On A June Draft and Draft Lottery Changes

The National Hockey League is apparently making a push for holding its Entry Draft sometime in June, while still intending to finish the 2019-2020 season sometime later in the year.

Obviously there would be a lot of logistical issues to sort out with such a plan, and one of the proposals would come as a pretty big benefit to the Red Wings (and Ottawa Senators).

As a Wings fan, obviously, the idea of picking no lower than second is fantastic, especially after having dropped three spots in each of the last two drafts due to the lottery.

That said, this plan makes me feel uneasy for several reasons.

Most importantly, I really dislike the optics of changing the rules mid-season.  Teams went into the season expecting the draft lottery to look one way and now they’re being told it might not actually play out like that.  Changing things on the fly is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, which I’ll circle back to momentarily.

Of course, we’re in unprecedented times where every option needs to be on the table, so maybe a change like this is palatable.  But a midseason draft wouldn’t just be about a change to the draft lottery, it would also essentially mean a draft without trades, as no playoff-eligible team is going to want to move assets for draft picks.  This is another case where teams may have planned for a scenario that will be taken from them, as there are certainly general managers who would look to package a plethora of picks for a different form of help.

If the league were to resume in late summer and feature a Stanley Cup Finals series ending in October, for example, we would be looking at a draft occurring in the middle of what would be players’ draft +1 season.  Additionally, just because the NHL might be willing to extend their 2019-2020 season into the fall doesn’t mean the other leagues will, so you could see the Entry Draft taking place after the start of every other league’s 2020-2021 season, which would raise all kinds of questions about how that would even work.

I’m not saying there are any easy answers to this.  I think the reasons for a fall draft are better than those for a June one but I don’t have to worry about the business side of things so it’s easy for me to say that.

Coming back to the draft lottery, though…

The NHL adopted the current lottery system in the wake of the Connor McDavid draft, which saw the Sabres and Coyotes abandon all pretense of putting forth a competitive roster in an effort to get the best odds of drafting McDavid.  The Oilers ended up winning that draft, because of course they did, with Buffalo forced to settle for Jack Eichel at second overall.

To prevent such tanking, the NHL changed the lottery to give every non-playoff team a chance at first-overall, second-overall, and third-overall.  The worst team in the league now has higher odds of picking forth than they do of picking first.

I believe that to be an overreaction.  The league already had rules in place that could have been used to prevent tanking, namely, the ability to reject trades.  My thinking is that, if the league thinks a team is so blatantly tanking, it can stop accepting the team’s trades.  Otherwise, the current rules punish legitimately bad teams for what two kind of bad teams did in an ultimately-futile effort to get a generational talent.

That said, I don’t think restoring the old lottery rules should be done on the fly, as would be the case under the current proposal.

Here’s what happens when you spring unexpected changes on people: They think there’s an ulterior motive.  I say that with full acknowledgement that I still look at the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals and can’t help but think that the league knew that deviating from it’s originally-announced schedule would help the Penguins.  Let me spin you a conspiracy theory…

Going into Game Five of the 2009 Western Conference Finals on May 27, the Red Wings were beat up.  The Stanley Cup Finals had been announced as beginning on June 6, though, so they knew that if they could finish off the Blackhawks in that fifth game, they would have time to rest and heal.  They did win that game, needing overtime to do so.

And then the league announced that the Finals were being rescheduled.  Instead of over a week of rest, the Red Wings were getting two days.

With both the Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins having finished their series early, it made sense to move the schedule for the Finals up a bit.  The league’s broadcast partner, NBC, was debuting Conan O’Brien as the new host of the Tonight Show the following week, though, so they weren’t comfortable showing games that might push into that timeslot.  Hence, the series had to start on the weekend, and why a break of eight days couldn’t become five but had to become two.  Detroit was expected to accept the change for the greater good of the league and its partner.

