Red Wings’ expected lineup on Saturday in Nashville.

Some years you can look at the lineup and there’s something odd about it, either good or bad, that makes things interesting.  An unexpected missing player or a prospect who had a breakout camp to make the team.

Maybe you could say the absence of Niklas Kronwall is the former but, given the fact that his retirement was kind of telegraphed and the glut of defensemen on the Red Wings’ roster, I don’t really think so.

The roster that the Wings will open the season with has pretty much been set since the July 1 signings of Patrik Nemeth and Valtteri Filppula.  Once Adam Erne was acquired on August 14, the idea of Filip Zadina or Joe Veleno or Evgeny Svechnikov challenging for a roster spot in camp was put to bed.

I’ll admit, part of why I was hopeful that the Red Wings would claim Josh Ho-Sang off of waivers is that at least it would be a surprise and give something to follow.

I’m not saying there’s nothing exciting about the Detroit lineup.  It’s just most of that excitement is centered around six or seven players.

Yes, I want to see what the line of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi can do together over an entire season.  I want to see if Taro Hirose is the real deal after the hot start to his pro career last spring.  I want to see if Filip Hronek takes another step and if Dennis Cholowski can stick in Detroit.

And I always want to watch Andreas Athanasiou.

That’s a third of the team.

There are a lot of players on the Red Wings’ roster for whom my hope going into the season is simply that they don’t regress.  Or, in some cases, don’t continue to regress.  My expected best case scenario for them is for me to not notice they’re out there.

This is not going to be a good team.  Yeah, some of the players have to talk about just getting in and then surprising people.  Aside from that, no one is predicting Detroit to finish outside of the bottom five in the league.

This is a rebuilding team.  We should expect them to be bad.  It’s beneficial, to a certain extent, for them to be bad, as it should help their draft position.

It is not, however, an exciting team.  There may be some exciting players but it is not an exciting team.

This team is built to lose, but hopefully not embarrassingly.  A big part of the roster is there to just not screw up so badly that the remaining players can’t make something of it.

That’s not much to get excited about.

2019 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

With the Red Wings having claimed the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup as champions of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, the team is ready for their main training camp to begin, and with that comes the release of their training camp roster.

The roster includes 67 players.  Only two players who were on the Prospects Tournament roster will not be appearing in the main camp – Elmer Soderblom and Gustav Berglund.  No NHL free agents will be appearing with the Red Wings as pro try-outs.

There are no surprise jersey number changes revealed by the roster announcement.

Evgeni Svechnikov, who missed the entire 2018-19 season, will keep the #37 he was scheduled to wear last year.  He wore that number for his debut in 2016-17 before switching to #77 for the 2017-18 campaign.

Finnish free agent signing Oliwer Kaski claims that #77, after having worn #7 with Pelicans last season.  Kaski taking #77 would explain why Taro Hirose, who specifically was looking for a number with seven in it, took #67 instead of #77.

I had speculated that #26 might have gone to Thomas Vanek on a PTO but that ended up going to Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain Matt Ford, who was assigned #77 last fall.  Similarly, I thought that #50 might go to someone on a try-out but, instead, it’s been assigned to Dominik Shine, with Ryan Kuffner having taken the #56 that Shine wore in camp last year.

Goalie Calvin Pickard, the Red Wings’ only remaining free agent signing to not have a number announced, has taken #31.  He’s worn #30 in the past but Detroit has that semi-retired for Chris Osgood, it would seem.

The #3 worn last season by Nick Jensen has been assigned to defenseman Jared McIsaacLibor Sulak‘s #47 has gone to Marcus Crawford of the Griffins.

