On Blashill and Other Season-Ending Thoughts

The Red Wings ended their season on Friday night in New Jersey and entered the offseason with a slate of decisions to make about the direction of the team. It took under a day for General Manager Steve Yzerman to make the first one.

Jeff Blashill will not return as the team’s head coach.

The move comes in the form of the team cleaning house behind the bench. Assistant coach Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko will also not return.  It is believed – coach contracts are rarely made as public as player contracts – that none of the three were explicitly fired; instead their contracts were not renewed.

Assistant coach Alex Tanguay remains with the team.  The 2021-22 campaign was his first in Detroit.

Blashill, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman notes, never had much to work with as far as player personnel goes, taking the team over from Mike Babcock as the Red Wings entered their current rebuild.  There seems to be the thought that he’ll end up coaching back in the NHL sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, there’s already buzz that he could take over the Ferris State program in 2023.

For the Red Wings, though, answering the question of whether or not Blashill would return has just raised another; that of who will replace him.

I won’t pretend to have insight into what Yzerman might be thinking regarding that (turn to Bultman again for some options Yzerman might be considering).  My hope – and my expectation given Yzerman’s history – is that we won’t see someone from the NHL coaching carousel brought in.  No John Tortorella or Paul Maurice or Dave Tippett.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m equal parts curious and terrified of the idea of bringing Sergei Fedorov over from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, with all the baggage that would entail. I’d been on the Roger Ronnberg bandwagon for a while but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Whoever the new coach is, another big question for the summer is how similar the team he takes over looks to the one Blashill leaves behind.

Thomas Greiss is expected to depart as a free agent this summer, opening up the backup slot with the Red Wings.  Is the late-season signing of Magnus Hellberg, who made his Detroit debut in the season finale, a sign that he has the inside track on replacing him?  Hellberg himself is an unrestricted free agent, so he might not even return.  If Calvin Pickard leaves the organization and Victor Brattstrom returns to Europe, Alex Nedeljkovic would be the only returning goalie from Detroit or Grand Rapids, so upheaval is coming there.

On defense, it’s hard to see Danny DeKeyser – waived and unclaimed during the season – returning next year.  Mid-season waiver claim Olli Juolevi was largely ineffective in his time in Detroit and – as a pending restricted free agent – may not be given a qualifying offer, becoming unrestricted.  Jake Walman was good for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy deadline day trade and can reasonably be expected to return as a restricted free agent.

The biggest question mark of the current blueliners is Marc Staal.  Along with DeKeyser, he was named an alternate captain to start the season and the team appreciates his veteran leadership.  Though he’s not the player he once was, his performance didn’t drop as much as DeKeyser’s did, so there may be interest in bringing him back.

If Staal and Walman return, the Detroit blueline would be made up of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom, Staal, and Walman.  Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, could claim a spot out of training camp.

Even with the addition of Edvinsson, it’s hard to see that defense corps being much of an improvement over what the Red Wings had this year, so there may be appetite to let Staal (and/or Walman) walk to clear roster spots for upgrades brought in via free agency.

Up front there’s a similar situation.  Ten of the 12 forward spots are accounted for by returning players.  One of those is restricted free agent Filip ZadinaJonatan Berggren, who set a new Grand Rapids Griffins rookie scoring record this season, can also be expected to take up a spot.  That’s 12 just by letting pending restricted free agent Mitchell Stephens and unrestricted free agents Sam Gagner, Turner Elson, and Carter Rowney walk.

Like Staal, the team has appreciated Gagner’s veteran hand and may want him back next year.  Pushing Givani Smith into the 13th forward slot wouldn’t be the end of the world but it again means that there’s little room to add upgrades via free agency.

The Red Wings are getting into a dangerous spot in their rebuild.  To take advantage of the prime of Dylan Larkin‘s career, they will need to add pieces now.  Trotting out the same basic lineup behind a new head coach won’t do it (though having both Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana healthy at the same time would be a benefit).

If they can’t do that, realistically, this rebuild is going to take at least another three or four years and they should be looking at selling Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi or Vrana for assets that will make them competitive when Seider and Lucas Raymond are in their primes.  It might be a hard pill for Wings fans to swallow but it makes sense.

Red Wings Shut Down Through Christmas

The National Hockey League announced on Sunday that the Detroit Red Wings would be shut down until at least after the league’s Holiday Break.