Without the rest, Pavel Datsyuk was too hurt to play, but the Red Wings still won the first two games of the series.  The second of which ended with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin given an instigator penalty for fighting Henrik Zetterberg.  According to new rules adopted that season, the late-game instigator meant that Malkin would be suspended for Game Three.

But the league announced that the rule was never intended for cases like that or players like Malkin and reversed the suspension.  Malkin tallied three assists and was the second star of the game as the Penguins won Game Three, continuing on to rally twice to win the series.

Both the rescheduling of the series and the reversal of Malkin’s suspension make sense in the context of extenuating circumstances.  However, the fact that changing the schedule or reversing the suspension weren’t even known to be options leading up to them actually happening provides room for a different narrative to be supplied.

As such, if the league fails to communicate exactly why the draft lottery is changed this year, if it is at all, and what other options were considered, they will be putting themselves in the position of breeding conspiracy theories.

Of course, in 2009 the Red Wings and their fans were told by many to suck it up because those changes, however they were communicated, were for the good of the league.  I’m sure anyone opposed to the proposed draft lottery changes will happily accept that explanation now.

An(other) Alternate Rebuild

Over the holidays I ended up in several conversations with family members about the state of the Red Wings’ rebuild.

There was a lot of disbelief about how bad the Red Wings are (which shows me which of my family members don’t follow this site on Twitter).  The general assumption was that the team would have rebounded more quickly than they have.  When looking at rebuild timelines, I found myself comparing the Red Wings to the New York Rangers.

The difference between the teams is that the Rangers had assets to give up in trade when they started their rebuild.  They shipped out Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, Rick Nash to Boston, and Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg, among others.

The Red Wings, meanwhile, had to watch a market not develop for Jimmy Howard, and a market not develop for Thomas Vanek, and Mike Green get hurt in the lead up to the trade deadline.

Former Detroit GM Ken Holland deserves credit for some of his deals, certainly, but he was working from a disadvantage from the start, as the Red Wings haven’t had big pieces to sell for futures.

So start the rebuild earlier, right?  When the Red Wings actually had tradable assets?  I’ve looked at what the Red Wings’ rebuild might have looked like if they’d stopped buying at the deadline sooner, but what if they were actively selling?

Let’s call the lockout-shortened 2013 season the Red Wings’ last chance at a deep run, an overtime loss away from a spot in the conference finals.  As such, this rebuild doesn’t begin until the 2014 trade deadline.  Perhaps they not only choose not to acquire David Legwand but they decide to actively sell and start the rebuild.

Daniel Alfredsson has value at that point but he also had a no-move clause; I’ll assume he stays put.

Jonas Gustavsson could have some value as a pending free agent.  The goalie market is fickle and he has a modified no-trade clause.  It’s unlikely he’s bringing in a difference-making haul but there’s room for something there.

Kyle Quincey is a pending free agent in the summer of 2014, so there’s an interesting rental option.  Similarly, Jonathan Ericsson is on an expiring deal (though with a modified NTC).

I’ll assume Gustavsson, Quincey, and Ericsson all get traded, replaced by the earlier promotions of Petr Mrazek and Ryan Sproul and an Adam Almquist that stays in North America with a roster spot reserved for him.

Come February 2015, the Red Wings are out of contention but don’t have any obvious candidates to deal away.  Brendan Smith could be an option but I’m going to say he’s young enough for the Wings to keep and not good enough for a team to throw a great deal at Holland to pry him away.  It’s possible that Detroit signed a veteran defenseman instead of going with Sproul/Almquist and that this veteran could be flipped here but that’s going to be the case at every deadline.

In 2016 we’re looking at Darren Helm and Justin Abelkader being possible trade deadline departures.  We’re also getting into a series of years where the Red Wings should be looking to deal Howard and go with the younger Mrazek in goal.

So by the time we catch up with when Detroit’s rebuild actually happened, we’ve moved out Gustavsson, Quincey, Ericsson, Helm, Abdelkader, and Howard.  We might have also seen the Red Wings sign some veterans to one-year deals only to flip them at the deadline (which could be how this alternate Red Wings team still ends up with Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott in time for the 2017 deadline).  We also might have seen Sproul and Almquist (or anyone else who stepped up with more ice time available) flipped.

