On Hicketts, DeKeyser, and Kronwall

Last weekend, Katie Strang of the Athletic did a feature on Grand Rapids Griffins’ defenseman Joe Hicketts.  A notable item from it is the assertion of Daniel Cleary that Hicketts nearly made the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp.

“He was close to making our team this year,” said longtime Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, now a director of player development with the organization. “Very, very damn close.”

Yesterday, Peter Flynn from Winging it in Motown ran with that, suggesting that Hicketts should be in the Detroit lineup with Danny DeKeyser now expected to miss enough time to go on long-term injured reserve.

I agree with Flynn.  It was understandable to not bring Hicketts up when DeKeyser went down because he wasn’t expected to have to go on LTIR, which means there wouldn’t have been enough cap space for the call-up.  Now that we know DeKeyser will miss at least ten more days (and four more games), it’s time to give Hicketts a look.

That said, this is the Red Wings we’re talking about.  They’re not going to sit Niklas Kronwall or Jonathan Ericsson for being (relatively) terrible because the vets on this team are allowed to play through their issues.  They may swap Hicketts in for Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen but my gut feeling is that’s not the change fans are clamoring for.

There is an in for Hicketts, however.  Last season the Red Wings brass said they wanted to limit Kronwall’s playing time in certain situations and, while they didn’t say as much coming into this season, one has to think it still holds true.  One of those situations just happens to be coming in a week, with the Wings headed through Western Canada and playing on back-to-back nights in Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Red Wings could easily use that opportunity to get a look at Hicketts without stepping on any of their veterans’ toes.

It’s telling that Hicketts hasn’t been called up yet.  It’ll be even more telling if he doesn’t get a look early next week out west.

Update – 10/31, 12:00 PM: WIIM’s Prashanth Iyer shows that my eye test of Kronwall and Ericsson doesn’t seem to stand up.

With that the case, and knowing that the Red Wings aren’t going to sit Trevor Daley or Mike Green in favor of Hicketts, you’re looking at benching Nick Jensen or Xavier Ouellet to make room.  Now they’ve got the room to do that but do you?  I don’t know if I should, but I hesitate.  Maybe that’s more of a failing eye test thing, though.

Thoughts on Day One of Free Agency

Sigh.  Okay, I guess we’re doing this.

Day One of the 2017 Free Agent Season is in the books (or at least as far as the Red Wings are considered).  Detroit general manager Ken Holland called it “a great day for the Red Wings.”  Lets take a look at what the team did and didn’t do.

Trevor Daley

The big – and most-expected – signing for Detroit was veteran defenseman Trevor Daley.  It’s a three-year deal for $9.5 million with a no-trade clause that scales back in the third year.

I don’t love it.  I wish the Wings were just going with the kids for a bit and seeing where it takes them.  That said, I don’t hate it, either.  By all accounts, Daley will be a great mentor for some of those kids and, assuming Mike Green is dealt at the deadline next year, the lost roster spot will only be for half a season.  The contract is much better than I was expecting.

It says something when a resounding “meh” is the most you can say for the best signing of the day.

Luke Witkowski

The other deal the Wings closed immediately upon the opening of free agency was to bring in Tampa Bay defenseman Luke Witkowski.

This is the guy who broke Anthony Mantha‘s hand in a stupid fight near the end of the season.  I see no reason to bring a guy like him in.

The deal is for $750,000, which can be completely buried in the AHL.  But we said that about Steve Ott‘s deal at this time last summer and he saw zero minutes in Grand Rapids so don’t count on it.

If the Wings were looking for a big, tough, young defenseman, they had Dylan McIlrath in Grand Rapids already.  If they wanted that from a forward, where they supposedly are ready to shift Witkowski, then they had Tyler Bertuzzi.  This signing was completely unnecessary.

I feel like this is also part of a “grass is greener” issue with the Wings’ front office.  Too many times of late they’ve brought in someone else’s marginal player rather than give their own marginal player a shot.  Which is funny because if someone lasts long enough to become a veteran in the Detroit system, Holland will bring them back repeatedly.  See Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary, Kyle Quincey.

Tom McCollum

Speaking of bringing someone back, the Wings traded for goalie Tom McCollum, one year after letting him walk from the Griffins as a free agent.  I guess this makes McCollum and Matej Machovsky the tandem in Grand Rapids after the Wings find a way to unload Petr Mrazek.

