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.

Morning After: Red Wings @ Maple Leafs

This was a hard game to watch.

The Red Wings shot themselves in the foot early with a Darren Helm giveaway leading directly to a goal by Alexey Marchenko – the defenseman Detroit gave away for free via waivers because Ken Holland has such a weak grasp on the concept of asset management.

Then Niklas Kronwall takes a penalty and the Leafs score pretty quick on the power play and, ugh, it looks like it’s going to be one of those nights.

Nazem Kadri makes it 3-0 early in the second and the Toronto-based media is calling for a blowout but a strange thing happens.  Despite not managing a shot for about 15 minutes in the middle period, the Red Wings turn it on for the last five minutes and Gustav Nyquist scores.

Nyquist adds another just 36 seconds into the third and suddenly it’s a game.  But not really because most of the rest of the period is just the two teams fumbling around with each other.

We end with controversy, as Henrik Zetterberg gets high sticked – with a significant amount of blood drawn – and there’s no penalty.  Not that I want to have games relying on the Red Wings’ power play, but that could have made a massive difference.

After an earlier marginal goalie interference call on Nick Jensen, the missed high stick just adds to the “hard to watch” aspects of the game.  Yes, missed calls always go both ways and over a season they probably even out, but combined with the “Toronto Maple Leafs: Team…  Of…  Dessssstiny” narrative, it feels like the ice is tilted.

In the end, it wasn’t all bad.  Most of the losses this season haven’t been.  They just haven’t been good enough.  Late start, comeback falls short, blah blah blah.

On the plus side, Robbie Russo didn’t look horrible in his NHL debut.  A beat too slow in his decision making, probably (Mickey Redmond was harping on Russo taking too many hits), but his skating looked good.

Nyquist and Zetterberg also looked good.  Like the game mattered to them more than it did to some others.  There’s been some talk about not losing the culture of winning that the Red Wings have had and how Zetterberg is carrying that on even as the team misses the playoffs and I think you could really see that last night.

Wings Call Up Callahan from Griffins

As we wait to find out what moves the Red Wings have remaining before the NHL’s trade deadline, the team announced that forward Mitch Callahan has been called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

As many people have noted, the Wings are basically replacing Steve Ott (traded last night to Montreal) with the most Steve Ott-like player available in Grand Rapids.

Personally, I’d rather have seen Tyler Bertuzzi get another shot in the role, as I think he has more of a future in the Red Wings’ organization.  In fact, I’d forgotten that Callahan was even signed with Detroit right now (for some reason I thought he was on an AHL-only deal).

The call-up could be for just one game, though, as Gustav Nyquist will return from his suspension on Saturday in Edmonton.

On the Red Wings as Trade Deadline Sellers

The NHL’s trade deadline is less than a week away and – in the middle of their “bye week” – the team sits last in the Atlantic Division, only two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes (who have four games in hand) for last in the Eastern Conference, and twenty-sixth overall in the thirty-team league.

For the first time in a quarter century, the Red Wings will (in all likelihood) not make the playoffs.  As such, they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland insists that the team will not be torn down in a total rebuild.  He expects only to unload “rentals” – players who will be free agents this summer anyway.  With that in mind, there are three players who we can probably expect to see moved.

Thomas Vanek
Vanek has been one of the Red Wings’ top forwards this season, leading the team in goals with 15 in just 47 games played.  He was signed last summer to a cap-friendly one-year deal as a reclamation project and is just the kind of player a team looking to make a playoff push would want to add.  The only hiccup is that he reportedly loves Detroit and Holland may choose to simply extend his contract rather than trade him and risk being unable to bring him back this summer.

Brendan Smith
At 28, Smith is no longer a prospect, he’s a known quantity.  He could be a solid addition to a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins (who, as I write this, traded for Ron Hainsey), looking to shore up their defense.  That said, Holland has stated that he’ll talk to Smith’s camp about a contract extension, so he could stay put.  The Red Wings have five defensemen already under contract for next season, plus restricted free agents Nick Jensen and Xavier Ouellet.  If Jensen can do Smith’s job at half the price (or less), it makes sense to get what they can for him.

Steve Ott
Ott signed with his “hometown” Red Wings last summer and was excited to come to Detroit.  He clearly wants to be here.  I’ve been against his signing from the start.  There are a lot of GMs who love the kind of player he is, even if I don’t.  He could be a cheap veteran addition for a team looking for a little extra grit.