Any other changes are related to camp invitees and/or were already confirmed.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
8 Justin Abdelkader
11 Filip Zadina
15 Chris Terry
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Matthew Ford
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
41 Luke Glendening
42 Mathieu Bizier
43 Darren Helm
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
50 Dominik Shine
51 Valtteri Filppula
54 Matt Puempel
56 Ryan Kuffner
57 Turner Elson
58 David Pope
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 Jacob de la Rose
62 Cody Morgan
64 Josh Kestner
67 Taro Hirose
70 Christoffer Ehn
71 Dylan Larkin
72 Andreas Athanasiou
73 Adam Erne
75 Troy Loggins
76 Jarid Lukosevicius
78 Gregor MacLeod
79 Thomas Casey
81 Frans Nielsen
82 Tyler Spezia
88 Chad Yetman
89 Owen Robinson
90 Joe Veleno

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Jared McIsaac
17 Filip Hronek
20 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
22 Patrik Nemeth
25 Mike Green
28 Gustav Lindstrom
29 Vili Saarijarvi
32 Brian Lashoff
47 Marcus Crawford
52 Jonathan Ericsson
53 Moritz Seider
63 Alec McCrea
65 Danny DeKeyser
74 Madison Bowey
77 Oliwer Kaski
83 Trevor Daley
86 Charle-Edouard D’Astous
87 Marc-Olivier Duquette
94 Alec Regula
98 Owen Lalonde

Goalies

Num. Name
31 Calvin Pickard
35 Jimmy Howard
36 Kaden Fulcher
38 Filip Larsson
45 Jonathan Bernier
60 Pat Nagle
68 Sean Romeo
80 Anthony Popovich

On Keeping Howard, Nyquist, and Jensen

We’re ten days away from the 2019 trade deadline and, because of the company line coming out of the Red Wings, I find myself looking ahead to the team’s lineup for next season.

Four months ago, at the start of what was expected to be – and has proven to be – another lost season in Detroit, much of the chatter was about which players would be moved before the end of the season and what pieces might come back that could help the team’s rebuild.  Max Bultman of The Athletic, for example, was speculating about Jimmy Howard bringing in a first round pick or a top prospect back in November (subscription only).

But now we’re hearing how much the Wings want to keep Howard, as they’ve got no goalies in the system ready to take over for him.  We’re hearing about how much chemistry Gustav Nyqiust has with Dylan Larkin.  How Luke Glendening is such an important part of the room.  How Nick Jensen‘s analytics and low contract make him worth keeping while the team’s blueline prospects continue developing.

Let’s take a look at the Wings’ roster for last night’s game against the Senators, courtesy of MLive’s Ansar Khan (who still has me blocked on Twitter).

Gustav Nyquist – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
Darren HelmFrans NielsenThomas Vanek
Andreas Athanasiou – Luke Glendening – Christoffer Ehn
Justin AbdelkaderJacob de la RoseMichael Rasmussen

Niklas KronwallMike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

Scratches: Martin Frk, Dennis Cholowski, Luke Witkowski

Nyquist, Vanek, Kronwall, Jensen, Witkowski, and Howard are all pending unrestricted free agents.  Additionally, Frk – who was sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins along with Cholowski after last night’s game – is a restricted free agent.

Given the team’s stated desire to keep Howard, Jensen, and Nyquist, for this exercise, I’m going to assume that they’re brought back.  I’m also going to assume that Frk and Witkowski aren’t re-signed and that Kronwall retires.  With those assumptions in place, the Wings’ lineup becomes as follows:

Gustav Nyquist – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
Darren Helm – Frans Nielsen – Tyler Bertuzzi
Andreas Athanasiou – Luke Glendening – Christoffer Ehn
Justin Abdelkader – Jacob de la Rose – Michael Rasmussen

Dennis Cholowski – Mike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

Scratches: Filip Hronek, available, available

I’ll continue my assumptions and have Filip Hronek up with the Red Wings next season, in this case as the seventh defenseman, after Cholowski slots into the spot vacated by Kronwall.  We can assume that Tyler Bertuzzi will be healthy so he gets Vanek’s spot.

How the Wings fill those open spots really doesn’t matter for my purposes.  The important thing is to see just how much of the roster would be returning in this scenario.

On the strength of this week’s wins over the Predators and Senators, the Red Wings currently sit in 28th place in the NHL, six points up on last-place Ottawa, with all three teams below them having a game in hand.

Some of that can be blamed on the team’s horrific start to the season when injuries forced forced them to ice an extremely inexperienced defensive corps.  At some point, though, you just have to accept that this lineup just isn’t very good.