Turner Elson

In another Grand Rapids move, the Wings signed Turner Elson out of the Colorado organization.  He’s a center, so I suppose he somewhat makes up for the loss of Tomas Nosek to the Vegas Golden Knights via expansion.  Or he makes up for any of the other minor leaguers getting shuffled around this summer…

Kyle Criscuolo

… such as the Griffins losing Kyle Criscuolo to the Sabres.  It’s always tough to see big pieces of a championship team depart.  He had an AHL-only deal with Grand Rapids and now he gets a two-way deal with Buffalo so he’s moving up in the world.

Mitch Callahan

Moving up or moving home is Mitch Callahan.  He signed with the Edmonton Oilers and will either get the shot with them that he never really got in Detroit or will get to play closer to home, as the Oilers’ AHL affiliate is the Bakersfield Condors, who play just a couple hours from Callahan’s hometown of Wittier, CA.

Eddie Pasquale

Joining Callahan in the Edmonton organization is goalie Eddie Pasquale, who spent only a season with the Griffins.  As mentioned above, the Griffins seem to have their tandem set, but that’s a lot of turnover at goaltender through the organization.

Matt Caito

The Griffins also lost Matt Caito to the Iowa Wild.  Caito spent most of the season with ECHL Toledo so I don’t think we can call this a big loss.


So the Wings got the defenseman they wanted but who might not be able to help them much at a price that was acceptable.  They added a guy they definitely didn’t need, and they swapped some players around at the AHL level.

Are they better than they were yesterday?  Probably.  Are they good enough to make the playoffs?  Probably not.  And the Griffins are probably worse than they were when they won the Calder Cup.

Red Wings Bring in Horcoff, Bring Back Cleary

A month ago I suggested that, as long as they were already bringing back Daniel Cleary, the Red Wings might also bring in Cleary’s good friend Shawn Horcoff.

I didn’t expect they would do it like this.

On Friday Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal reported that Horcoff would retire as a player and join the Red Wings as their new Director of Player Development.  Matheson noted that Jiri Fischer, up until now the only person to serve in that role for the Detroit organization, would be “moving to another position in the organization.”

The Red Wings confirmed the move several hours later.  As reported by MLive’s Ansar Khan, Fischer will move into a player evaluation role.

“Jiri Fischer came to me this summer and said he loves the job but wanted the opportunity to grow as an executive and would like to get into the player evaluation side of the industry,” Holland said.

Holland also took the opportunity to reveal that Cleary will attend Detroit’s training camp on a pro-try out.

Earlier this week, Winging it in Motown published a piece about why bringing Cleary in on a PTO might not be a horrible idea.  While the NHL has since announced that veteran roster requirements will be relaxed in the aftermath of the World Cup of Hockey, I still think their argument is valid.

More importantly, I think a PTO for Cleary is a step towards sanity for Ken Holland.  Last year, Cleary was given a one-year NHL deal but still had to battle for a roster spot in training camp – a battle he lost before being waived and sent to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  That deal was similar to deals with Danny DeKeyser and Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl and Luke Glendening.  It was a contract based on hope for a player.  It was Holland saying, “Here’s your deal, now go out there and earn it.”

With a PTO, Cleary has to earn his spot before getting a contract.  It’s a smart move.

For the record, I expect Cleary to be signed to an AHL deal upon the conclusion of the preseason.

On the Red Wings’ Next Alternate Captain

With Pavel Datsyuk having departed, the Red Wings are left with an open spot among their contingent of captains.  I brought this up on Twitter a month ago and WiiM did a post on it a couple weeks ago.  I went back through the team’s recent history to see if anything can be gleaned from it to show us who might be picked.

The 2015-16 season was unique for the Red Wings in that captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternates Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall were the only players to wear letters for the team all year.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity – both Datsyuk and Kronwall missed significant time due to injury – it means that there were 34 games where Detroit didn’t even bother sewing an “A” on anyone else’s sweater.

Captains are the only players who can speak to on-ice officials but the Red Wings’ going with fewer than the allowed number of captains shows how unimportant that rule.  Of note: Teams may have no more than three lettered players on the roster but there is nothing saying that they have to have that number.

We have to go back to the 2015 season to find replacement captains used by the Red Wings.  Despite ten games with only two captains dressed, seven players still managed to wear a letter throughout the year.  The injured Johan Franzen wore it for ten games, Jonathan Ericsson and Daniel Cleary each wore it for three, and Darren Helm wore it for one.

If he were healthy, I think Franzen would get the A, but he’ll never play again.  Cleary may very well return to the organization and get a letter in Grand Rapids, but I think he can be ruled out in Detroit.  That leaves Ericsson and the recently-re-signed Helm.

