An Alternate Rebuild

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big alternate history fan, and have posted a few hockey-related alternate history timelines here before.

The Athletic’s Max Bultman took a look today at what the Red Wings’ roster might look like if they had embraced the rebuild sooner. I think it’s a fun piece with a really solid premise and point of departure but I’d love a look that included alternate draft choices.

Bultman specifically mentioned that he left them out on purpose, which I get it as they’re a pain.  I’m going to spitball a little, anyway, and riff off his idea. I should note that this was originally going to be a comment at The Athletic but it got to be long enough that I didn’t feel like it was fair to dump there.


Let’s say the Red Wings not trading for David Legwand in 2014 and Erik Cole in 2015 costs them just a single win for the remainder of those respective seasons. Neither player did much for Detroit so I can’t see them being that much worse without them. Now they pick at #14 in 2014 and #16 in 2015.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think it’s safe to say they still take Dylan Larkin at #14, with Julius Honka on the board. The next year, though? You could be looking at Mathew Barzal at #16 instead of Evgeny Svechnikov.

And the streak stays alive even without those deals.

Assume it’s Larkin and Barzal and that Larkin debuts in 2015. The only difference on the roster at this point is that Justin Abdelkader has a shorter contract, so 2015-16 plays out as expected.

Summer of 2016, the Pavel Datsyuk contract trade still happens; the Red Wings don’t sign Frans Nielsen. I’d also say that the Wings don’t sign Darren Helm, giving his minutes to Andreas Athansiou, because that’s what I called for at the time and I don’t feel like I should go back on that.

The streak ends on schedule but the team is slightly worse for the 2016-17 season. This is where the butterflies really come in, though, because – for the first time in this scenario – the Red Wings are in the draft lottery and we can’t say the lottery will go the way it did in reality.  Wherever the Wings are slotted based on the standings, it’s harder to know exactly where they’ll end up. I’ll have Colorado win the lottery, Detroit pick seventh instead of ninth, and the Wings get Cale Makar instead of Michael Rasmussen.

Does Barzal still have his Calder-winning performance if he’s in Detroit? Not sure but these 2017-18 Red Wings might be better than ours were. Lets say, since the butterflies have pushed us pretty far off course at this point, by the 2018 draft the Wings aren’t in position to draft Filip Zadina but get Quinn Hughes instead. I can’t see Barzal making the Wings so much better that they’re out of that range but it might be a reach.

However the Wings do in 2018-19 doesn’t really matter because the players selected in the 2019 draft aren’t going to be on the roster today, unless they manage to win the lottery in this alternate world. That said, I question whether or not Taro Hirose would sign in Detroit in this scenario. I’ll assume that he does.

With Makar and Hughes in the fold, I don’t see Patrik Nemeth getting signed this summer. I also think the Wings would be less likely to have taken Madison Bowey back in trade for Nick Jensen, but I’ll allow it. However, I don’t see Oliwer Kaski signing in Detroit in this scenario.  Bowey and Kaski might be interchangeable for this exercise.

Bultman’s takeaway was that his alternate Wings would be simlar to the existing team, simply younger and cheaper. With these draft adjustments, they’ve got a better blue line as well. You’ve swapped out Svechnikov, Rasmussen, and Zadina for Barzal, Makar, and Hughes, giving a lineup that looks as follows:

Tyler BertuzziDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou – Roope Hintz – Mathew Barzal
Mattias JanmarkCalle JarnkrokTaro Hirose
Justin AbdelkaderLuke GlendeningChristoffer Ehn

Danny DeKeyserFilip Hronek
Cale Makar – Mike Green
Trevor DaleyQuinn Hughes
Jonathan EricssonMadison Bowey

Jimmy Howard
Elvis Merzlikins

2019 Free Agency Thoughts: Day One

I noted my thoughts about each of the Red Wings free agent signings yesterday as they were announced.  Since then, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman has spoken and explained some of his plan.

I’m not sure I buy it, so I’m going to revisit those thoughts a bit.