In addition to the above three, there are a few others in unique positions that could see them dealt.

Drew Miller
Exiled to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the face of a roster crunch in Detroit, Miller has made it clear that he’d like to be traded and get back into the NHL.  His position is similar to Ott’s, as a veteran grinder who would come cheap, except for the fact that he already cleared waivers so any team that wanted him will have already passed him up.  The Wings would likely have to take a player back in any deal for Miller.

Tomas Jurco
Jurco has been stuck in the press box for much of the season and doesn’t seem to have a future in Detroit.  He reportedly requested a trade earlier in the year and will be a restricted free agent this summer.  That said, if the Wings were to sell on Vanek and Ott, it would seemingly open up a roster spot in Detroit for Jurco to get more playing time.

Tomas Tatar
Tatar has been one of the Wings’ top forwards this season but has been plagued at times by accusations of not living up to his potential.  He’s a restricted free agent this summer, likely due a raise from the $2.75 million he makes now to something close to the $4.75 million of Gustav Nyquist.  The Chicago Blackhawks called about Tatar and Nyquist earlier this season, so if the Wings wanted to avoid paying Tatar, they could ship him out now.


Finally, there’s a small group of players that might have value but probably won’t be dealt for various reasons, primarily because – as stated above – the Wings say they’re not tearing the team down.

Gustav Nyquist
Signed for two more seasons after this one and currently suspended, the Blackhawks did ask about him, so the possibility of moving Nyquist is there.  Even more than Tatar, Nyquist can’t shake the “underperformer” label and the Wings may want to dump his salary to facilitate re-signing Tatar (or anyone else).

Mike Green
Green has one year left on his contract for $6 million, so any team looking to acquire him wouldn’t be going for a rental.  If available, though, he’d be one of the top defensemen on the market and could probably bring in a decent haul for the Red Wings’ reload.  It’d also clear a lot of money from the Wings’ cap.  I don’t expect him to be dealt but I think it’s an intriguing possibility.  Green does have a no-trade clause.

Jimmy Howard
I don’t expect Howard to be traded at the deadline, lets get that out of the way.  But – especially if he’s not claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this summer – the Wings are going to have quite the logjam in goal to deal with, plus a lot of money dedicated to goalies.  Clearing that up sooner rather than later would be to Holland’s benefit, so he should be trying to move Howard now.  Of course, Howard is currently hurt and has no timetable for return, so pulling off this move would be near-miraculous.


My prediction? Vanek and Smith or Ott get traded.  Maybe Miller, especially if Ott stays.

Nyquist, Ott, and Random Numbers

Earlier today, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press posted a piece about how, once the Wings get healthy, guys like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, and Riley Sheahan need to be benched because they’re not producing as expected.  She then engaged readers via Twitter, repeating her argument while also stating that Steve Ott has been a great signing for the Red Wings.

I Tweeted a little bit about it but I want to sum it up here.

As far as Nyquist (and probably Tatar and Sheahan) goes, I won’t deny that the Wings probably had higher hopes for him, especially with the contract that they gave him.  That said, Prashanth Iyer of Winging it in Motown does a great job of explaining that Nyquist’s production is solid by certain metrics.

Read his whole thread. Seriously.

When asked about Steve Ott, HSJ said the following:

I’m not an Ott fan. I was confused by his signing on Day One.  Last week the beat writers were all over how great Ott is for his fight sparking the Red Wings to a win, which is confusing correlation with causation.

If Ott was brought to Detroit to fight and provide a spark, here’s what we know:  Ott has fought five times this season.  The Red Wings are 2-2-1 in those games.  In the minutes played after his fight in each of those games, the Red Wings have scored 13 goals and allowed 13 goals.

In short, the impact of a Steve Ott fight on the outcome of a game this season is completely neutral.  You could argue it’s a negative, even, if you take that overtime loss as just a loss.

But if we’re going to take salary into account, let’s say that instead of Ott, the Wings had a guy who was making just over $800k and put up at a 15-goal, 15-assist pace last season while playing about 11 minutes per night.  Would you say that’s the kind of guy you could play in the bottom six or you could bump up to the top six if you felt like you need to cut the minutes of Nyquist/Tatar/Sheahan?  I think so.

Of course, those numbers belong to Teemu Pulkkinen, abandoned by the Red Wings and now skating for the AHL’s Iowa Wild.

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.