The Wings would be eligible to resume their schedule against the New York Rangers on December 27.

The move comes with the team announcing that forwards Sam Gagner, Pius Suter, and Joe Veleno has been placed in COVID protocol, along with assistant video coach Jeff Weintraub.

Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen had been placed on the COVID list on Thursday.  Givani Smith, Carter Rowney, Alex Nedeljkovic, and coaches Jeff Blashill and Alex Tanguay were added on Saturday morning.  Filip Zadina was a late addition on Saturday, announced just before the Red Wings hosted the New Jersey Devils.

The team had only one game remaining on the schedule in the week leading up to Christmas anyway, a Thursday visit to the Minnesota Wild.  Monday’s matchup between the Wings and Colorado in Detroit had already been postponed due to COVID concerns with the Avalanche.

The Red Wings join the Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Florida Panthers as teams having been temporarily shut down.


As I said yesterday, some kind of league-wide shutdown seems inevitable at this point.  There are over 100 players across the league in COVID protocol.  This isn’t contained.

Cross-border travel was also cancelled through the end of the Holiday Break so no one would be forced to quarantine on the wrong side of a border for Christmas.

So it seems like the league recognizes that it’s not contained.  But, to give them the benefit of the doubt, it’s also not contained in communities, so would shutting the league down actually do any good?  I’m not an epidemiologist, I don’t know.

Red Wings Add Five to COVID Protocol

With Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen already in COVID protocol, the Detroit Red Wings added five more to that list on Saturday.

The Red Wings are set to host the New Jersey Devils tonight.

New Jersey, meanwhile, placed defenseman P.K. Subban on the COVID list.

This comes as the virus runs rampant through the NHL.  Per CapFriendly, 90 players across the league are in COVID protocol.  The Calgary Flames and Colorado Avalanche have had their seasons paused until after Christmas, with Detroit’s matchup against the Avalanche on Monday yet to be rescheduled.

Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Ben Simon and assistant Todd Krygier have been tapped to join Detroit assistant coach Doug Houda behind the Red Wings’ bench with Blashill and Tanguay unavailable.  Simon and Krygier are available because the Griffins’ weekend series with the Toronto Marlies was postponed due to an outbreak on the Marlies’ roster.

It seems like some kind of league-wide pause is inevitable at this point, however no further cancellations involving the Red Wings have been announced.

On Larkin, Joseph, Benn, and Supplemental Discipline

Dylan Larkin deserves to be suspended for his punch to Tampa Bay’s Mathieu Joseph on Thursday night.  There’s no place for that in the game.

The problem, of course, is that there’s no place in the game for Joseph’s hit from behind on Larkin that precipitated the punch.  There’s no place in the game for the cross-check to Larkin’s neck from Jamie Benn that ended his season last spring.  Of the three incidents, though, the Department of Player Safety only thought one was deserving of a hearing.

We don’t know that Larkin wouldn’t have punched Joseph if Joseph’s hit on Larkin had been called and play blown dead.  Maybe he was mad enough that it didn’t matter what the officials did.  But we’ll never know, because the officials didn’t do their jobs, just like they didn’t do their jobs last spring.

What we know is that Larkin retaliated and was ejected for it.  What we know is that the Lightning scored twice while Givani Smith was in the penalty box serving Larkin’s major penalty, getting them back in the game when they seemed done.

You could argue that without those goals, it’s a very different game, one that Detroit might have even been able to win.

For Tampa, Joseph’s cheap-shot worked.  It removed Larkin from the game and, after all the power plays shook out, got them one more goal than Detroit.  There is no reason for them not to make that trade every single time.

In a league where protecting its stars is supposedly a priority, Larkin was hit in the neck twice in a span of about 30 minutes of game time with seemingly no punishments to the people who did it. When he took matters into his own hands, it may very well have cost his team the game. That’s a broken system.


Update, 6:05 PM: As expected, the Department of Player Safety announced a suspension for Larkin earlier today.

One game is less than I expected.

Wings Announce Initial 2021-22 Roster

The Detroit Red Wings announced their initial roster for the 2021-22 NHL season on Monday, making their final cuts by sending Riley Barber, Taro Hirose, and Joe Veleno to the Grand Rapids Griffins.