Calvin Pickard

Yzerman confirmed that Pickard is bound for Grand Rapids, not competing with Jonathan Bernier for the backup role in Detroit, as was suggested when rumors of the deal broke on Sunday.  That makes significantly more sense.

My only concern is how Pickard (along with Curtis McElhinney) was claimed on waivers at the start of last season, leaving the Toronto Marlies without any goalies.  That said, veteran goalies make it through waivers every year, it’s last year that was the outlier.  I think it’s safe to blame my concern on recency bias.

Patrik Nemeth

I honestly don’t know much about Nemeth.  At first glance he seems like a good fit for the Red Wings.  Yzerman specifically mentioned that he could play with either Mike Green or Filip Hronek.  I imagine that whichever of those two doesn’t pair up with Nemeth gets Danny DeKeyser and, while not great by any means, that could be a solid top four.

The problem is the ever-present logjam.  Assuming a third pair of Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson with Madison Bowey as the seventh defenseman, that means there’s no room for Dennis Cholowski or Oliwer Kaski or anyone who might surprise in training camp.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying that it’ll be okay because there will be injuries, which was the case to start the season last year.  In all likelihood, yes, players will get hurt.  If you are counting on that, though, you have to count on someone getting hurt badly enough that they go on injured reserve, otherwise their roster spot isn’t cleared and no one can be called up to fill in.  So to get significant time for anyone outside that top seven, you have to hope for significant time lost due to injury to someone, which doesn’t sit well with me.

By the end of the season things might be different.  Ericsson and Daley and Green could all be gone.  Of course, there’s most of a season to play between now and the trade deadline and the last time the Wings expected to see a veteran defenseman moved in February, he got hurt and ended up signing an extension.

Valtteri Filppula

Oh, here’s the big one.  Yzerman says that Filppula was brought back to give the Red Wings depth at center, allowing them to shift Andreas Athanasiou back to his natural position at wing.

Obviously the organization thinks Athanasiou’s try-out as second-line center to end last season didn’t go well enough.  That’s fine.  I don’t think it was enough time to tell but I’m willing to accept their conclusion.  The issue is that I don’t accept that Valtteri Filppula is a second-line center.

The Wings now have a top line center in Dylan Larkin and bottom-six centers in Filppula, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening, Christoffer Ehn, and Jacob de la RoseDarren Helm can fill in at center and Yzerman mentioned Justin Abdelkader as well, which I think would be awful.  Helm and Abdelkader can be ignored anyway, though, because that’s six centers for three lines, none of which is the second line.

If the choice is between playing Athanasiou out of position and seeing how it goes or playing Filppula up a line, I’d pick Athanasiou.

I have nothing against Filppula as a third line center.  If Yzerman were to find a way to move Nielsen and slot Filppula in there, I’d be all for it.  Especially with Filppula coming in cheaper than Nielsen.  But that’s not the move that’s happening.

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.

Larkin, Nielsen Added to Red Wings Captaincy Rotation

Reporting from the Red Wings’ practice today, Helene St. James of the Free Press notes that the the team will not name a new captain this season, instead adding Dylan Larkin as a third alternate for home games with Frans Nielsen taking that role on the road.

As I noted on Twitter, I expect that Niklas Kronwall will retire this summer and Larkin will take on the C, leaving Abdelkader and Nielsen with the As next season.

Given that the team isn’t even giving lip service to the idea of Henrik Zetterberg still being a part of this team – having given away his dressing room stall and with him doing a ceremonial puck drop at Thursday’s home opener – I would have almost preferred to see the Red Wings just name a new captain now.

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter.  Keep in mind that this is a team that has rolled with fewer than three captains for several games over the past few seasons.  Clearly who actually wears a letter isn’t all that important.

Red Wings Sign Larkin to Five-Year Deal

The Red Wings announced on Friday the signing of restricted free agent forward Dylan Larkin to a five-year deal.

Per idiotic team policy, the financial terms of the contract were not announced, but The Athletic’s Craig Custance almost immediately reported the deal to be worth $6.1 million annually.

Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent when the contract ends.

With the signing, the Red Wings have 22 players on their roster for next season and $82,772,044 against the salary cap, which is set at $79,500,000.  While Johan Franzen going on LTIR will save them almost $4 million, those numbers include only six defensemen on the roster, leaving the Red Wings in a bit of a cap crunch, especially if Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina are expected to compete for roster spots.

Even assuming that Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski are treated as expendable and are replaced on the roster by Rasmussen and Zadina, the Red Wings end up about $44,000 over the cap without resolving their blueline depth issues.

Shifting Witkowski to defense and sending Frk to Grand Rapids could possibly open a spot for either Rasmussen or Zadina but then Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek are shut out of a spot in Detroit.

Bottom line?  If any of “the kids” are going to make the Red Wings’ opening night roster, more moves are coming, with Henrik Zetterberg‘s health likely to play a large part in that.

Red Wings Sign Mantha to Bridge Deal

The Red Wings announced on Wednesday the signing of forward Anthony Mantha to a two-year contract.

As per annoying policy, financial terms were not announced, however MLive’s Ansar Khan immediately reported that it carries a $3.3 million salary cap hit.  From the term and salary, this qualifies as a “bridge deal” under which Mantha will be expected to further prove himself before cashing in on a bigger contract.

With Mantha signed, Dylan Larkin is now the Red Wings’ lone remaining unsigned restricted free agent.

Red Wings Re-Up Athanasiou

The Detroit Red Wings announced a two-year contract extension for restricted free agent forward Andreas Athanasiou on Thursday.

The deal reportedly carries a salary cap hit of $3 million.

I think that cap hit might be a little high but otherwise this is a pretty solid deal.  Term and salary are low enough that, if Athanasiou doesn’t work out, the Wings should be able to deal him away.

With Athanasiou wrapped up, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha are the Red Wings’ only remaining restricted free agents.

Thoughts on Day One of Free Agency: 2018 Edition

I actually said most of what I wanted to say about the Red Wings’ efforts on the first day of the 2018 free agency period earlier in the day, but I want to highlight a bit of an unintentional rant on Twitter.

I feel like that rant could have come from any offseason since about 2013.

Every spring when the Wings go their separate ways, we hear from Ken Holland about how they’re going to give “the kids” a shot in the fall.  Every summer the team goes out and fills their open roster spots with veterans.  Then we hear that all the kids have to do is beat out the veterans.

Michael Rasmussen was the Wings’ best player in the preseason last year and didn’t even get his nine-game look during the regular season.  He was sent straight back to juniors.  I’m not saying he was definitely ready for the NHL, I’m just saying he earned a look that he didn’t get because there wasn’t a spot for him.

So lets look at the Wings’ roster.  These were their lines heading into the final game of last season, per Winging it in Motown:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
David Booth – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke WitkowskiAndreas AthanasiouMartin Frk

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Xavier Ouellet
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
Jared Coreau

Okay, now lets look at it with the players who have departed the Wings removed:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
<open> – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke Witkowski – Andreas Athanasiou – Martin Frk

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – <open>
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
<open>

So that’s one open spot up front, one on the blueline, and the backup goalie job.  And who did the Red Wings sign (or re-sign) today?  A forward, a defenseman, and a goalie.

That leaves the lines looking like this:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik Zetterberg – Gustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke Witkowski – Andreas Athanasiou – Martin Frk

Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Mike Green
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

That’s a full lineup.  I don’t think it’s their best possible lineup, though.  Let’s assume that Frk and Jensen are either gone or in the press box.  We’ll do the same for Witkowski, even though I highly doubt he’s going anywhere.

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik Zetterberg – Gustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Filip Zadina
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Michael Rasmussen
Darren Helm – Andreas Athanasiou – Justin Abdelkader

Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Mike Green
Niklas Kronwall – Filip Hronek

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

That’s getting a little better.  But where is Joe HickettsDennis CholowskiEvgeny Svechnikov?