I can’t see them having moved Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, or Niklas Kronwall.

The problem is I also can’t see any of those deals having brought back large pieces for Detroit’s rebuild.

Quincey is two seasons removed from having fetched a first-round pick but hasn’t really proven that he was worth that investment.  Ericsson is comparable.  Neither Helm nor Abdelkader has dropped off quite as much as we’ve seen since then.  Possibilities are there, for certain.  But there’s no McDonaugh in that group.

That said, that doesn’t mean there would have been no benefit to starting the rebuild sooner.  While I lament the Red Wings’ lack of high-value draft picks, high quantity of draft picks is still a good thing.

Dropping out of contention sooner also makes the Red Wings’ draft picks from 2014 on better, perhaps with bouncing lottery balls being kinder as well.  The 2019 version of this team could be benefitting from those draft picks rather than a 2014 draft that has produced only Dylan Larkin and Christoffer Ehn.

Given that we know the Red Wings got nothing for Quincey and Gustavsson and will likely get little to nothing for Ericsson, Helm, and Abdelkader, it’s safe to say that starting the rebuild sooner would have allowed them to cash in on more pieces.  However, that doesn’t mean that the team would be back in contention by now.


A deeper comparison of the Red Wings and Rangers…

Detroit’s streak of making the playoffs ended in 2017, with their rebuild beginning six weeks earlier at the at the trade deadline.  The Rangers, meanwhile, notified their fanbase of their intent to rebuild via letter in February 2018, in advance of that season’s trade deadline.

Starting with the 2017 trade deadline, through the end of the 2018-29 season, Detroit turned nine roster players (Nick Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist, Steve Ott, Riley Sheahan, Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Thomas Vanek) and a draft pick (a 2018 fifth-rounder that became Justin Almeida) into two players (Madison Bowey and Dylan McIlrath) and 13 draft picks.

None of the players selected with those picks have made the NHL, so it’s far too early to tell how the trades turned out overall.  That said, I want to look at what the Red Wings traded for, not the specific players they used those picks on.  Using PDWhoa’s Consolidated Draft Pick Value, the thirteen picks come to a total value of 481.24 (excluding the two future draft picks that don’t have a value yet, as we don’t know their overall position in their respective drafts).

The pick that became Almeida carries a value of 19.36, giving Detroit an increase of 461.88 in draft pick value.

That number feels underwhelming to me.

The Rangers, on the other hand, acquired 480.29 in draft pick value.  That doesn’t seem like much difference but New York started their rebuild one year later, giving them two drafts worth of picks to work with instead of three.  They also added players such as Brendan Lemieux and Brett Howden.

New York was also able to leverage the number of picks they’d acquired into deals for long-rumored Red Wings’ target Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox.

I’m not saying the Rangers’ rebuild is complete by any means.  They’re simply my example for how different a rebuild looks when a team has pieces to work with from the start.

Thoughts on the Captaincy

Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill announced today that the team would go a second consecutive season without naming a captain.

The move comes contrary to rumors that flew all summer about Detroit star Dylan Larkin being named as the successor to Henrik Zetterberg, whose playing career is over due to back issues but will remain under contract with the club for two more seasons.  While Larkin may indeed be the Red Wings next captain, that won’t happen this season.

While a new captain will not be named defensive specialist Luke Glendening was added to the rotation of alternate captains (alongside Larkin, Justin Abdelkader, and Frans Nielsen), giving the Red Wings four players wearing the A.

The captaincy is something that is very tradition-heavy in the NHL.  Steve Yzerman‘s retired jersey banner includes the C in recognition of his tenure as Detroit’s captain.  Joe Sakic’s does as well, as the Avalanche have never had an original thought.

