On the State of the Logjam

It feels like every offseason we talk about the logjam on the Red Wings’ blueline.  With Libor Sulak bolting the Griffins for the KHL on Tuesday and Jake Chelios doing the same last week, now’s a good time to take a look at where things stand in the Detroit organization.

Last season, the Red Wings came out of camp with the following 14 defensemen spread out between Detroit and Grand Rapids, excluding players signed to AHL deals:

Jake Chelios
Dennis Cholowski
Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser
Jonathan Ericsson
Mike Green
Joe Hicketts
Filip Hronek
Nick Jensen
Niklas Kronwall
Brian Lashoff
Dylan McIlrath
Vili Saarijarvi
Libor Sulak

There were also part-time defenseman Luke Witkowski and signed-but-assigned-to-Europe Gustav Lindstrom but I’m ignoring them for the purposes of this.

With everyone healthy, it made for a nice, even split of seven defensemen each for the Red Wings and the Griffins.  For most of the season, though, not everyone was healthy, leading to everyone on that list with the exception of Saarijarvi playing at least one game in Detroit.

As an aside, it drives me slightly nuts that the Red Wings brought up Chelios – who had no future in the organization even then – late in the season, rather than giving Saarijarvi a look.  In meaningless games, there’s no harm in giving an actual prospect minutes, even if you’re concerned he’s not quite ready.  McIlrath could be swapped for Chelios in this argument as well.

By the end of the season, Jensen was gone but Madison Bowey had joined the group, keeping the numbers the same.

Since then we’ve seen the addition of Finnish free agent Oliwer Kaski and the departures of Chelios and Sulak.  Not much of a difference.  What else could we see this summer?

The big name is Kronwall, whose contract is up this summer.  Ken Holland had stated that, should Kronwall want to return, there would be a spot for him.  Holland is in Edmonton and this is Steve Yzerman‘s team now, so does that offer still stand?  It feels like buzz about Kronwall returning for one more season has died down in the last several weeks.  Is that meaningful or is it just the nature of the news cycle?  My gut feeling is that Kronwall is done.

Hicketts is also something of a question mark.  He’s a restricted free agent so he has limited options but it’s possible he bolts for Europe, seeing few options in the Detroit organization.  I wouldn’t call it likely, though.

Then there are trade options.  Early “What Will Yzerman Do as GM?” stories pushed the possibility of trading Jonathan Ericsson or Trevor Daley before the start of the season.  While I’d like to see that, I think they have more value at the trade deadline and Yzerman will hold onto them until then.

On the flip side, there’s the question of whether or not Lindstrom will come over this season, adding a body back to the mix.  Gut feeling again…  I’m going to say he spends another season in Europe.  That could change if Ericsson or Daley are moved in the summer.

So coming out of camp next fall, that gives the Red Wings and Griffins something like the following:

Bowey
Cholowski
Daley
DeKeyser
Ericsson
Green
Hicketts
Hronek
Kaski
Lashoff
McIlrath
Saarijarvi

That’s still 12 names, so the logjam isn’t gone but there might be some room to work.

Let’s say Detroit starts with Bowey, Cholowski, Daley, DeKeyser, Ericsson, Green, and Hronek.  Bowey could be buried in GR but he can also be your seventh defenseman so we’ll assume he and Cholowski split time.

That puts Hicketts, Kaski, Lashoff, McIlrath, and Saarijarvi in Grand Rapids.  Maybe Kaski has a great camp and swaps out for Bowey…  Whatever.

The thing to see here is that, while the roster is still pretty packed, minutes in Grand Rapids have become available.  The ascension of Hronek and Cholowski, combined with the departures of Chelios and Sulak, means that Saarijarvi and Kaski (again, assuming he’s in GR) could have the opportunity for a decent amount of playing time to prove that they’re ready, which will be important if Daley, Ericsson, and/or Green are moved at the trade deadline.

Of course, it’s still early in the summer.  The Red Wings could make another Chelios-like signing to put a body (or bodies) in Grand Rapids, making those minutes harder to find.  Jared MacIssac could make the jump from juniors over the summer.  As of right now, though, there has been some movement on the logjam.

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.

Red Wings Leave Mrazek Exposed for Expansion Draft

There were few surprises when the Red Wings’ expansion draft protection list was (eventually) released this morning, but the one that did come down was a big one, as the team opted to protect goalie Jimmy Howard rather than Petr Mrazek.

