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.

Michael Rasmussen and The Plan

“That was always the plan.”

Among other moves today, the Red Wings assigned Michael Rasmussen – their first rounder from last summer’s draft, ninth overall – back to the Tri-Cities Americans of the Western Hockey League.

Rasmussen led the Red Wings in goals scored over the preseason, with four goals in five games.  One might think that’d earn him an extended look, especially considering that he could play up to nine games in the NHL without burning the first year of his entry-level contract.  As I was reminded many times via Twitter and has been included in most of the articles about his demotion, though, it was always the plan to send him back to junior.

It might be the right move.  With the salary cap crunch the Red Wings are facing, buying an extra year before Rasmussen hits free agency definitely makes sense.  With the roster the team is looking at, though, there’s certainly a case that can be made for keeping him up (at least for those free nine games).

Rasmussen is better served by playing top-line minutes, we hear, than toiling on the fourth line in Detroit.  Absolutely true.  But that’s a false equivalency.

Martin Frk, who has made the opening night lineup after being waived out of town (and later brought back) to start the season last year, is currently slotted on the nominal top line with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.  I suggest that he could have gone on a line with Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader instead, bumping Darren Helm onto Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening‘s line, and pushing Luke Witkowski into the 13th forward’s spot.  Then Rasmussen would join Larkin and Mantha, getting those top-line minutes.

This has trickle-down impact as by the time Rasmussen’s nine games are up – or it has been determined that he’s unable to play that role, if that’s what comes of it – Tyler Bertuzzi or Evgeny Svechnikov may be ready to step up.  This would make signing David Booth, which seems inevitable right now, unnecessary.

Whether or not it’s the right move, the fact that this was always the plan smacks of “Red Wings Way” to me.

No one expected Rasmussen to come in and score four goals.  That’s fine.  But how many goals would he have had to score to change the plan?  Is it even possible to change the plan?  Because there’s another plan that looks like it could be good here, but we won’t see it because it was never the plan.

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.

Kyle Quincey All-Stars Stay at Seven

Emergency call-up Ben Street did not play for the Red Wings in Montreal last night.  The mystery forward Street was called up to replace (probably Frans Nielsen) was able to play and Street was sent back to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  With that, Street’s chance to become the eighth member of the Kyle Quincey All-Stars passed, at least for now.

As I Tweeted yesterday, the Kyle Quincey All-Stars is my name for the players who have played for both the Red Wings and the onetime-bitter-rival Colorado Avalanche.

Quincey is perhaps the most famous of the set, starting his career in Detroit before going to the Los Angeles Kings via waivers in 2008, then moving on to Colorado via trade in 2009.  In 2012 the Red Wings brought him back via the Tampa Bay Lightning, averting what would have been the first trade between the two teams.

The first member of the group was the infamous Uwe Krupp.  Signed as a free agent by the Red Wings from the Avalanche in 1998, Krupp played just 22 games of the 1998-99 season before suffering a back injury that (after being re-injured) kept him out until the 2001-02 season, when he played eight more games.

Todd Gill was the first player to go from Detroit to Colorado.  After parts of three seasons with the Red Wings, he signed with the Avalanche in 2001.

With just four games played in Colorado and eight in Detroit, Anders Myrvold is the shortest-tenured member of the group.  He broke into the NHL with the Avalanche during their inaugural season of 1995-96, then bounced around quite a bit before coming to the Red Wings’ organization for the 2003-04 campaign.

Brad May played 64 games for the Avalanche across parts of two seasons before being traded to Anaheim in 2007 for a goalie who never played in Colorado.  Anaheim traded him to Toronto in January 2009 for future considerations, then the Red Wings signed him as a free agent at the start of the 2009-10 season and he played 40 games with the team before being sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

May was followed by fellow Number 24 Ruslan Salei.  After parts of three seasons with Colorado, Salei signed a one-year deal with Detroit for the 2010-11 season and played 75 games before fatefully signing with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the KHL.