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.

2016 Free Agency Day One Recap / Notes

Oh man, midway through the afternoon today, I was thinking that when I got around to writing this post, I’d start at the beginning.  Given how the day ended, though, how do you not skip straight to Steve Ott?

After a series of signings that were, if not smart, at least acceptable, the Red Wings went out and chased the mythical fourth-line grit that will supposedly put their team over the top and signed Steve Ott away from the St. Louis Blues.

I hate chasing veteran grit when Tyler Bertuzzi is waiting in the wings and I don’t like Ott as a player.  I’ll let Winging it in Motown’s J.J. from Kansas say it.

Ott’s value is entirely contained within intangibles in which I don’t necessarily believe.

The good news is that he signed for $800,000 on a one-year deal, which can be buried in Grand Rapids if needed.


The day had started with the Wings bringing back Darren Helm.  Five years is too long but $3.85 million is a hometown discount.  Especially with the other signings, I don’t think Helm needed to come back.  I don’t love this deal.


Restricted free agent Alexey Marchenko signed a bridge deal for two years at $1.45 million per year.  It a great deal.  A significant raise from the $666,666 AAV he had in his previous contract but not the ridiculous money previous RFA defensemen have gotten in Detroit.


Frans Neilsen‘s signing was the Plan B the Wings had to resort to when Steven Stamkos opted not to test free agency.  Six years for a 32-year-old is pretty brutal.  $5.25 million is probably high, too, but not as bad.  I’d rather have had three years at $6 million each than this deal.  But, as I said last night, someone was going to give him that term.


I like the signing of Thomas Vanek to a one-year, $2.6 million deal.  The Wings have the cap space, so worst-case scenario they pay him too much this year and then just walk away from him.  It’s an overpayment if he only does what he did last year but this Wings team could use what he did last year, let alone any improvement.


At 11:59 AM, I wasn’t happy.  By 4:15 PM, I was pretty content with what the Wings had done.  By 4:45 PM I was outright pissed off.

There’s still a lot to fall out here.  I think the Vanek signing means that one of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar is gone in trade for a defenseman.  This team has far too many forwards and not enough blueliners, so we know the lineup as it is now just can’t be the opening night lineup.  I’m willing to hold off on judging too much until we see how it all falls out.

Except for the Ott signing.  That’s a joke.


Lost in all the signings for the big club were three two-way deals for guys headed to the Griffins.  Forwards Matt Lorito and Ben Street and goalie Edward Pasquale.

There’s a lot of change coming to Grand Rapids this year.  Andy Miele signed in Philadelphia and captain Jeff Hoggan won’t return.  Some guys with AHL experience will help fill the holes.

Postgame: Lightning @ Red Wings – Game 4

I’m not sure if the Red Wings deserved better than a 3-2 loss last night in Game Four against the Lightning, but I can’t shake the feeling that Tampa deserved worse.

The Lightning controlled the first ten minutes of play and scored their first power play goal in that time. But after that, they really didn’t threaten much outside of the power plays. The Red Wings started to come on, also didn’t threaten a whole lot, but it felt like they controlled the puck more (I’m not looking up the stats to back this up, this is eyeball analysis only). That carried through the second period and then the Red Wings turned it on to start the third and seemed to be in control until Tampa’s third and final power play goal, the eventual game-winner.

It was the penalty kill that doomed the Red Wings. On the three tries with the man-advantage where the Lightning scored, they moved the puck at will. The Wings just looked lost out there. And you just can’t do that. If you’re going to concede so much on the PK you’d better be making up for it on the power play and, once again, they didn’t.

With so much emphasis on special teams, you’re going to get some focus on the reffing standard, which was pretty atrocious. Tampa Bay scored during a penalty to Justin Abdelkader that was deserved, but then plays that were just as bad in the following minutes were allowed. The goalie interference call to Gustav Nyquist in the second period was an absolute joke. Then you have the cross-checking penalty to Jonathan Ericsson on which the Lightning scored the game-winner. Soft. Technically the right call, but in the context of what had been allowed all game, surprising. It’s hard to believe that the refs chose the final minutes of a tied playoff game to put their foot down and say “Enough is enough” about that play. Of course, it doesn’t matter if the Wings’ PK wasn’t a disaster.

So they’re left having to win three in a row, two on the road, against a team they’ve won one of four against so far. It’s a tough spot to be in. I don’t think they’ll do it.