Also, that only removes the players who I deemed most expendable from the Wings’ roster.  What if Svechnikov outplays Nyquist or Vanek this fall?  What if Cholowski is better than Ericsson or DeKeyser?  Do we really see any of those vets sitting in favor of the kids?  Of course not.

So Detroit’s lineup is relatively set.  At best, one of the kids is going to make the Wings’ blueline, because it makes no sense for them to be up as the seventh defenseman.  I’ll say it’s Hronek.  What does that mean for the Griffins?

Here are the defensemen who were dressed for the Griffins’ season-ending loss to the Manitoba Moose in Game Five of their first-round series:

Joe Hicketts
Robbie Russo
Filip Hronek
Brian Lashoff
Dan Renouf
Dylan McIlrath

Since then, the Wings have sent Russo to the Arizona Coyotes and let Renouf walk.  We’re also assuming Hronek makes the Detroit lineup, so that’s three open spots.

Well, it was three open spots.  Detroit signed Jake Chelios, today, so we’re back down to two spots for Vili Saarijarvi, Libor Sulak, and Dennis Cholowski.  Or the Griffins could just roll seven defensemen, as they reluctantly did for part of last season, all the while admitting it was less than ideal.

The bottom line is if the Red Wings actually want to have spots available for Svechnikov or David Pope or Dominic Turgeon or Saarijarvi or Cholowski, they’re going to have to move players out of the way.

Ken Holland has never proven able or willing to do this.  He’s proven content to wait for injuries, which haven’t always happened.  He wouldn’t have to hope for that without some of today’s signings.

Petrella’s Pre-Lottery Look at the Red Wings’ Options

Editor’s Note: Formerly of The Production Line, Michael Petrella is known for his NHL Entry Draft previews, having provided his thoughts on previous drafts here.  Now he takes a look at options and issues the Red Wings might have with their first-round pick as we wait for the Draft Lottery to find exactly where that pick will land.

My favorite thing to do leading up to the NHL Draft is to try and build a consensus. I’ll find as many reputable lists as I can, see how they line up with one another, and try to order the players in such a way that – usually – plays out fairly predictably on Draft Day.

This year, outside of #1, there’s very little consensus. That would be exciting any other year – but as a Red Wings fan with a vested interest in the Draft Lottery, it is absolutely terrifying. By the end, I’ll hope to make a convincing argument that “winning” the second or third pick might actually be a little bit of a disaster for the Red Wings – not because they won’t get a great player, but because they’ll get a great player that, perhaps, they don’t need as badly as others.

THE PLAYERS

The one spot where there’s a consensus is at the top. Aside from a list or two trying their best to build some suspense, the prize of this year’s Draft is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Whichever team wins the lottery will be selecting Dahlin, regardless of organizational need. Period, full stop.

Things start to get murky (though not as murky as they’re about to) at 2. A pair of wingers have emerged as the next tier of players available for this Draft. One of them – Evgeny’s little brother Andrei Svechnikov – seems to be gaining an edge, but no one would call you an idiot if you preferred Czech LW Filip Zadina. For what it’s worth, the Wings seem to be leaning Zadina, who The Athletic named as the one guy they’d go off-script to grab, if given the chance. More on that later.

After the top three, things go off the rails. A more-or-less consensus Top 10 does seem to be coming into focus, but the rankings therein vary wildly. Let’s look at a few examples.

Brady Tkachuk, son of Keith and brother of Calgary Flame Matthew, is another winger who plays with an edge (like the rest of his family) but seems to possess a better nose for the net. He’s ranked 4th in a bunch of places, in the 5-6 range in a bunch of others, somewhere around 9 in a few, and even – in one place – outside of the top ten.

