Thoughts on Game One

I spent most of the Red Wings’ 2018-19 season opener watching how the five players making their debuts looked.  Mostly eye-test stuff, this is not a detailed breakdown, but here are my thoughts nonetheless.

Christoffer Ehn
There was a stretch in the third period where I was pleasantly surprised to see Ehn on the ice for two consecutive scheduled shifts.  That’s how little ice time he got (8:09, by far the fewest minutes of any Red Wing and only beating out Sonny Milano‘s 7:30).  That’s largely driven by the fact that his linemates were getting time on special teams, so it’s not his fault, but it still makes it hard to get much of a read on him.

Michael Rasmussen
I felt like I was looking for him and not finding him.  Is that because he was invisible or because he only got 12:06 of ice time?  Probably a combination of the two.

I will say that the look that I got from staff at the LCA Team Store when I asked if they had any Rasmussen jerseys was slightly hilarious.  It’s rare to come across someone else with my last name, I’m going to have fun with it.

Filip Hronek
Hronek had at least three giveaways that weren’t recorded as such and on one of those I was certain it was going to turn into a goal against.  He also wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck, even if those shots didn’t always end up on net.  Jeff Blashill said during the preseason that Hronek needs to consistently have more positives than negatives and I don’t think he did last night.

Libor Sulak
There were a could times Sulak surprised me when he was carrying the puck on a rush and just held onto it himself, ending up in an offensive-zone corner.  On one hand, these plays didn’t turn into anything so they probably weren’t the right call.  On the other hand, with how predictable the Red Wings’ zone entries have been over he last several years, with over-reliance on getting too cute with the puck, it was kind of nice to see someone willing to go all Thanos on it – “Fine… I’ll do it myself.”

Dennis Cholowski
The goal-scorer of the bunch, Cholowski looked solid.  He showed great timing on that goal, stepping up exactly when he should.  But I don’t think we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in that, because I really don’t remember a lot of positives for him other than that.  Kind of the inverse of Hronek, where he didn’t make many mistakes or do a whole lot, other than that goal.

That said, one thing I noticed is that, when I was shooting photos during the game, I kept coming back to him.  Someone my eye was just drawn to.  Not sure if that means anything.


Joe Hicketts
Hicketts wasn’t one of the five players making his debut but as part of the kid contingent, I figured he deserved some thoughts.  Once or twice there was a group of bodies around the Detroit net and Hicketts came screaming in to clear things out.  It was this combination of awesome and hilarious to see, at his height.


Henrik Zetterberg
It was time.  Zetterberg has been playing on a bad back forever and with what it took for him to play last year, him calling it a career before the start of training camp made sense.  I’ve been ready for the team to move on, to name a new captain, all of that.

But…  Man…  Watching him come out for the ceremonial puck drop?  That was hard.  I’m ready for this team to rebuild.  Zetterberg’s absence opens up a roster spot for that.  It comes at the cost of an icon, though.

2018 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings released their 2018 training camp rosters today and with that any changed jersey numbers for players in the organization.

Unsurprisingly, July 1st free agent signees Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier will wear their usual #26 and #45, with Vanek opting not to go back to the #62 he wore in his first stint with Detroit (as #26 then belonged to Tomas Jurco).

Evgeny Svechnikov appears to have switched for the second year in a row, going from the #77 he wears in Grand Rapids to the #37 he wore for his first year in Detroit.

With Svechnikov back in #37, Griffins captain Matt Ford will wear #77 in camp rather than the #79 he had last year.

Chris Terry keeps the #15 he was assigned for the prospects tournament while Colin Campbell, having lost his previous #45 to Bernier, takes the #17 vacated by the departure of David Booth.

I’d expected Tyler Bertuzzi to switch to #17 but he keeps his #59.  Maybe next year.

Pro tryout Jussi Jokinen will wear the #20 previously held by Dan Renouf while Griffins-bound forward Wade Megan has been assigned the #22 of Matt Lorito, who moved on to the Islanders organization.