The team also announced the termination Bobby Ryan‘s pro try-out, removing him from their roster.

As had been previously announced, Detroit is opening the season with 13 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies.

The most notable item in the team’s initial 23-man roster might be the inclusion of 2020 first-round draft pick Lucas Raymond, who practiced with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the team’s top line in preparation for the Red Wings’ season opener on Thursday.

While Ryan and Raymond may not have been fighting for the same roster spot, the fact that Raymond made the team while Ryan didn’t does seem to be a change for the Red Wings.  Under previous general manager Ken Holland, “the tie goes to the veteran” was a common refrain.  Current GM Steve Yzerman could have made room for Ryan at the expense of a number of younger players and the fact that he didn’t may show that veteran status won’t always be the tiebreaker going forward.

In addition to Raymond, 2019 first-round pick Moritz Seider will start the season in Detroit, though this was expected after his breakout campaign in the SHL last season.

One of the Red Wings’ young prospects who had been expected to challenge for a roster spot didn’t make it, with Veleno having been sent to Grand Rapids.  There’s an argument that Veleno could have been picked over Mitchell Stephens or Carter Rowney for a spot on the Wings’ fourth line and but one could also say he’s better suited playing top-line minutes with the Griffins than fourth-line minutes in Detroit.

It’s also important to note that, while this is Detroit’s initial roster, required to be set by 5:00 PM today, there is plenty of time between now and Thursday’s opener for things to change.  Notably, Adam Erne, Givani Smith, and Michael Rasmussen are all nursing injuries.  With only 13 forwards on the roster, a call-up will be necessary if more than one of them is unable to play.

2021 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings announced their 2021 training camp roster on Wednesday and, following the Tuesday announcement of Bobby Ryan joining the team on a PTO, there were no surprises on the roster itself.

Which means I get to move on to my favorite annual tradition: Analyzing jersey number changes.

Between returning players from last year’s roster, incoming players who had already had their numbers announced, and players whose numbers were revealed by Detroit’s prospects tournament roster, there weren’t a lot of surprises left.

The biggest surprise is probably Taro Hirose switching from #67 to #25.  He’d previously switched to #67 after debuting wearing #53, specifically requesting a number with a seven in it, so switching to a number without a seven was unexpected, to me.

Additionally, Hirose’s switch makes Mitchell Stephens having picked #22 interesting.  Stephens had worn #67 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and seemingly wore it whenever his preferred #27 wasn’t available.  With #27 taken by Michael Rasmussen in Detroit and #67 vacated by Hirose, I’m surprised that Stephens went with #22 instead.

Two players making their returns to the Detroit organization also have some slightly-surprising numbers.

Luke Witkowski will wear #20 in Detroit’s camp after having worn #28 in his first stint with the Wings.  I’d wondered if Gustav Lindstrom would give up #28 but he keeps it, and Witkowski’s usual alternate number #82 went to summer free agent signing Jordan Oesterle.

Dan Renouf had previously worn #77 in Detroit but that number is now assigned to Oscar Plandowski.  In camp, he’d also worn the #20 taken by Witkowski, leaving him switching to the #21 made available by Dennis Cholowski‘s departure.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
15 Jakub Vrana
22 Mitchell Stephens
23 Lucas Raymond
24 Pius Suter
25 Taro Hirose
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Carter Rowney
42 Kyle Criscuolo
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
50 Dominik Shine
51 Hayden Verbeek
52 Jonatan Berggren
54 Bobby Ryan
56 Pasquale Zito
57 Turner Elson
58 Cameron Butler
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 T-Bone Codd
62 Cooper Walker
63 Jon Martin
64 Luke Toporowski
67 Dennis Yan
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
74 Cross Hanas
76 Tyler Spezia
78 Patrick Curry
79 Kirill Tyutyayev
89 Sam Gagner
90 Joe Veleno
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Nick Leddy
3 Jared McIsaac
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Luke Witkowski
21 Dan Renouf
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
44 Donovan Sebrango
47 Wyatt Newpower
49 Seth Barton
53 Moritz Seider
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stetcher
77 Oscar Plandowski
82 Jordan Oesterle
83 Mason Ward
84 Alex Cotton
86 Adam Brubacher
87 Ryan Murphy

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
31 Calvin Pickard
33 Sebastian Cossa
34 Victor Brattstrom
36 Kaden Fulcher
39 Alex Nedeljkovic
60 Jan Bednar

Red Wings Re-Sign RFA Hronek

The Detroit Red Wings announced yesterday the signing of restricted free agent defenseman Filip Hronek to a three-year deal.