This despite a near-career year from Nyquist.  This despite a resurgence from a Jimmy Howard who will be 35 before the season ends.

If the Wings are intent on bringing back Howard and Nyquist and Jensen, they’ll essentially be bringing back the entirety of their 28th place lineup next season, one year older, yet expecting a better result.

It’s fine for this team to be bad while they’re going through a rebuild but, at some point, you have to actually rebuild.  Bringing back the same losing lineup year after year isn’t a rebuild, it’s just losing.

Forty-one

It’s a new year, the Red Wings are exactly halfway through their season, and I haven’t written anything in quite awhile.  Sounds like a good time to check in.

If you’re positive, you look at the Wings being ten points out of a playoff spot and think “Hey, that’s only five wins, there’s still a chance!”  You’d be correct, and someone in the Wings’ front office might even say something to that effect.  “Just go on a run and see what happens.”  I’d feel a lot better if we didn’t hear that, though.

If you’re negative, or if you’re more focused on the future, or if you’ve written off this season for whatever reason, you might look at the standings in the opposite direction.  Detroit is three points up of last-place Ottawa with the Sens holding a game in hand.

You could argue that the “Lose for Hughes” case is strong here – I called for it often last summer – but even that has an issue.  Detroit might be just three points out of last place but there are so many teams at the bottom of the standings that the Wings would still have (pre-draft lottery) the seventh overall pick.  The standings are so packed that a single additional win in the first half of the season would have put them out of the top ten in the draft.

To me, the standings are a worst-case scenario for the Red Wings.  Bad enough to be out of the playoff race but not bad enough to have locked up a high draft pick.

Okay, so the standings are bad.  That was to be expected.  What’s good?

Not much, but what’s good is important.

Dylan Larkin is on a pace to shatter his season scoring records.  Eighty points wouldn’t be a stretch with a previous personal best of 63.  He could end up in the mid-thirties in goals scored.  The Wings needed him to take a step forward and he has.

Similarly, Andreas Athanasiou is putting up career numbers and is getting the ice time that he seemed to think he was due last season, at 16:29 per game.

Dennis Cholowski has stepped in and looked good on a Detroit blue line that’s been wracked by injuries.

Jimmy Howard is having himself a bit of a renaissance just in time to raise his trade value.  Whether or not the team actually moves him will probably have to wait to be seen.  My prediction is that they don’t, simply because I strongly believe they should and this team frustrates me to no end.

Gustav Nyquist‘s trade value also looks good, and if you squint just right you might think he could hit 70 points on a better team (he’s almost on that pace as it is).

So there are positives here.  The Wings still sit in good draft spot, they’ve had young players step forward, and some of their potential trade pieces are keeping up their value.  It might make the season hard to watch but it’s good overall.

What else?  Well…

Anthony Mantha remains out after injuring his hand in a fight on December 2.  He recently re-iterated that, despite having hurt his hand twice in his four career fights, this won’t stop him from fighting in the future.  This drives me nuts.

I get that hockey is a fast sport.  I get (but don’t believe in) “the code” and all that, by which players attempt to police themselves.  There are two things wrong with that.

My initial complaint was that if Anthony Mantha (or Dylan Larkin, or Michael Rasmussen, or whoever) is the one fighting to avenge dirty hits, then what is Luke Witkowski on the Wings’ roster for?  We don’t have traditional enforcers anymore, true, but isn’t Witkowski supposed to be here to handle that for the enforcers?

As I said, though, it’s a fast game.  Witkowski’s not out there and Mantha is so Mantha handles it.  Okay.  But if Mantha is fighting Patrick Nemeth because he didn’t like a hit that Nemeth put on Dylan Larkin, what does Nemeth learn from it.  In theory, he learns that if he makes that hit, he’s going to get hurt back.  In practice, he just learned that if he makes that hit, he can hurt a second Red Wings’ scorer by letting Mantha smash his hand into his head for a bit.

It just seems counterproductive to me.  Mantha needs to learn that it doesn’t help.  So we’ll see how much his views on fighting carry into the second half of the season.