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 Hicketts?  Dennis Cholowski?  Evgeny 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.

Pre-Free Agency Thoughts

NHL Free Agency opens in about 6 hours and the Red Wings are already expected to be active.

The league’s free agent interview period reduces some of the drama of July 1.  We already know that Detroit has a verbal deal with Jonathan Bernier after calling on Carter Hutton and having Robin Lehner visit Detroit.  We know they’ve talked to former Red Wings Thomas Vanek and Valtteri Filppula.  We know they have interest in Carolina center Derek Ryan.

Filppula and Ryan come with a somewhat unexpected connection: According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, the Red Wings are interested in centers in case Henrik Zetterberg is unable to play this season.

That’s a bit to unpack so I want to break it down bit by bit.

Goaltending

This is the easy one.

I think I would have preferred 26-year-old Lehner over 29-year-old Bernier, as Lehner still has time to turn his career around and possibly become what Petr Mrazek was supposed to be for the Red Wings.  That said, Bernier has stats that are similar to Jimmy Howard‘s over the last several seasons and, with Howard a free agent next summer, it gives the Red Wings the option of trading him at next spring’s trade deadline if they’re out of playoff position.

Zetterberg

This is a complicated one.

When his contract was signed, I don’t think anyone expected him to play it out.  Then the CBA was rewritten to punish teams who had signed back-diving contracts.  Since then, LTIR has been abused to circumvent that punishment.

If Zetterberg’s back is hurt again, it would be very easy for him to go on LTIR for the rest of his career.  That said, when the Red Wings packed up for the summer, he said he expected to play in the fall.  What could have happened between then and now that would change that?

Filppula or Ryan could just be an insurance policy, but it seems expensive and premature unless there’s something the team isn’t telling us at this point.

Bottom line is I wouldn’t want to see the Red Wings sign a Zetterberg replacement without knowing for sure that Zetterberg would be out.

Vanek

Sigh.

I like Thomas Vanek.  I don’t want the Red Wings to sign him.

Custance made the point that Vanek seems to make Andreas Athanasiou better.  I agree.  But I also think Athanasiou isn’t long for the Red Wings, so signing someone to make him better doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Maybe you sign Vanek for a year and Athanasiou for a year and try to flip them both at the deadline?  I don’t know.

The larger point is that Vanek takes up a roster spot.  I already wrote about Mike Green‘s re-signing leaving little room for “the kids” on the Wings’ blueline.  If Vanek is signed, that gives the Red Wings 13 forwards on the roster (including Tyler Bertuzzi, who was in Detroit to end last season).

Yeah, they could send Luke Witkowski to Grand Rapids.  Or Martin Frk.  But all that does is open a spot on the fourth line or in the press box.  Where’s the spot that Michael Rasmussen is supposed to compete for.  Or Filip Zadina?  Or Evgeny Svechnikov?

Vanek’s signing would only take one spot and they need a lot more open than that to get the kids playing time, but it would seemingly show that, once again, the organization is only giving lip service to the idea of a youth movement.


So what will we see when noon rolls around?

Bernier is the only “confirmed” signing.  backup goalie is also the only position the Red Wings actually need to fill.

Vanek wouldn’t surprise me, based on the buzz and the fact that they wanted to bring him back last year.  I hope not, though.

Anything beyond that would unnecessary, so I hope it’s a quiet day for Detroit.

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.

Morning After: Red Wings vs. Blue Jackets

We know that refs aren’t perfect.  Calls get missed and bad calls are made.  However, I have a serious issue with what the officials from last night’s Red Wings/Blue Jackets matchup told Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game, when a slash from Brandon Dubinsky broke Zetterberg’s stick and directly led to Seth Jones’ game-winning goal in overtime.

They saw it. They just deemed it to not be a penalty.

For reference, here’s the play:

And, for comparison’s sake, here’s a stick-breaking slash that was called a penalty in the Montreal/Colorado game last night:

I’ve ranted before about refs being treated as infallible. It’s simply not true and we’ve got video proof of that from last night.