Tryout Bryan Moore takes the #61 previously worn by Xavier Ouellet, who was bought out and signed with Montreal this summer.

Jake Chelios, son of Chris Chelios and signed for the Griffins, has been assigned #84.  Griffins-bound goalie Harri Sateri, who usually wears the #29 of defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, has the former #31 of Jared Coreau.

The full training camp roster is below:

Forwards

Num. Name
8 Justin Abdelkader
11 Filip Zadina
14 Gustav Nyquist
15 Chris Terry
17 Colin Campbell
20 Jussi Jokinen
22 Wade Megan
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Thomas Vanek
27 Michael Rasmussen
28 Luke Witkowski
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
40 Henrik Zetterberg
41 Luke Glendening
42 Martin Frk
43 Darren Helm
44 Dylan Sadowy
46 Lane Zablocki
48 Givani Smith
49 Axel Holmstrom
51 Frans Nielsen
53 Jordan Topping
54 Matt Puempel
56 Dominik Shine
57 Turner Elson
58 David Pope
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 Bryan Moore
64 Zach Gallant
67 Brady Gilmour
70 Christoffer Ehn
71 Dylan Larkin
72 Andreas Athanasiou
76 Nicolas Guay
77 Matthew Ford
81 Trevor Yates
85 Luke Kirwan
88 Carter Camper
89 Pavel Gogolev
90 Joe Veleno
92 Maxim Golod

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Nick Jensen
4 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
24 Filip Hronek
25 Mike Green
29 Vili Saarijarvi
32 Brian Lashoff
47 Libor Sulak
50 Reilly Webb
52 Jonathan Ericsson
55 Niklas Kronwall
62 Trevor Hamilton
63 Jared McIsaac
65 Danny DeKeyser
73 Marcus Crawford
74 Cole Fraser
79 Brenden Kotyk
83 Trevor Daley
84 Jake Chelios
86 Mackenze Stewart
87 Matt Register
94 Alec Regula

Goalies

Num. Name
31 Harri Sateri
34 Patrik Rybar
35 Jimmy Howard
36 Kaden Fulcher
38 Pat Nagle
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Justin Fazio

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.

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.

Wings Continue Depth Signings as Free Agency Opens

After announcing the signings of backup goalie Jonathan Bernier and forward Thomas Vanek as soon as free agency opened on Sunday and confirming a one year deal with third-string goalie Harri Sateri shortly after, the Red Wings announced a slate of deals aimed at providing further depth to the franchise.

A little reaction from Tony Androckitis of Inside AHL Hockey

Undoubtedly they’re good moves for the Griffins.  Terry and Megan make up for the likely departures of two of Matt Lorito, Ben Street, and Eric Tangradi.  Chelios is an upgrade over the departing Dan Renouf, who wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Red Wings.

That said, I praised letting Renouf go because it helped clear out the organization’s logjam on the blue line.  Unless Chelios is bound for Toledo, his signing seems like a bad sign for Vili Saarijarvi and Dennis Cholowski and Libor Sulak, all of whom would be battling for playing time with the Griffins (unless Cholowski manages to leapfrog Filip Hronek and go straight to Detroit, but that still doesn’t open up a roster spot anywhere).

So, yeah, these might be good deals for the Griffins, but they feel like bad ones for the Red Wings.

Red Wings Agree to Terms with Green

I’m going to agree with George Malik here and just call Mike Green’s new contract official.

Bob McKenzie had previously nailed down the financials of a then-unconfirmed deal.

The move was long-rumored but I can’t say I’m thrilled with it.

With Xavier Ouellet having been bought out and Green brought back, the Red Wings have six defensemen on their roster for next season.  Seven if you count Luke Witkowski.

Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek, and Joe Hicketts have all been discussed as possibly ready to jump to the NHL.  The Red Wings have said that they want to get their youth more ice time.  How are they going to do that with six guys already on the roster?

Yes, they could move Nick Jensen.  That’s a possibility that’s been rumored for most of the summer.  If they do, it opens up one spot for three players.

It could have been two spots for three players.