Going back one more season to 2014 adds no new names to the list, as the now-retired Daniel Alfredsson was the most-frequent extra alternate, wearing an A for 36 games to Franzen’s 31 and Cleary’s 8.  Five games were spent with only two captains.

The lockout-shortened 2013 – Zetterberg’s first as captain – featured three games with only two captains but no replacement alternates.  It was also the first season since the 2007-08 campaign, when Datsyuk was given an A along with Zetterberg and Kris Draper, that the team had only three captains.

Even with four captains on the books in 2012, Tomas Holmstrom wore the A for eight games.  The team dressed three captains for every game.

Going back further, we see the names of long-departed defensemen Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios…  Clearly players who won’t be options now.

In the last seven years there have been ten players to wear the C or A with the Red Wings.  Two of them – Zetterberg and Kronwall – still do.  Only two of the remaining eight are still with the team: Ericsson and Helm.

At three games to one, Ericsson has more experience wearing the letter than Helm.  Maybe that gives him an edge.

So can anything be pulled from these numbers?  I think the only thing they show is that it’s time for someone new.  The old standbys are gone.

While newcomers Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott have all worn letters elsewhere in their career – Nielsen had an A with the Islanders last season while Vanek and Ott co-captained the Sabres back in the 2013-14 season – the Red Wings haven’t given the alternate captaincy directly to a newcomer since trading for Brendan Shanahan in 1996.

By my count, the Wings haven’t had two defenseman with letters since before the Steve Yzerman era, which would seemingly rule out Ericsson or any of the other blueliners, so long as Kronwall wears the A.

Jeff Blashill is not Jacques Demers.  I don’t think Dylan Larkin gets the available letter by virtue of being the team’s best player.

I think – almost from lack of better options – that we’ll see Justin Abdelkader get the A.

Of course, that could change if the mythical “trade for a top defenseman” ever emerges.  We’ll see.

TPL Pregame: October 9 – Loving You Makes Life Worth Living

Editor’s Note: I miss The Production Line. You should, too. Back for one night only (unless you guys convince them otherwise), it’s the TPL Pregame.


WHAT’S ALL THIS THEN?

The Detroit Red Wings begin their 90th season in the National Hockey League, and will face off against their former coach Mike Babcock and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Puck drops at 7:30pm at Joe Louis Arena.

WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?

The big story will be the changing of the coaching guard. Out with the old (Babcock), and in with the new (Jeff Blashill). The excitement level among the community is higher than it’s been in several years — thanks in part to the new voice behind the bench…as well as the opportunity given to a teenager in Dylan Larkin. If you think a player like Larkin had a chance in hell at making this team with Mike Babcock running the show, you need a CAT scan.

NOW, WHERE WERE WE?

The Wings and Maple Leafs played five times in 2014-15, with the teams splitting the season series 2-2-1. The fifth and final meeting was on December 13th, wherein Detroit lost 4-1 and the Leafs won their fourth in a row. Niklas Kronwall had the first goal of the game — but the 1-0 lead lasted exactly one minute before James van Riemsdyk began the onslaught. The defense took the night off, with Petr Mrazek facing 40 shots (who lost his first contest of the season), and Dan Cleary played in the 600th contest of his career. He would go on to play nine more (and was a healthy scratch for 42 more…but was re-signed anyway).

OH, HI AGAIN

The obvious returnee to the Joe is former head coach Mike Babcock, but he also took former assistant coaches Jim Hiller and Andrew Brewer with him to Toronto, where he joined a front office led by former alternate captain Brendan Shanahan. Forward Shawn Matthias was a second round draft pick of the Red Wings in 2006, but he was traded a year later in exchange for — wait for it — 8 games of Todd Bertuzzi (obviously, Bert would sign with Detroit again a few seasons later). It never came to pass, but if Twitter was to be believed on Trade Deadline Day, Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf was AS GOOD AS a Red Wing for a few hours.

MEMBA ME

There are no former Maple Leafs on the Red Wings, because good teams don’t take leftovers from shitty ones. But if you want to get technical, the Griffins assistant coach Ben Simon once played for (and coached) the Marlies. That’s as close as we’re willing to get. –PETRELLA

BEST NAME NOMINEE

I’m going with Stephane Robidas. I’ve always been a Johnny Cash/Boy Named Sue fan, and I can’t help but see some odd connection between a guy sporting a ladies name and who spent a good chunk of his career in Texas. I feel like there’s a “Call me Caitlyn” moment coming here where, during his retirement speech, he reveals that he’s been tucking and wearing silk t-back lady thongs for the past decade. When that happens, people will call me a genius, and I’ll just sit back in my brass buttoned leather wingback, knowing I’d spotted it long ago. –DISCH

THEIR LAST GAMES

While the Red Wings were bounced by the Lightning in the first round last season (losing Game 7 by a score of 2-0), at least they had a date to the dance. The Maple Leafs’ season ended somewhere around January, but — believe it or not — they played until April 11th. They opened their 2015-16 season on Wednesday and — wait for it! — lost to the Montreal Candiens 3-1. Turns out you CAN’T polish a turd, Babs!