Brad Stuart is the most recent addition to the group.  With the Red Wings for parts of five seasons, including a Stanley Cup in his first year, Stuart returned to the San Jose Sharks in 2012 for family reasons.  After two years there, the Sharks dealt him to Colorado, where he played just 61 games across two seasons.

Of course, there’s a whole subset of players who were property of one of the teams but never actually played a game for them.  The Darryl Bootlands and Tomas Fleischmanns.  For now, Street remains in that group.

Nielsen Named to All-Star Team

Frans Nielsen was named as the Red Wings’ lone representative to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game on Tuesday.

As I said via Twitter, I think Thomas Vanek or Anthony Mantha would have been better options.  Vanek is probably the team’s MVP right now but if he wanted the time off, Mantha is a pick in the mold of Dylan Larkin last season.  That said, I’d rather no one go.

Postgame Notes: Red Wings @ Lightning – 10/13

Well, this was pretty much the game that I feared, but it didn’t start that way.

The Red Wings came out strong in the first period, which was really good to see.  Thomas Vanek looked fantastic around the net, with two goals to show for it.  The power play moved the puck well, leading to Vanek’s first.  Petr Mrazek was sharp in net.

Then, like too many games last season, all those good things disappeared.

Early in the second period, the Lightning took over.  The Wings were on their heels, taking too many penalties.  Tampa was the faster team.  Yeah, Frans Nielsen got his first goal in a Detroit uniform, but it was on a broken play that you can’t really credit the systems for or anything.  But the Wings still had a 3-2 lead after 40 minutes.

Things only got worse in the third period.  More penalties.  Four goals against.  Only one fluke goal for.

There were good things to take away from this but they were mostly early.  Vanek looked great early on.  Nielsen looked good.  Darren Helm looked fast, as did Dylan Larkin (who seemed to be having trouble controlling the puck).  Mrazek made some amazing stops.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of bad.  Mrazek allowed a couple awful goals.  The penalty kill was 3-for-6 (despite the Wings rolling a fourth line assembled specifically for their PK ability).  Two (TWO!) too many men on the ice penalties.

There was fun with reffing, of course.  Steve Ott squared off with Jonathan Drouin, only for Brayden Coburn to jump in.  But because Drouin hadn’t actually dropped his gloves yet, Coburn wasn’t the third man in.  Later, Steven Stamkos appeared to reach in and grab Jonathan Ericsson while Ericsson fought Ondrej Palat.  No call in either case.

Ott going after Drouin in the first place was pretty stupid, as you had to know the Lightning weren’t going to let a young scorer get into a fight with a grinder.  That’s why fighting doesn’t work as a deterrent, it’s always two fighters going at it because that’s their job.  Likewise, Ericsson going after Palat was ill-advised, cancelling out a pending Detroit power play (that said, as I said via Twitter, it’s rare to see the instigator called in that case, but in retrospect I think it was the right call).

That fourth line that is supposed to make the Wings so much harder to play against and kill all the penalties?  I’ll close with their fancystats courtesy of WIIM’s Prashanth Iyer:

An Alternate Red Wings Roster

After publishing my post explaining why I’m not excited about the start of this season, I went outside and mowed my lawn, which gave me more time to think.  A dangerous thing.

I started mentally re-working the Red Wings’ roster, imagining a lineup featuring none of Detroit’s summer free agent signings or re-signings.  This is what I came up with:

Justin AbdelkaderDylan LarkinRiley Sheahan
Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergAnthony Mantha
Gustav NyquistAndreas AthanasiouTeemu Pulkkinen
Tomas NosekLuke GlendeningTyler Bertuzzi
Martin Frk

Those lines are based on the ones the team practiced with today, so they can be shuffled however you want.  The important thing is the 13 forwards.