It’s just not necessary and it’s frustrating to see the Wings organization once again talking about playing the kids but not leaving open roster spots available to them.

2018 Development Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings released the rosters for their annual development camp today and, as per usual, there are some interesting jersey numbers in the set.

This is where I have to note that summer jersey numbers (specifically development camp and the prospects tournament) don’t usually mean much, but sometimes they’re a sign of number changes or

Of this year’s draft picks, Filip Zadina gets #11 and Joe Veleno gets #90, their usual numbers.  Ben Street had been assigned #11 last season but never wore it and David Pope had worn it in development camp but is now assigned #45.  Veleno’s #90 was worn in development camp last season by Keith Petruzelli, who is now assigned #80.

Jonatan Berggren has been assigned the #15 that used to belong to Riley Sheahan.  Speaking of players traded away last season, Dennis Cholowski will be wearing the #21 of Tomas Tatar after having previously worn #95, #2, and #53.  Meanwhile, free agent signee Patrik Rybar will wear the #34 formerly worn by Petr Mrazek.

Ryan O’Reilly is the only remaining 2018 draftee to be assigned a “normal” jersey number, with his usual #71 flipped to the #17 of David Booth.  I still expect Tyler Bertuzzi to take that number once the main camp rolls around.

Jared McIsaac, Alec Regula, and Seth Barton – Detroit’s trio of blueline draftees from last weekend – have been assigned #63, #94, and #95, respectively.  Jordan Sambrook wore both #63 and #95 last summer but will not be at this camp while Kaspar Kotkansalo had worn #94.  Kotkansalo will wear the #53 vacated by Cholowski.

The two goalies the Red Wings picked on Saturday – Jesper Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom – will wear #31 and #68, respectively.  The Wings regularly switch their prospect goalie jersey numbers up, as seen by now-departed Matej Machovsky wearing both of those numbers at different points last summer.

Wrapping recent draft picks up, Otto Kivenmaki has been assigned #84, the number Reilly Webb wore at development camp last year before switching to his current #50.

Mattias Elfstrom, a 2016 draft pick, switches from #56 to #37.  Jack Adams switches from #74 to #70, with Cole Fraser taking #74 after previously wearing the #85 now assigned to free agent tryout Luke Morgan.

With Eric Tangradi having claimed #26 during the Wings’ main camp last fall, Chase Pearson switches to #76.  Similarly, having lost his #48 to Givani Smith, Gustav Lindstrom switches to #54.

Defenseman Malte Setkov goes from #86 to #79, with Alfons Malmstrom taking the #86, having lost his #4 to Dylan McIlrath.  Meanwhile Patrick Holway completes a swap with Filip Hronek – Hronek took Holway’s #24 last summer with Holway taking the #87 Hronek switched from this summer.

Rounding things out are the goalies, which (as I mentioned) are always somewhat chaotic.  After wearing #36 in development camp last summer and #68 in main camp, Kaden Fulcher will wear #60 this time around, with Filip Larsson (who’d previously worn #68) taking #36.  Joren van Pottelberg is the only goalie keeping his previous number, as he wore Tom McCollum‘s #38 in development camp last year.

The full roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
70 Jack Adams
15 Jonatan Berggren
82 Colt Conrad
37 Mattias Elfstrom
64 Zach Gallant
67 Brady Gilmour
89 Pavel Gogolev
92 Maxim Golod
20 Nicolas Guay
78 Taro Hirose
84 Otto Kivenmaki
85 Luke Morgan
17 Ryan O’Reilly
76 Chase Pearson
45 David Pope
27 Michael Rasmussen
88 Ryan Savage
48 Givani Smith
90 Joe Veleno
75 Sebastian Vidmar
81 Trevor Yates
46 Lane Zablocki
11 Filip Zadina

Defensemen

Num. Name
95 Seth Barton
21 Dennis Cholowski
73 Marcus Crawford
74 Cole Fraser
62 Trevor Hamilton
87 Patrick Holway
53 Kasper Kotkansalo
54 Gustav Lindstrom
86 Alfons Malmstrom
63 Jared McIsaac
94 Alec Regula
79 Malte Setkov
50 Reilly Webb

Goalies

Num. Name
68 Victor Brattstrom
31 Jesper Eliasson
60 Kaden Fulcher
36 Filip Larsson
80 Keith Petruzzelli
34 Patrik Rybar
38 Joren van Pottelberghe

Belated Draft Weekend Thoughts

I was in and out of cell service while camping in Manistee for draft weekend, which means I didn’t really get a chance to put down my thoughts on the Red Wings’ selections as they happened, so I’m going to run through some of that now.