It was a big deal when the Vancouver Canucks named goalie Roberto Luongo as their captain in 2008, skirting NHL rules to do so.  Similarly, it was something of a shock when, just five years ago, the San Jose Sharks stripped Joe Thornton of their captaincy.

Now, it seems that some of the gravitas behind the captaincy is gone.

Per the NHL rulebook, only players with letters are allowed to talk to the referees.  That rule is ignored on a nightly basis.  If any player can talk to the refs, there’s no in-game reason to designate one as captain.

The Red Wings showed how unnecessary on-ice captains are during the 2015-16 season.  For 34 games that year they dressed two or fewer captains due to injury, opting not to name replacements on a game-by-game basis, knowing there was no need to.  A season earlier they did that ten times, while also using four alternate-alternate captains.

Compare the current decade to the 1990s.

From 1990-91 to 1999-2000, there were six instances of a team going an entire season without a captain.  Three of those were the first seasons of the expansion Tampa Bay Lightning.

There will be as many cases of teams going captain-less this season, same as last season.  There will be 25 instances of teams not naming a captain between 2010-11 and 2019-20.  Three of those were the first seasons of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.

Teams are instead opting to name a “leadership group,” as the Golden Knights called it in 2017 and the Canucks did in 2018 and the Red Wings have seemingly done this year.

It may just be that the captaincy doesn’t carry the importance it used to.  If a letter isn’t required on the ice, and if leaders make themselves known in the dressing room regardless of whether or not they’re a captain, then why name one at all?

On Jersey Number Retirements

The Red Wings announced yesterday that they will retire the #4 of Leonard “Red” Kelly prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 1, 2019.

Kelly won four Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Red Wings in the early 1950s, was the team’s captain later in the decade, and then was traded to the Maple Leafs during the 1959-60 season (as punishment for disclosing that he had played on a broken ankle, something Detroit general manager Jack Adams was keeping secret).  He switched to playing center with Toronto and won four more Stanley Cups.

After retiring in 1967, Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.  The Maple Leafs honored his number on October 4, 2006, and fully retired it on October 15, 2016, in a celebration of the team’s 100th anniversary.


Retiring Red Kelly‘s number makes sense but I still can’t shake a cynical feeling about it.

It’s an honor that should have happened in the early 1990s.  The Red Wings retired Ted Lindsay‘s #7 and Alex Delvecchio‘s #10 in 1991, Terry Sawchuk‘s #1 in 1994, and Sid Abel’s #12 in 1995.  Kelly would have fit perfectly into that group as the core of the team’s early 1950s Stanley Cup Championships.  That his number wasn’t raised to the rafters then seemed to show that it wouldn’t be.

Since then we’ve seen Steve Yzerman‘s #19 and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5 raised, with much pomp and circumstance leading up to the events.  The dates were announced before the start of the season and ticket packages were sold around them.

So to see Kelly’s number retired now, with the announcement tucked into a pregame press availability, gives me a bad vibe.  It feels to me like a ploy to get people to come down to a game between a bad team and a very good team.

That said, as I Tweeted last night, the timing makes more sense than the Wings usually give to jersey retirements.  Toronto is the perfect opponent to raise Kelly’s number against, while history shows the team preferring to do so against a lesser draw on a weeknight to boost their ticket sales.  So if there’s a reason to give the team the benefit of the doubt, it’s that.

Whatever the reason, a deserving number is going to the rafters, righting the wrong of it not having been up there already.


But if I’m talking about wrongs, I have to mention Larry Aurie.  The franchise’s first star player, Aurie led the Red Wings in their early days, including when the team was known as the Cougars and the Falcons.

Jack Adams thought enough of Aurie that his #6 was retired in 1939, when Aurie hung up his skates.  It was later brought back into circulation so that Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, could wear it, then put back into retirement.

Gordie Howe‘s #9 later joined Aurie’s #6 as unavailable, but in old arenas like The Olympia, teams rarely raised numbers to the rafters.