There’s a trio of defenseman who find themselves in this tier, as well. Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist, U of M blueliner Quinn Hughes, and London Knights captain Evan Bouchard are all reasonable selections in the top five. Boqvist is usually the one listed highest (in other words, the second best defenseman in the Draft), but no one should be shocked if all three are taken in the top six selections. Hughes is listed 3 or 4 a few times, but 5-7 a few more times. Bouchard, the year’s more impressive Draft riser, may be taken before Hughes – with size as a primary reason why (Bouchard is 6-2, 192 compared to Hughes’ 5-10, 174), as is the great attribute of being a “one-man breakout.”

Dahlin is all alone in Tier I. Zadina and Svechnikov headline Tier II, which likely includes the rest of the guys mentioned so far. A third tier is headlined by the next three.

A fifth defenseman who will likely go in the top ten is Noah Dobson, a 6-3 player from the QMJHL. He sometimes hops one of the above listed guys, but he’s more often found in the 6-9 range.

A pair of centers round out what’s shaping up to be top ten-ish picks. They are USNTDP player Oliver Wahlstrom and the first player to gain Exceptional Status from the Q, Joe Veleno. Neither seem like they’re in play in the top five, but you never know how things shake out on Draft Day. After the top ten, things go even further off the rails, but since the lowest the Wings can pick is 8th (until the Vegas pick), that’s where we’ll stop exploring for the time being.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The Red Wings can select 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th, pending the results of the Draft Lottery. The top three selections are made via lottery, and Detroit has a fairly equal chance at any of those picks (8.5% for first, 8.7% for second, and 8.9% for third). They have an 8.4% chance at remaining at fifth, a 34.5% chance at sliding down to sixth, a 26.7% chance at sliding to seventh, and a 4.3% of ending up at eighth.

One of the following statements will be painfully obvious, and the other will seem like absolutely nonsense, but bear with me.

Winning the Draft Lottery would be the best possible scenario (duh).

Winning one of the other two spots – 2nd or 3rd – would be a minor disaster (allow me to explain).

If they get the first pick, we’ve already established it’s a no-brainer. Dahlin is the pick, and they get the best defensive prospect to come through the Draft in literal decades. He’s the best player by a mile, and he fills a glaring need for Detroit, who hasn’t had a bluechip prospect on the back end in some time (also literal decades).

Things start to get weird if they’re picking 2nd or 3rd. It’s no secret that they’re desperate to pick a defenseman, and have no real organizational need for another winger. Aside from Dylan Larkin, most of their young players and prospects are on the flanks: Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Givani Smith, and Michael Rasmussen are all being used (or will be used) as wingers at the NHL level. So, if defenseman is the priority for their first round pick, a center (which you can never have enough of) is a secondary priority.

Picking 2nd or 3rd, and taking any of the non-Dahlin defensemen or centers might be a bit of a stretch. So the Wings are left with a few options: do they take the best player, even if it doesn’t help fill their glaring needs? Do they select a player they really like, regardless of Draft position, possibly reaching to get a guy outside of his pedigree? Do you fantasize about trading down before realizing this is Ken Holland we’re talking about, and moving from 2nd to 5th doesn’t really benefit the also-bad team that is selecting 5th in this scenario?

Craig Custance had a really great article on The Athletic a few weeks ago. In it, he identified a pool of eight players that, even in the worst-case scenario where the Wings move down to 8th, one or more will be available for selection. They are the same eight players listed above (before discussing Wahlstrom and Veleno).

Custance also mentions that Svechnikov and Tkachuk don’t fit any organizational need. And then there’s this tidbit: “The Red Wings like both players but the crucial need is on defense and it would be hard to pass on a potential top pair defenseman for another winger in the system. The one exception would be Filip Zadina. The organization is well aware they need a game-breaker to compete with the best teams in what’s becoming a one-goal league. Zadina is that guy.”

Considering how important this Draft is for the Red Wings, taking a guy that doesn’t necessarily fit an organizational need would be really disappointing, despite Zadina (or Svechnikov for that matter) being an excellent player. Perhaps “DISASTER” is over-selling it a touch, but it’s not ideal for the team to take someone they don’t NEED when they’re picking as high as they have in 28 years. A similar situation arises if they’re picking 6th or lower, which we’ll explore in a moment.