After weeks of debating Quinn Hughes over Evan Bouchard over Adam Boqvist, is it weird that not getting any of them feels a little like a letdown, even if the reason the Wings “missed out” is because Filip Zadina fell to them?

Even with the Wings’ defensive needs, Zadina was absolutely the right pick at #6.  Or #5.  Or probably #4.  The Wings got the best player available, someone who could step into the lineup right now and contribute.

And at #30, they got another forward who fell to them in Joe Veleno, someone projected to go ten or more picks higher.  At #33 Jonatan Berggren, a projected first-rounder,  was still on the boardand the Wings were able to snap him up.  A trio of solid steals in their first three picks set the tone for a very good draft.

Jared McIsaac and Alec Regula and Seth Barton are all solid picks in the second and third rounds and hopefully one of them can give Detroit some defensive help relatively soon, but they’re not the big names we spent so long looking at.  I would have preferred Bode Wilde over McIsaac at #36 but I can’t argue with the pick.  I might have just gotten overhyped about Wilde.

From there on out we have two goalies in Jesper Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom as the Red Wings desperately search for Jimmy Howard‘s heir.  Detroit has gone from drafting a goalie every other year to drafting two in a single season and it’s a really weird look, to me.

Forwards Ryan O’Reilly (not that one) and Otto Kivenmaki wrap things up and I can’t help but keep coming back to the defensemen.

We keep being told you can’t get quality defensemen on the market, you have to draft and develop them yourself.  The Wings desperately need help on defense.  Yet only a third of their picks were defensemen and none of them were top names.

But at the same time, I can’t fault any of their picks, really.  Would I sacrifice Berggren to give them the option to get both McIsaac and Wilde?  I’m not sure I can sell myself on that.

Really, after getting Zadina, they could have drafted me and I’d still call this a solid draft.  There’s a difference between worrying about defense and complaining about who they did pick.


Speaking of defense, Sunday night the Wings made an effort to clear some of their blueline logjam.

I think this is a sign of how the Griffins will look next year more than anything.  The Wings have kept players around to help prop up the Grand Rapids roster for several years now and this summer they’re cutting them loose.

Russo has been dealt.  Dan Renouf wasn’t given a qualifying offer.  Add in buyout candidate Xavier Ouellet and it’s clear the Wings are trying to give room for guys like Joe Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski, and Filip Hronek.  And Vili Saarijarvi, who suddenly moves from Grand Rapids’ seventh defenseman to their second pair.

Like in Detroit, next season in Grand Rapids will probably be a bit difficult.  But it’ll be good for the rebuild.

Random Season-Ending Thoughts

I’ve been holding off on writing an end-of-season post because something felt off about the end of the Red Wings’ season and I think I’ve figured it out.

This doesn’t feel like the end of the season.  Not because the Red Wings aren’t advancing to the playoffs, but because the 2017-18 campaign didn’t feel like a season to me at all.

I had no expectations last fall.  I knew that this was going to be another lost year.  While it was good to get to open Little Caesars Arena and there were some important milestones and some young players took big steps forward, there wasn’t a single game this season that really mattered.  It was essentially a six-month slate of exhibitions.

I’m okay with that.  Another year has been burned off of the contracts of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm and Luke GlendeningNiklas KronwallDanny DeKeyserJonathan Ericsson.

But where the Wings stand today is almost exactly where they were at this time last year.