That changed with the team’s move to Joe Louis Arena and Mike and Marian Ilitch buying the team from the Norris family.  Howe’s #9 was the first number given a banner.  Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel would follow.  Aurie did not.

At some point, the team’s story became that the core of the 1950s Cup Championship teams were all Hall of Famers and that only those in the HHOF would get banners.  Aurie never made it to the Hall, so his number would be retired but not honored.

Then the 2000-01 NHL Guide and Record Book came out, with Aurie’s #6 no longer listed among the team’s retired numbers.  Suddenly it was not only not honored but not even retired at all.

Despite this seeming lost of status, #6 was not assigned between 2000 and 2010, when Mike Modano signed with Detroit.  Modano – unable to get his usual #9 due to it’s retirement for Howe – asked about #6.

“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.

“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”

If the all-time leading American scorer can’t have the number, that sure sounds to me like it’s retired.

They may not have raised banners to celebrate that in the 1930s, but we do now, and it’s time for Aurie’s number to have that honor.


And then there’s Sergei Fedorov.

There was buzz over the summer that Fedorov’s #91 might be retired this season, something that didn’t come to happen.  Chris Ilitch commented on that when Kelly’s number retirement was announced.

“Obviously Sergei was an outstanding Red Wing. He was a big part of bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ilitch answered. “The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject, it deserves a lot of conversation, a lot of thought. We’re continuously evaluating that with our organization. Related to 91 and 40 (Henrik Zetterberg), let’s see what the future holds.”

It wasn’t what Ilitch said, though, that really explained where Fedorov stands with the organization.  That was Jim Devellano.

“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”

What this makes clear is that this is an organization that holds grudges.

You buy a team, you get to run it how you want, and that means you don’t have to honor any players you don’t want to.  We’ve seen that with Aurie (for whatever reason) and we’ll see that with Fedorov.  We’ll probably see it with Pavel Datsyuk.

Thoughts on Game One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Larkin, Nielsen Added to Red Wings Captaincy Rotation

Reporting from the Red Wings’ practice today, Helene St. James of the Free Press notes that the the team will not name a new captain this season, instead adding Dylan Larkin as a third alternate for home games with Frans Nielsen taking that role on the road.

As I noted on Twitter, I expect that Niklas Kronwall will retire this summer and Larkin will take on the C, leaving Abdelkader and Nielsen with the As next season.

Given that the team isn’t even giving lip service to the idea of Henrik Zetterberg still being a part of this team – having given away his dressing room stall and with him doing a ceremonial puck drop at Thursday’s home opener – I would have almost preferred to see the Red Wings just name a new captain now.

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter.  Keep in mind that this is a team that has rolled with fewer than three captains for several games over the past few seasons.  Clearly who actually wears a letter isn’t all that important.

Red Wings Sign Larkin to Five-Year Deal

The Red Wings announced on Friday the signing of restricted free agent forward Dylan Larkin to a five-year deal.

Per idiotic team policy, the financial terms of the contract were not announced, but The Athletic’s Craig Custance almost immediately reported the deal to be worth $6.1 million annually.

Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent when the contract ends.

With the signing, the Red Wings have 22 players on their roster for next season and $82,772,044 against the salary cap, which is set at $79,500,000.  While Johan Franzen going on LTIR will save them almost $4 million, those numbers include only six defensemen on the roster, leaving the Red Wings in a bit of a cap crunch, especially if Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina are expected to compete for roster spots.

Even assuming that Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski are treated as expendable and are replaced on the roster by Rasmussen and Zadina, the Red Wings end up about $44,000 over the cap without resolving their blueline depth issues.

Shifting Witkowski to defense and sending Frk to Grand Rapids could possibly open a spot for either Rasmussen or Zadina but then Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek are shut out of a spot in Detroit.

Bottom line?  If any of “the kids” are going to make the Red Wings’ opening night roster, more moves are coming, with Henrik Zetterberg‘s health likely to play a large part in that.