Available
Louis-Marc Aubry (F)
Mitch Callahan (F)
Colin Campbell (F)
Martin Frk (F)
Luke Glendening (F)
Darren Helm (F)
Drew Miller (F)
Tomas Nosek (F)
Riley Sheahan (F)
Ben Street (F)
Eric Tangradi (F)
Adam Almquist (D)
Jonathan Ericsson (D)
Niklas Kronwall (D)
Brian Lashoff (D)
Dylan McIlrath (D)
Xavier Ouellet (D)
Ryan Sproul (D)
Jared Coreau (G)
Petr Mrazek (G)
Edward Pasquale (G)
Jake Paterson (G)

Protected
Justin Abdelkader (F)
Andreas Athanasiou (F)
Anthony Mantha (F)
Frans Nielsen (F)
Gustav Nyquist (F)
Tomas Tatar (F)
Henrik Zetterberg (F)
Danny DeKeyser (D)
Mike Green (D)
Nick Jensen (D)
Jimmy Howard (G)

I’ve been ranting about this on Twitter all morning, so obviously I think this is the wrong move.  Let me touch on a couple other things first, though.

I half-expected Niklas Kronwall to be protected, even though his contract and injury history make him pretty much unclaimable, so seeing him available is good.  Similarly, the Red Wings could have left Andreas Athanasiou unprotected to protect Darren Helm but didn’t.  So there were some good choices here.

Let’s come back to the goalies, though.

Yesterday the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames made waves with the Coyotes sending veteran goalie Mike Smith to the Flames for a pick and a prospect.  At the time, I wondered how Ken Holland couldn’t have gotten a deal done to send Jimmy Howard to Calgary instead, as the Wings certainly could have asked for less, with the cleared cap space being the real acquisition for Detroit.  After all, Smith is two years older than Howard, signed for more money, and had worse stats than Howard last season.

One response was that Smith is seen as more durable than Howard.  While that’s possible, it’d be somewhat ridiculous, as Howard missed significant time last season but Smith missed half the year in 2015-16.

Another idea was that Calgary GM Brad Treliving specifically wanted Smith, as he was with the Coyotes when they signed him.  That’s always possible, but I find it hard to believe that familiarity was worth the higher price paid for Smith than the Wings would have to have asked for Howard.  Either Treliving did a disservice to the Flames by overpaying for a goalie or Ken Holland did a disservice to the Red Wings by not negotiating hard enough to trade Howard.

I’m also focusing on Howard here because we know the Flames traded for Smith and Howard is more like Smith than Mrazek is.  We have no idea what kind of deal it would have taken to move Mrazek to Calgary but we can guess what kind of deal would have gotten Howard there.

If Howard gets dealt yesterday, Mrazek gets protected today, and concerns about losing a goalie for nothing are gone.

I think it could have been avoided, but regardless the reason, the Red Wings hit yesterday’s deadline with two NHL goalies on their roster and could only protect one.

With that out of the way, some thoughts on protecting Howard over Mrazek…

There’s a lot of chatter that neither will be selected because there are better goalies available.  If that’s the case, I would think you try to slide Howard through because at 33 and with a $5.29 million cap hit and coming off an injury-filled season, it’s less likely that he gets claimed, just in case.

If there’s a deal in place to “guide” the Golden Knights towards picking a certain player, it doesn’t matter who you have unprotected.  That said, Ken Holland said he wasn’t going to do that.  Kenny has lied to us before, though.

Ignoring both of those, the reason to leave Mrazek unprotected is because you don’t care if you lose him.  For a team in the Red Wings’ position, that’s a mistake.  This team needs to get younger and cheaper, even if that means worse (which I think it arguable).  Shed bad contracts and look to the future.  You do that by protecting Mrazek, not Howard.

Protecting Howard over Mrazek feels like sacrificing youth for another playoff push.  It feels like the tie goes to the veteran.  It feels like the “Red Wings Way” that led to the end of the playoff streak and no long playoff runs in nearly a decade.

Red Wings Call Up Tomas Nosek from Griffins

The Detroit Red Wings used an emergency call-up to recall Tomas Nosek from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In advance of the Wings’ Saturday matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press revealed that Mitch Callahan is injured and another forward may be unable to play, necessitating the emergency call-up of Nosek.  Should that forward be able to play, Nosek will rejoin the Griffins for their game in Chicago tonight.