As per usual, the team did not announce the financial terms of the deal. It was later reported to carry a $4.4 million salary cap hit.

With Hronek signed, Givani Smith is the only remaining restricted free agent left without a contract for Detroit.

Hronek has been Detroit’s top defenseman but that has been more by default than due to his skills.  It feels somewhat unfair to knock him for that, but it does make me wonder if $4.4 million is too much.  How do you judge a number one defenseman who’s not really a number one defenseman?

That said, the Wings aren’t up against the cap and aren’t projected to be anytime soon so even if $4.4 million is too much, it probably won’t be a problem.

Red Wings Lose Cholowski to Kraken via Expansion Draft

The Seattle Kraken announced their thirty Expansion Draft selections on Wednesday night, including the pick of Dennis Cholowski from the Detroit Red Wings.

Cholowski was Detroit’s first-round pick in the 2016 Entry Draft but had a hard time sticking in the Red Wings’ lineup.

I didn’t want for the Wings to lose Cholowski, but at the same time I don’t feel bad that they did.  Maybe he’ll thrive in a different environment.  He’s not a Red Wing anymore so I don’t care either way.

But his departure causes me to look back at the Wings draft picks from that era with disappointment.

Going back to the 2014 draft, first-rounder Dylan Larkin is the only player to have established himself in the NHL.  Dominic Turgeon is still in the organization and Christoffer Ehn played with the Wings for a bit but Chase Perry, Julius Vahatalo, Axel Holmstrom, and Alexander Kadeykin never made it.

From 2015, first-rounder Evgeni Svechnikov hasn’t been able to regularly crack the lineup.  Fifth-rounder Chase Pearson might have fourth-line potential.  Vili Saarijarvi was traded away for a goalie who was waived after two games, Joren van Pottleberghe doesn’t seem to have a future in North America, Patrick Holway is unsigned and Adam Marsh never made it.

In 2016, there was the now-departed Cholowski, Givani Smith and Filip Hronek selected in the second round, and then Alfons Malmstrom, Jordan Sambrook, Filip Larsson, and Mattias Elfstrom.  Hronek is Detroit’s top defender right now and Smith probably has a spot on the fourth line.  Larsson could recover his college form, but the others are a loss.

Finally, there’s the 2017 draft, the first one where the team couldn’t deny that a rebuild was underway.  The Red Wings stocked up on third round picks that year, looking for as many “lottery tickets” as possible.  Those third-rounders ended up being Kasper Kotkansalo, who has yet to sign with Detroit; and Lane Zablocki, Zach Gallant, and Keith Petruzzelli, none of whom signed.  Michael Rasmussen came out of the first round and Gustav Lindstrom came out of the second.  Then there was Malte Setkov, Cole Fraser, Jack Adams, Reilly Webb, and Brady Gilmour.  Of those, only Adams still has a chance in Detroit.

So over four years, four first-round picks in the top twenty, and thirty-one draft picks overall, what the Wings have to show for it is Larkin, Smith, Hronek, Rasmussen, and Lindstrom.  A top two center, a fourth liner, a top four defenseman, a third liner, and a third-pair defenseman.  If you really want to reach, maybe Svechnikov still pans out.  Maybe Kotkansalo or Adams or Larsson does something.

That’s just abysmal for a time frame where the team’s core was aging and they really needed to be gearing up for the future.

Red Wings Expose Stetcher, Cholowski for Expansion Draft

Protection lists for each of the National Hockey League’s teams in the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft were distributed at 10 AM on Sunday and, unsurprisingly, began to leak out almost immediately.

In order to protect defenseman Nick Leddy – acquired from the New York Islanders on Friday – Detroit chose to expose Troy Stetcher, coming off a fantastic turn at the World Championships that included an assist on the tournament-winning goal.

There had been much discussion about whether or not Stetcher would be exposed in order to protect young defensemen Dennis Cholowski – a former first-round pick – and Gustav Lindstrom.  Instead, Stetcher’s presumed spot went to Leddy.  Filip Hronek and Lindstrom were the other two defensemen protected, leaving Cholowski exposed.