Thoughts on Day One of Free Agency: 2018 Edition

I actually said most of what I wanted to say about the Red Wings’ efforts on the first day of the 2018 free agency period earlier in the day, but I want to highlight a bit of an unintentional rant on Twitter.

I feel like that rant could have come from any offseason since about 2013.

Every spring when the Wings go their separate ways, we hear from Ken Holland about how they’re going to give “the kids” a shot in the fall.  Every summer the team goes out and fills their open roster spots with veterans.  Then we hear that all the kids have to do is beat out the veterans.

Michael Rasmussen was the Wings’ best player in the preseason last year and didn’t even get his nine-game look during the regular season.  He was sent straight back to juniors.  I’m not saying he was definitely ready for the NHL, I’m just saying he earned a look that he didn’t get because there wasn’t a spot for him.

So lets look at the Wings’ roster.  These were their lines heading into the final game of last season, per Winging it in Motown:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
David Booth – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke WitkowskiAndreas AthanasiouMartin Frk

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Xavier Ouellet
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
Jared Coreau

Okay, now lets look at it with the players who have departed the Wings removed:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik ZetterbergGustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
<open> – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke Witkowski – Andreas Athanasiou – Martin Frk

Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – <open>
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
<open>

So that’s one open spot up front, one on the blueline, and the backup goalie job.  And who did the Red Wings sign (or re-sign) today?  A forward, a defenseman, and a goalie.

That leaves the lines looking like this:

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik Zetterberg – Gustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Darren Helm
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Justin Abdelkader
Luke Witkowski – Andreas Athanasiou – Martin Frk

Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Mike Green
Niklas Kronwall – Nick Jensen

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

That’s a full lineup.  I don’t think it’s their best possible lineup, though.  Let’s assume that Frk and Jensen are either gone or in the press box.  We’ll do the same for Witkowski, even though I highly doubt he’s going anywhere.

Tyler Bertuzzi – Henrik Zetterberg – Gustav Nyquist
Anthony Mantha – Dylan Larkin – Filip Zadina
Thomas Vanek – Frans Nielsen – Michael Rasmussen
Darren Helm – Andreas Athanasiou – Justin Abdelkader

Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser – Mike Green
Niklas Kronwall – Filip Hronek

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

That’s getting a little better.  But where is Joe HickettsDennis CholowskiEvgeny Svechnikov?

Also, that only removes the players who I deemed most expendable from the Wings’ roster.  What if Svechnikov outplays Nyquist or Vanek this fall?  What if Cholowski is better than Ericsson or DeKeyser?  Do we really see any of those vets sitting in favor of the kids?  Of course not.

So Detroit’s lineup is relatively set.  At best, one of the kids is going to make the Wings’ blueline, because it makes no sense for them to be up as the seventh defenseman.  I’ll say it’s Hronek.  What does that mean for the Griffins?

Here are the defensemen who were dressed for the Griffins’ season-ending loss to the Manitoba Moose in Game Five of their first-round series:

Joe Hicketts
Robbie Russo
Filip Hronek
Brian Lashoff
Dan Renouf
Dylan McIlrath

Since then, the Wings have sent Russo to the Arizona Coyotes and let Renouf walk.  We’re also assuming Hronek makes the Detroit lineup, so that’s three open spots.

Well, it was three open spots.  Detroit signed Jake Chelios, today, so we’re back down to two spots for Vili Saarijarvi, Libor Sulak, and Dennis Cholowski.  Or the Griffins could just roll seven defensemen, as they reluctantly did for part of last season, all the while admitting it was less than ideal.

The bottom line is if the Red Wings actually want to have spots available for Svechnikov or David Pope or Dominic Turgeon or Saarijarvi or Cholowski, they’re going to have to move players out of the way.

Ken Holland has never proven able or willing to do this.  He’s proven content to wait for injuries, which haven’t always happened.  He wouldn’t have to hope for that without some of today’s signings.

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.