I’m curious whether the mystery forward is Luke Glendening, who sat out Thursday’s win over the Arizona Coyotes.  Glendening seemed like an odd choice for a healthy scratch at the time and, unlike when Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch, there was virtually no press on it.

If the Wings need another grinding forward, I’d rather see it be Tyler Bertuzzi, but I’m not against Nosek getting a look.  Nosek is waiver-eligible next season so it’s good to figure out a bit more about him at the NHL level before then.

One thing I find interesting is that the Red Wings specifically noted this as an emergency recall, which they did not do when Brian Lashoff was called up on Thursday and then immediately sent down when whichever defenseman was questionable ended up being able to play.

Red Wings Call Up Lashoff

The Detroit Red Wings called up veteran defenseman Brian Lashoff from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday.

The team did not specify whether this was an emergency call-up or one of their four allotted post-trade-deadline standard call-ups.

I think the move is a little bit weird. Per Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News, Lashoff is a depth call-up as the Wings had only six defensemen on the roster.  In that case, calling up Lashoff instead of someone like Joe Hicketts makes sense, as you’d rather have Hicketts playing in Grand Rapids than sitting in Detroit.

But if Lashoff is just going to sit, that means it’s a standard call-up, and why burn one of those on a guy who’s just going to hang out in the press box?

Lets be clear, Hicketts wouldn’t have saved the Red Wings’ season, so it’s not like it really matters.  It’s just curious.

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.

On Judging the Kids

It’s no secret that I’ve written off this season for the Red Wings and want to see them “play the kids.”  I wrote early this month that I liked that Ryan Sproul had been in position to make the mistake that led to a Florida Panthers overtime win.

The game after that mistake, Sproul was a minus-3 in a loss to Pittsburgh.  He’s played in just four of the Red Wings’ 11 games since then.  He’s spent time behind both Brian Lashoff and Nick Jensen on the Wings’ depth chart.

Andreas Athanasiou had seven shifts last night.  At the end of the first period, on his fourth shift, the Senators scored with seconds left to tie things up.  On his sixth shift, he jumped the gun to try to force an odd-man rush and was out of position when the pass he was waiting for got picked off, turning into an Ottawa goal.  His seventh shift closed out the second period.  He didn’t play in the third.

I want to see what the kids can do when given opportunity.  Benching takes that opportunity away.  We may find out over a season that Sproul doesn’t have it.  We may find out that Athanasiou can’t handle more than 12 minutes per night.  But we don’t know unless they get that opportunity.

I will say that, with Sproul benched, I’m glad that Nick Jensen is getting his own opportunity.  That makes a lot more sense to me than Lashoff playing.


There are two things about the small sample size that these guys have to prove themselves that have been rattling around in my head.

#1 – Lets say that Sproul plays a full season, fills in well, but is otherwise unspectacular.  Hey, a kid stepped into the NHL and proved he belonged and that’s good, right?  Yeah, but don’t throw a four-year deal at him all of the sudden.  Looking at you, Brian Lashoff.

#2 – Jared Coreau is a great story.  Two wins in his first three NHL starts after he started his pro career going a full year without a win.  He’s probably going to start the Centennial Classic and, given Petr Mrazek‘s struggles, he probably should.  But you know who else won two out of his first three starts for the Red Wings?  Norm Maracle.  Just saying, lets not get ahead of ourselves proclaiming him the starter or anything.

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 Call Up Nosek, Lashoff

The Red Wings announced a slate of roster moves this morning as they head into back-to-back games this weekend while dealing with injuries to Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith.

To make room for Nosek and Lashoff, they shuffled Abdelkader and Andreas Athanasiou around on various forms of injured reserve.

My initial thought is that the Red Wings will try to see if Niklas Kronwall can go for both games, which is why Lashoff got the call instead of Robbie Russo.  I mean, if the call-up is actually going to get minutes, don’t you want the guy who has a future in the organization getting a look?  Call up Russo or Nick Jensen and see what they can do.  If the guy is expected to just sit in the press box, go ahead and call up Lashoff, and if he ends up being needed then you already know what he’s capable of.

I’m curious whether Nosek will actually play, and where he’ll play.  If he’s on the third line, I guess I’m okay with it.  I’ve already said that I wanted to see Evgeny Svechnikov and that Matt Lorito would be an interesting option.  I just don’t want to see the Wings do the whole “call up a grinder, drop him on the fourth line, and pull Drew Miller or Steve Ott up to the third line” thing they’ve traditionally done.  Scratching Nosek and bringing back the OMG line also works, I suppose.