SO WHO’S THE PICK

I ran Tankathon’s Draft Lottery Simulator a bunch of times. The Wings won the Lottery a little less than 10% of the time, as the numbers above suggest would be the case. They picked in the top three about 20%, again in line with the numbers. They picked 6th or 7th more than 50% of the time, so it’s difficult to gauge who their selection could be until the Lottery is complete. But, we can mock out who it might be at any of those potential spots.

If they win the Lottery, and select first overall, they will add D Rasmus Dahlin to the team.

If they select second overall, Custance’s article seems to point to their preference for LW Filip Zadina. Though a defenseman is of the utmost importance, the gap between Zadina and Boqvist, et al, might be too wide to pass on the Czech winger. They’re in the same tier, yes, but that tier is leaning a little top-heavy to the wingers.

If they select third overall, there’s a decent chance that whoever selected above them took Andrei Svechnikov, so they may still get Zadina here. If Zadina is picked second, I don’t have a clue what they’ll do. A fair bet would be D Adam Boqvist, or whoever they have as the second-ranked defenseman, drafting him a slot or two above where they could probably get him otherwise.

They cannot select fourth overall. Better hope Svechnikov, Zadina, and Tkachuk go in order!

If they select fifth overall, and the three wingers are taken, they have their pick of the remaining defensemen, with Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, or Quinn Hughes all available – and they get to select the one that fits their needs the most. If, however, it goes Dahlin-Svechnikov-Zadina-Boqvist (for example), they’re left with two of those three. Still an okay position to be in.

If they select sixth overall, there will either be two of those three defensemen on the board… or one of those three and Tkachuk, which means their pick will likely be made for them, letting Tkachuk slide to 7, and taking whichever D is still unselected. The pressure to make the “right” choice would come off, which might be a good thing, but if they have their lists ranked differently than this one, perhaps all of their guys are gone.

If they select seventh overall, they’re in trouble. It’s possible that all four of those defensemen are gone, as are the top two wingers, leaving them Brady Tkachuk, who we’ve already established they don’t really need, one of the centers that are probably being selected a little bit too high, or Noah Dobson, a defenseman who, again, is very good but seems to be ranked a touch lower than the others. If someone above them loves Tkachuk, great – there’s one of Boqvist/Hughes/Bouchard left, and he’s your choice.

If they select eighth overall, things are rough. It’s possible that Tkachuk is there, who at this point you almost have to take… or they take one of the “third tier” players in Dobson, Veleno, or Wahlstrom – all wonderful hockey players, but two tiers below where you want your highest pick in generations to come from. The best case scenario for the 8th pick is someone above them really needing a center and taking one of them, or someone really loving Tkachuk (neither of which is that difficult to believe, really), and there’s still a Tier II defenseman on the board, and he falls into Detroit’s lap.

TL;DR

1st overall (8.4%) – Rasmus Dahlin. This would be a franchise-altering pick.

2nd overall (8.7%) – Filip Zadina. Purest goal-scorer in the organization, will have to find D elsewhere.

3rd overall (8.9%) –Zadina OR Adam Boqvist. Boqvist is a hell of a “consolation” prize.

5th overall (8.4%) – Evan Bouchard OR Quinn Hughes. Either would immediately be the team’s top prospect, and either would invigorate a less-than-exciting D corps, which has plenty of second pair-type guys, and no first pair-type guys.

6th overall (34.5%) – Hughes OR Bouchard. Less decision-making on their part, but still get a great player.

7th overall (26.7%) – Hughes OR Noah Dobson OR Brady Tkachuk OR Oliver Wahsltrom OR Joe Veleno. Hughes may still be around, but if he’s not, they’ve got the entire next tier of players to choose from and Tier II leftover Tkachuk.

8th overall (4.3%) – Dobson OR Tkachuk OR Wahlstrom OR Veleno. Maybe they get lucky and someone above them loves one or more of these guys, and a Tier II defenseman falls into their lap.