EXPECTED LINEUP

Gator :: Hank :: DYLAN LARKIN (!!!)
Tatar :: Richards :: Nyquist
Franzen :: TinkyWinky :: Pulkkinen
Miller :: Glendening :: Ferraro

Kronwall :: Shitbox
Quincey :: Mike Green
Smith :: Kindl

Howard
Mrazek

Injured
Pavel Datsyuk (ankle, expected back mid-November)
Danny DeKeyser (foot, early November)
Darren Helm (concussion, next weekend)

Scratches
Joakim Andersson
Dan Cleary
Tomas Jurco
Alexey Marchenko

NICKNAMES

Mike “Remember When We Held on in the Rain?” Babcock
Niklas “The Nights We Almost Lost It” Kronwall
Jiri “Once Again We Can Take the Night Into Tomorrow” Hudler
Tomas “Living on Feelings” Tatar
Gustav “Touching You, I Feel It All Again” Nyquist
Johan “Didn’t We Almost Have it All” Franzen
Luke “When Love Was All We Had Worth Giving” Glendening
Marian “The Ride With You Was Worth the Fall, My Friend” Hossa
Pavel “Loving You Makes Life Worth Living” Datsyuk
Steve “The Nights We Held On ‘Til the Morning” Yzerman
Nicklas “You Know You’ll Never Love That Way Again” Lidstrom
Jimmy “The Way You Used to Touch Me Felt So Fine” Howard
Darren “We Kept Our Hearts Together Down the Line” Helm
Henrik “A Moment in the Soul Can Last Forever” Zetterberg
Jonathan “Comfort and Keep Us” Ericsson
Jeff “Help Me Bring the Feeling Back Again” Blashill
Sergei “Didn’t We Have the Best of Times” Fedorov
Petr “When Love Was Young and New” Mrazek
Tomas “Couldn’t We Reach Inside and Find” Jurco
Todd “That World of Me and You? We’ll Never Lose it Again” Bertuzzi
Dan “Cuz Once You Know What Love Is… YOU NEVER LET IT END” Cleary
— PETRELLA

THE FIVE HOLE

  1. GOALIES! Both goaltenders — Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek — played very well in the pre-season in what what Coach Blashill called an open competition for the role of starter. Jimmy Howard always had the inside track because he slid out of Mrs. Howard before Pete cartwheeled out of Mrs. Mrazek, but I’d be shocked if three weeks go by before the entire planet realizes that Petr Mrazek is the better goalie.
  2. NEW BODIES! The Red Wings finally got their right handed defenseman in Mike Green. He’s able to contribute some points, and is able to move the puck out of the zone efficiently, which is a prerequisite for the style of play in Detroit. Brad Richards, who either follows success, or whom success follows, adds another option up the middle, and will allow Zetterberg and Datsyuk to be paired together, if the time comes.
  3. TEENAGER! Waterford native Dylan Larkin forced the organization to buck their trends and has made the opening night roster, and it looks like he’ll get a chance to man the first line. That’s very exciting for all involved, included the fans, who get a young local to cheer for, and who has every bit of talent needed to inject some youthful exuberance onto an aging core. And Dan Cleary was waived on Wednesday. Jasper succinctly sums up our feelings on the matter.
  4. HEALTH! Hey, whattaya know, the Red Wing start the season with a bunch of regulars on injured reserve. Pavel Datsyuk will be out until mid-November, Danny DeKeyser is supposed to be out until early November, Darren Helm might be set to return next week, assuming his concussion and shoulder calm down. What, you didn’t think we’d be able to get rid of a drill sergeant coach, a once-useful knee-less veteran, AND Piet Van Zant all at once, did you?
  5. YOUTH! We say it all the time, but the young players really opened some eyes in the pre-season. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone that wouldn’t agree that Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou, and even Anthony Mantha did quite a bit to make some other guys expendable in the coming months and years. Obviously Zetterberg and Datsyuk aren’t going anywhere, but there will have to be some decisions made with some of the other guys, thanks to the guys below Larkin on the depth chart.