Yeah, not having Frans Nielsen and needing to move Zetterberg back to center hurts, but look at the opportunity on that lineup.  That’s Mantha, Athanasiou, and Pulkkinen getting top-nine (none of this top-six, bottom-six nonsense) minutes.  That’s Glendening still centering a line of grinders, just as he is now.

Is it as likely to make the playoffs?  Well, I don’t think the current roster is going to make it, so zero percent chance is equal to zero percent chance.  That said, no, I can’t say I think this roster has as good of a chance.  I’m okay with that.

This roster also includes an effort to fix the Red Wings’ defense.  While the same blueliners make the team as did in reality (which is why I didn’t specifically note them), there is an additional defensive prospect in the system.

This roster has a low enough salary to absorb Pavel Datsyuk‘s cap hit, which means he’s never traded and the Red Wings draft Jakob Chychrun.

Chychrun made Arizona’s opening night roster but I have no expectation that he’d do the same in Detroit, given the Wings’ logjam.  That said, two years down the road you can expect there’d be room for him, the kind of player Detroit has been unable to sign as a free agent or trade for.

I know that I’m looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.  At the time Datsyuk’s contract was traded, no one could have known whether or not Steven Stamkos would hit the open market and the Red Wings felt that they had to be prepared for that.

That said, it’s hard not to look at what might have been and wonder.

On Hope and Excitement, and Lack Thereof

I’m not excited for the start of the Red Wings season.

I’m not saying that I won’t watch the opener tomorrow or I won’t be at the Joe for the home opener on Monday.  I just wouldn’t feel an absence in my life if those games weren’t happening.

I’m also not saying that I don’t care what happens with the team.  Quite the opposite.

At the end of last season, even with the Wings bowing out so early in the playoffs, there was hope.  General Manager Ken Holland spoke about giving opportunity to the team’s prospects, about revamping the defense, about ways to make the team better.

In June Pavel Datsyuk left but Holland managed to unload his contract.  It came at a high cost but was necessary given what the team was trying to do.  There was still hope.  I still had hope

As free agency approached, the Red Wings had money to spend and roster spots to fill, as well as prospects like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi and Tomas Nosek ready to challenge for a role.

Then the Wings brought back Drew Miller, the penalty-killing specialist who missed most of the season with a pair of injuries.

Then the Wings brought back bottom-six forward Darren Helm on a five year deal.

On July 1st, the Red Wings signed Frans Nielsen to replace Datsyuk and Thomas Vanek to replace the soon-to-retire Brad Richards and Steve Ott…  For some reason.

Suddenly those open roster spots were filled and the hole in the team’s defense hadn’t been addressed.  Holland reassured us that the glut of forwards gave him pieces to use in trade for a defender.

Training camp approached and there was no trade.  News broke that Jacob Trouba, Michigan-native and right-shooting defenseman, exactly what the Wings were coveting, was demanding a trade.  But those pieces that Holland had assembled wouldn’t be enough.  So there was no fix for the blueline and there was no battle for forward spots.  Athanasiou beat out Teemu Pulkkinen – waived off to Minnesota – but it was for the 13th forward spot, relegated to the press box.

This season’s roster is last season’s roster.  From opening night to the end of the season to today, Johan Franzen became Pavel Datsyuk who is now Frans Nielsen.  Brad Richards became Thomas Vanek.  Landon Ferraro was replaced by Darren Helm – re-signed due to a need for speed.  Drew Miller became Joakim Andersson who became Drew Miller again.  Teemu Pulkkinen became Andreas Athanasiou who became Steve Ott – despite that supposed need for speed.  Jakub Kindl and Kyle Quincey became Alexey Marchenko and Xavier Ouellet.

The team that backed into the playoffs and only made it there because they got help from the Ottawa Senators on the last day of the season is much the same as the team that begins this season.

I expect this team to miss the playoffs.  I expected that this would be a losing season last May.  But in May, I had hope that this losing season would feature learning experiences for the next generation of Red Wings.  Instead, they’re going to lose with the same guys that lost last year.