Either the slash in the Detroit/Columbus game was correctly called – no penalty because doing that is not a penalty, or the slash in the Canadiens/Avalanche game was correctly called – breaking the stick with a slash is a penalty, or the slash on Zetterberg was simply missed – in which case the ref was covering his ass by saying what happened wasn’t a penalty.

My guess is that the last one occurred. And that happens. I’d feel a lot better, though, if the refs owned up to it.

Red Wings Call-Up Bertuzzi, Put Vanek on LTIR

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Monday that Tyler Bertuzzi was called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins, with Thomas Vanek placed on long-term injured reserve to make room for him.

Vanek’s LTIR stint is back-dated to October 25th, so he’s eligible to come back late next week.

The interesting thing is that, with a player like Bertuzzi, you’d think he’d be called up so a guy like Steve Ott could sit.  Ott’s signing last summer essentially took away Bertuzzi’s spot on the fourth line.  But then there’s this:

If Bertuzzi was slated for the fourth line in Philadelphia tomorrow, wouldn’t he be practicing on that line while the 13th forward fills in for the missing Henrik Zetterberg?  Is Bertuzzi the spare, called up just in case Zetterberg can’t go against the Flyers?

If Bertuzzi was called up as insurance, it’s really interesting that the Red Wings didn’t go with Anthony Mantha.  A top-six spot opens up and they don’t go with the supposed top-six guy?  I don’t know.

Apparently Zetterberg will be ready to play tomorrow.  In that case, Bertuzzi taking his spot in practice confuses me.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow.


Update, 12:20 PM: MLive’s Ansar Khan, who still has me blocked on Twitter, says that Bertuzzi will play in a top-six role.

I really don’t get why they didn’t go with Mantha here and I’m confused as to what they want from him.

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.

Red Wings Name Abdelkader Alternate Captain

Justin Abdelkader will make his first appearance of the preseason in Chicago tonight and the Red Wings didn’t wait any longer than they had to before naming him as the team’s new alternate captain.

Yeah, they used the word “assistant.”  Whatever.

Abdelkader takes on the ‘A’ left behind by Pavel Datsyuk‘s trade to the Arizona Coyotes and subsequent departure for his native Russia.

It’s the first time the Red Wings have named a new alternate since Niklas Kronwall replaced Kris Draper in the three-man rotation for the 2011-12 season.  When Henrik Zetterberg ascended to the captaincy in 2014, the team simply went back to two alternates instead of replacing him.

The Red Wings did not assign an extra ‘A’ in cases of injury throughout the 2015-16 season.  The only players on the active roster to have previously worn a letter for Detroit in a regular season game were Jonathan Ericsson (three games) and Darren Helm (one game) during the 2014-15 campaign.

I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone.  The buzz surrounding the ‘A’ had been focused on Abdelkader all summer and he’s really the most logical choice, after accepting Dylan Larkin wasn’t going to get it.


Update, 11:30 AM: The Red Wings deleted their original announcement tweet and replaced it with one using the word “alternate” instead.  Small victory.

Red Wings World Cup Jersey Numbers

Yahoo Sports’ Sean Leahy sent out a batch of Tweets earlier today with rosters and jersey numbers for each team in the World Cup of Hockey.

With Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall out for Sweden, the Red Wings have representatives on five of the eight teams.

For Team USA, Justin Abdelkader will wear #89 – his old high school number – which he wore while captaining the Americans at the World Championships in 2014.  The #8 he wears in Detroit is taken by team captain Joe Pavelski.

Dylan Larkin will keep #71 with the “Young Guns” team, Team North America.

Oddly, Alexey Marchenko will wear his now-old #47 for Team Russia. He just switched to #53 with Detroit and wore that number – which is available – with the Russians at this year’s World Championships.

Team Europe features Tomas Tatar in #21, which is slightly weird because he usually wears #90 in international competition. Thomas Vanek gets the #26 that’s not available to him in Detroit while Frans Nielsen gets his usual #51.

For Czechia, goalie Petr Mrazek gets his regular #34.