Holland: Cleary Won’t Report to Griffins

Red Wings general manager Ken Holland announced on Friday that veteran forward Daniel Cleary, who cleared waivers and was assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday, will not report to Detroit’s American Hockey League affiliate.

Retirement would seem to be the only option left for Cleary. Alternately, his contract could be terminated, leaving him free to sign elsewhere, likely in a lower-level league or overseas.

Cleary signed a $950,000 contract with the Red Wings over the summer. Of that deal, Holland said, “That’s between the club and Cleary.”

Were Cleary to retire and join the organization as a scout or coach, the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players dictates that he could not simply make his playing salary in that role.

Originally Chicago’s first-round pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Cleary has appeared in 938 career NHL games with the Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, and Red Wings. He has scored 165 goals and added 222 assists for 387 career points.

Pregame: Maple Leafs @ Red Wings – 10/9

After a long summer with some major moves, the Red Wings are back in action tonight, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2015-16 home opener.

A familiar face will be behind the Toronto bench, as Mike Babcock jumped ship from Detroit to move on to the Maple Leafs during the offseason. Former Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill now leads the Red Wings.

Blashill isn’t the only new addition to the Wings. Free agent signings Brad Richards and Mike Green will be making their Detroit debuts, as will rookie Dylan Larkin, who impressed enough during the preseason to not just make the opening night lineup but earn a spot on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader.

Detroit will be without Pavel Datsyuk, Darren Helm, and Danny DeKeyser due to injury. Helm could be back next week while neither Datsyuk nor DeKeyser is expected to return until November.

With Datsyuk out, Richards will center the second line with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. Kyle Quincey will replace DeKeyser as Green’s defense partner.

Joakim Andersson, Tomas Jurco, and Alexey Marchenko will be healthy scratches for the Red Wings. Xavier Ouellet and Daniel Cleary had been with the team but were assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins yesterday.

Jimmy Howard will get the start in goal for Detroit, with Petr Mrazek scheduled to start tomorrow against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Stupid stat of the day: In the last two decades, the Red Wings have lost only once on October 9. The opponent in that loss? The Toronto Maple Leafs.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD and Fox 2 Detroit.

Cleary Clears Waivers, Expected to be Sent to Griffins

Veteran forward Daniel Cleary cleared waivers on Thursday.

Cleary signed a one-year, $950,000 contract with the Red Wings in September. His salary can be completely buried in the AHL, eliminating his salary cap hit.

In 17 games with the Red Wings last year, Cleary scored a goal and an assist.

Cleary, 36, was beaten out for a roster spot in Detroit by rookie Dylan Larkin. It is expected that he will now be assigned to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Retirement is also a possibility.

Red Wings Place Cleary on Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings placed veteran forward Daniel Cleary on waivers at noon on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

With blueliner Jakub Kindl set to return from an eye infection, the Red Wings fifteen forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies, one player over the 23-man roster limit.

Cleary, 36, signed a one-year, $950,000 contract with Detroit in September. Last season with the Wings, he had two points in 17 games.

Should he clear waivers, Cleary would be eligible to be assigned to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins.

Larkin Makes Red Wings’ Lineup

Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill announced on Monday that 19-year-old rookie forward Dylan Larkin has made the team’s opening night lineup.

“We just felt, I specifically really felt, he makes us better,” Blashill said. “And to an exponential amount that we felt it was important he started on the team. We just felt he has earned the spot.”

Larkin, Detroit’s first pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at 15th overall, signed with the Red Wings after just one year at the University of Michigan. He appeared in six playoff games last spring for the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring three goals and adding two assists. In five exhibition games with the Wings he scored three goals and one assist.

In Monday’s practice, Larkin skated on the top line with Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. Blashill cautioned that lines are subject to change before Friday’s opener.

With Larkin’s spot in Detroit solidified, veteran Daniel Cleary would appear to be the odd-man out. However, Cleary was not placed on waivers on Monday, instead defenseman Jakub Kindl was placed on short-term injured reserve, as the Red Wings attempt to get as close to the salary cap as possible before placing Pavel Datsyuk on long-term IR, to maximize its benefits. Teams must set their cap-compliant season-opening rosters by Tuesday at 5:00 PM but can make lineup changes after that point.

Larkin’s spot on the Detroit roster is not secured long-term, as both Datsyuk and Darren Helm will need a spot when they return from injury.


Andy Miele, Mitch Callahan, and Brian Lashoff all cleared waivers on Monday.