So I’ll watch and I’ll root for the Wings, but I’m not getting my hopes up.  I’m not getting excited.

Red Wings Jersey Number Updates

The Red Wings revealed a set of new jersey numbers via Twitter earlier today.

Steve Ott had previously Tweeted he would take the #29 that had briefly been assigned to Dylan Sadowy and was worn by Landon Ferraro before he was waived and claimed by the Boston Bruins.

With it available, it comes as no surprise that Frans Nielsen takes the #51 he wore with the New York Islanders.

As Tomas Jurco has the #26 he usually wears, I’d expected Thomas Vanek to take the #27 made available by the departure of Kyle Quincey.  Instead he flips the number and takes #62.  He’ll be the first Red Wing to ever wear that number.

I’d thought that Alexey Marchenko might see a new number this year to represent his solidified roster spot.  While I thought he’d get the #4 formerly worn by Jakub Kindl, instead he went the opposite direction and took the #53 he’s been wearing internationally.

The #4 ended up going to Teemu Pulkkinen, switching from #56.  I’m on the record as disliking forwards wearing numbers that low.  He becomes the first forward to wear #4 for the Red Wings since Colin Campbell in 1985.

Revisiting the Myth of “Playing the Kids”

It was a summer that saw the Red Wings swing and miss on a free agent signing that would have filled a massive hole in their roster.  The team’s blueline corps was looking ineffective.  Fans were clamoring to see more of the exciting forward prospects in the system but there was no room for them on the roster.

It was 2012.

I wrote then about how the team needed defense but instead had a glut of forwards.  Unlike then, now there’s actually talk of swapping some of the forward depth for defensive help.  Maybe they can actually do that, but no trade they do for a defenseman is going to clear up the logjam they have at forward.

On April 21, as the Red Wings closed out their season in Tampa with a loss to the Lightning, they had 14 forwards on the roster.  Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen were healthy scratches.  Andreas Athanasiou was in the lineup.  So were the since-departed Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, and Joakim Andersson.

Red Wings’ brass implied that there would be a battle for roster spots up front in the aftermath of another early playoff exit.  With two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner gone, there would seemingly be plenty of opportunity.

Then, when free agency opened on July 1, the Red Wings signed two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner.

Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin, and Frans Nielsen are locked in as four of the top six forwards.  One of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar might be traded but probably not both, so there’s five.  Darren Helm or Tomas Vanek likely makes the sixth, with the other dropping to the third line with Riley Sheahan.  Your fourth line is the returning Drew Miller, the extended Luke Glendening, and the recently-signed Steve Ott.

That’s one roster spot on the third line open.  Athanasiou.  Pulkkinen.  Jurco.  Anthony Mantha.  Tyler Bertuzzi.  Tomas Nosek.  Martin Frk and Mitch Callahan have to clear waivers.  Hell, throw Eric Tangradi and Louis-Marc Aubry in the mix.  That’s ten players (okay, realistically five to seven) fighting for one roster spot.  That’s not even mentioning Dylan Sadowy or Evgeny Svechnikov.  That is not opportunity.

Opportunity would have been letting Helm walk.  Letting Miller go.  Not signing Ott.  Not extending Glendening.

Vanek takes the second line spot.  The third line is Sheahan with Mantha and Pulkkinen or Jurco.  The fourth line is Athanasiou with Bertuzzi and whichever of Pulkkinen or Jurco that’s not on the third line.  Some combination of Glendening (who, without that extension, isn’t as cemented into the lineup), Nosek, Frk, and Tangradi provide your depth/healthy scratches.


Let’s go back to the trade for a defenseman plan.  This is not going to be a fantasy hockey quantity-for-quality deal.  No one is going to take Jurco and Pulkkinen and Frk for a top-pairing blueliner.  This theoretical deal starts with Nyquist or Tatar.  Maybe another prospect forward gets included but more likely Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen.

That deal would help solve the Wings’ defensive problems but it does not suddenly clear up the logjam at forward as well.