There’s room for change at forward.  David Booth is likely done.  Evgeny Svechnikov is likely up for the season next year.  Michael Rasmussen will get a chance to make the team.  Andreas Athanasiou could be gone but would likely bring a roster player back in return so that doesn’t open up a spot for anyone.

If you assume that restricted free agents Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Martin Frk all return, that’s eleven forwards under contract for next year.  Athanasiou would make it twelve.  Svechnikov is thirteen.  Rasmussen is fourteen.

On the blueline it’s worse.  Mike Green is the only pending free agent defenseman on the team and there has already been talk about bringing him back.  That would give the Wings seven defensemen, though one has to think they’ll find a way to move spare part Xavier Ouellet.  Where’s the roster spot for Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi?

In goal, Jimmy Howard is the man.  They’ll need to find a backup with Petr Mrazek gone and Jared Coreau seemingly out as well, but aside from no longer paying $9 million for their goaltending tandem, that doesn’t impact space for kids to come up.

So in April 2018 we’re in the same spot we were in April 2017, and probably in a spot similar to where we’ll be in April 2019.

Until some of these dead weight contracts are up, all of these games are an extended preseason.


Ken Holland said something that really annoyed me during the Red Wings’ locker room cleanout, speaking about the infeasibility of icing a roster of “20 kids” – which absolutely no one has suggested.

Holland’s strawman arguments and false equivalencies annoy the hell out of me.  It comes across as condescending and insulting.

Another of his favorites is that it takes ten years to do a full rebuild, which the organization refuses to do.  But I want to take a look at that one.

The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the 2013 season.  They then went on a short run that pushed the eventual champions to overtime of Game Seven in the second round.  The playoff run makes the season seem better than it was but, given that this was an improvement over their first-round loss to the Nashville Predators the previous season, I’m willing to call 2013 a success.

In 2014, Detroit backed into the playoffs with a point earned in a shootout loss in the antepenultimate game of the season, then got bounced by the Boston Bruins in five games.

It was a similar story in 2015, making the postseason on the strength of an overtime loss in Montreal with two games remaining, then getting bounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

In 2016 the Wings were only in the playoffs because, after Detroit dropped a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in the last game of the season, the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins to push the Bruins behind the Red Wings.  It was another short postseason and another elimination by the Lightning.

So we’ll call 2013 acceptable but I’m not willing to say the same for anything since.  Yes, they made the playoffs.  I’m not saying it’s Cup-or-nothing.  I’m just not willing to settle for backing into the postseason and then doing nothing once you’re there.

That means we’re five years in to the downturn.  Next year will be six.  I could very easily see it taking a few more years to get back on the upswing.  All the sudden we’re looking at the ten year rebuild that Holland refused to do.

On Draft Pick Quantity vs. Quality

After trading Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said something that triggered a gut reaction of concern in me.  I honestly don’t know if there are numbers to back up my worry, so I’m going to walk through it a bit.

“What’s driving me is I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup. We’re competitive, but we’re not quite where we need to be in order to be where we want to be. I have to acquire draft picks and we need to hit on those draft picks.

“The more draft picks I can acquire, or young players through trades, is a better chance we’re going to wake up three or four or five years from now, or two years from now, and start to see young players coming on to the team and have an impact.”

That’s from the Detroit News but Winging it in Motown highlighted it this morning.  It also comes coupled with rumblings that the Red Wings may accept two second round picks for Mike Green rather than a first-rounder.

It’s well-known that the Red Wings haven’t had many high draft picks in the last several decades.  Trying to find a team that has consistently picked near the Wings in the draft even just going back to the big lockout in 2005 is impossible.  They’re in a relatively unique situation that has – to a large extent – led to their current downswing, as they haven’t been able to restock their talent pool with top prospects.

Knowing that – yet hearing Holland declare than the answer is to acquire more second, third, and fourth round draft picks – is triggering my spidey sense, so to speak.  If the team’s downfall is because they never pick at the top, how is the path to a rebuild through the second and third and fourth rounds?

