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.

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.

Wings Add Defenseman Witkowski

The Red Wings signed defenseman Luke Witkowski from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at the opening of NHL free agency.

The move comes paired with the signing of veteran defenseman Trevor Daley from the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Assuming Witkowski isn’t bound for the Grand Rapids Griffins, it gives the Red Wings nine defensemen on their roster.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports that the team may shift Witkowski to forward.

Witkowski, a native of Holland, Michigan, captained the Syracuse Crunch team that the Griffins defeated in the Calder Cup Finals for the first half of the season.  After being called up to the Tampa Bay Lighting, he could not be returned to the team for the playoffs.

I don’t like this move.

As a defenseman, Witkowski doesn’t seem to provide anything that the recently re-signed Dylan McIlrath can’t.  If he makes the Wings’ roster, it’s at the expense of Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul.  If he’s in Grand Rapids, he’s taking a roster spot from Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Robbie Russo or Dan Renouf, or forcing Vili Saarijarvi back to juniors.

As a forward…  Why not just sign a forward?  Why not give Tyler Bertuzzi a shot?

Update, 5:25 PM:  I completely missed this earlier but the Red Wings announced this as a two-year deal.

The official press release did not include term and seemingly all other outlets continue to report it as a one-year deal but it’s probably safe to trust the official Twitter account.

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.

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.

Red Wings Send Vanek to Panthers

The Detroit Red Wings made their big move of the NHL tradeline, moving forward Thomas Vanek to the Florida Panthers for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a third-round pick.

Vanek’s trade was entirely expect as part of the Red Wings’ sell-off.  With the team near the bottom of the league’s standings, general manager Ken Holland has been trying to get whatever assets he can in return for players who are expected to become free agents this summer.  Tomas Jurco was sent to the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday while Brendan Smith went to the New York Rangers on Tuesday afternoon and Steve Ott was dealt to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

 

That said, Vanek was supposed to be the biggest piece of the Wings sale.  Instead, he was traded for a third-round pick (the same round pick that Tomas Jurco brought) and a player who has been on waivers this season, while the Wings retained salary (not that salary means much at this point).  This is a very bad look for Ken Holland after pulling off a trio of solid deals.

McIlrath is a former first-round pick of the New York Rangers, who was traded by New York to Florida earlier this season.  After five games there, he was waived and sent to AHL Springfield.  In 43 career games he has five points.

The third-round pick is conditional.  If the Panthers make the playoffs, it will be Arizona’s pick.  If not, it will be Florida’s.