At forward, Vladislav Namestnikov was exposed in order to meet eligibility requirements.  Richard Panik had been the only other Red Wings forward who had played enough games, was under contract for the coming season, and who wasn’t a lock to be protected, but Panik was sent to the Islanders in the Leddy deal, forcing Namestnikov to be left off the list.

Namestnikov’s exclusion left room for Detroit to protect Givani Smith, with another former first-rounder, Evgeni Svechnikov, as the odd man out up front.

As expected, Thomas Greiss was the goalie Detroit protected, as Jonathan Bernier is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Other notable – but not necessarily surprising – names left exposed by Detroit include Danny DeKeyser and Frans Nielsen.

Thoughts on the Red Wings’ 2021 Roster

The Red Wings made a series of assignments to their taxi squad and to the Grand Rapids Griffins yesterday and, with that, their roster for the 2021 season is pretty much confirmed.

I qualify that because the Red Wings are starting with Bobby Ryan, Darren Helm, and Christian Djoos out of the lineup. So, while this might be the roster on opening night, it’s probably not exactly the one they’d hoped for, nor is it the expected roster on a nightly basis.  Even if they are small changes, we’re probably going to see a bunch of adjustments to this roster over the first month of the season.

Right now the taxi squad consists of Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindstrom, Kevin Boyle, and Calvin Pickard.  You can bet that, once the Grand Rapids Griffins’ season gets going, five of those players will be in GR.  The Red Wings won’t want any of their youngsters sitting in the press box (or wherever the NHL has mandated that taxi squad players sit) when they could be playing in the AHL. They’ll keep one of the goalies up, as required, then swap out everyone else who isn’t playing for guys like Turner Elson and Dylan McIlrath.

Meanwhile, on the playing roster, we’re seeing these lines:

Obviously we’ve got some taxi squad guys in there but they’re not in positions we need to worry about. Rasmussen and Smith on a “fifth line” with a no-contact Bobby Ryan isn’t a real line and while Lindstrom may very well effectively be the Red Wings’ eighth defenseman right now, they’re not going to roll four pairings in a game so his play alongside Alex Biega in practice doesn’t matter.

The top line has been virtually set in stone since last season so there are no surprises there.  Vladislav Namestnikov with Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina is somewhat unexpected but likely influenced by Ryan’s injury.  Mathias Brome got some buzz in camp and seemed likely to get some NHL playing time once Helm and Ryan were out.  The fourth line looks a whole lot like a “and everyone else” line as I don’t see a reason for Frans Nielsen to be there.

I think once Ryan returns, we’ll see Nielsen drop out of the lineup (unless he’s rebounded strongly from last season but there’s been no camp chatter to say we should expect that) and Brome drop down a line.  Namestnikov could also move to the third line to make room for Ryan with Fabbri and Zadina.

Helm’s return (which I’m assuming would come later as he’s not even skating right now) would then seemingly push Adam Erne off the fourth line, unless Brome is shown to need AHL time to adjust to the North American game and he is the one who comes out of the lineup.

On defense, the big thing left to see is Djoos’ role on the team.  He’s sticking in the Detroit lineup as he would otherwise have to clear waivers and the Red Wings didn’t claim him just to be a tradable asset as they also can’t trade him without first waiving him.  Does he bump Marc Staal or Troy Stecher off that third pairing or is he just here as another depth guy, effectively replacing Lindstrom alongside Biega?

Assuming what I’ve suggested, a healthy lineup would need one more change, though, as the Red Wings would have 14 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies, putting them over the 23-man roster limit.  The easy answer there would be to drop Brome down to the Griffins as he wouldn’t need to clear waivers.  That said, I’ve already advocated for keeping Brome in the lineup over Nielsen and Erne, so a more interesting option would be to waive Nielsen and (assuming he’s not claimed) put him on the taxi squad.  The Red Wings have the salary cap space to eat his contract and the one-season taxi squad gives a place for Nielsen to go where he can’t take a spot with the Griffins from one of the kids who needs it.

Given that the Red Wings just re-confirmed that Nielsen will be an alternate captain under new captain Dylan Larkin, I can’t see them punting him to the sidelines so easily, though.

Obviously further injuries could change this quickly but I think this is an approximation of what we could be looking at under ideal conditions.

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