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 Ericsson, Mike Green, Niklas 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.