Let me take a second to acknowledge that defining picks by round is somewhat lazy.  The 32nd overall pick and the 62nd overall pick this summer will both be second-rounders but they’re not really comparable.  As such, while I’m attempting to apply some logic to this, it’s entirely unscientific.

With that in mind, I’ve been looking back at Detroit’s recent drafts, trying to determine just how good the organization is at making use of picks outside of the first round.  I went back to the 2005 draft as the salary cap era is really when the Wings were no longer able to replenish their roster via free agency.

Detroit has had 95 draft picks in that time.  Thus far, 33 of them have played at least one NHL game.  Yes, that measure means there’s built-in bias against recent drafts, as those players haven’t had the chance to make their debuts.

Eliminate the first-rounders, since we’re talking about what the Wings can do if they don’t acquire extra picks in the opening round, and we’re down to 26 players.  We might as well drop the sixth- and seventh-rounders, too, since no one has claimed you rebuild with those.  That’s another four gone, so we’re at 22.

Of those, only 14 are still in the NHL, though that leaves out Dominic Turgeon, who got a call-up earlier this year and is now back with the Griffins, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it 15.

That means since 2005, the Red Wings have drafted 15 players who “made it” (by a generous definition of the term) in the NHL in the second through fifth rounds.  That list is as follows:

If you’re looking at a rebuild, are those the players you’re looking for?

The Red Wings’ draft record in the rounds where they’re targeting picks seems to show that they won’t be able to do what they’re trying to do.

Obviously not every draft is equal and, as I already mentioned, not every pick in the same round of the same draft is equal.  If the Wings grabbed another Tatar and Nyquist in the second round this summer – combined with a good pick in the first round – it’d be a successful draft.  But if adding all of these picks results in more Xavier Ouellets and Ryan Sprouls, it’ll just be a waste.

Frankly, I’d be a lot more comfortable if the asking price for Mike Green went back to being a first-rounder.


Update, 12:15 PM: Via Twitter, @RedWingRubbish pointed out that @ChartingHockey has statistically determined that, outside of the top 24 picks, quantity does indeed beat quality.

This made me take a second look at the first-rounders I dropped from my original list.

Player Year Overall
Jakub Kindl 2005 19
Dylan Larkin 2014 15
Anthony Mantha 2013 20
Tom McCollum 2008 30
Riley Sheahan 2010 21
Brendan Smith 2007 27
Evgeny Svechnikov 2015 19

If you should be able to reasonably expect a “hit” in the top-24, the Red Wings are still doing something wrong.

Kindl made it into 353 games but never really panned out.  Larkin and Mantha are the players the Red Wings are building around right now.  McCollum is a bust.  Sheahan seems to have maxed out as a third-line center.  Smith – somewhat like Kindl – has washed out of the NHL.  Svechnikov is still a question mark.

Seven first-round picks – five in the top 24 overall – and only two players that can reliably play in the top half of the lineup.  Will Svechnikov or Michael Rasmussen or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi join that list?  Perhaps.  So for the sake of discussion I’ll switch to the 2005 – 2014 date range.

That gives the Red Wings six first-round picks, four in the top 24, with a 50% “hit” rate.

Who are their hits through the other rounds?  Tatar.  Nyquist.  I think it’s safe to include Athanasiou.  Mrazek, too, despite his epic slump.

There are plenty of other useful players, guys like Abdelkader and Helm.  A team needs those guys.  But you can’t make a team of them, you need high-end talent to lead them.

Over a decade, the Red Wings managed to draft one starting goalie (assuming Mrazek has shaken that slump), no top-three defensemen, and five top-six forwards.  It’s worse if you don’t include Mrazek or Athanasiou.

So maybe it’s not about the Wings needing to get more first-round picks.  Maybe it’s that – contrary to the myth – the Red Wings just don’t draft very well.

I don’t want to dig in to compare them to other teams.  As I said originally, it’s near-impossible to find a team that picked near the Red Wings for that whole period to use as a comparison anyway.  Maybe San Jose?

If it’s that the Wings don’t draft well, and they’re putting everything they have into the draft, things could get ugly fast.