2019 Free Agency Thoughts: Day One

I noted my thoughts about each of the Red Wings free agent signings yesterday as they were announced.  Since then, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman has spoken and explained some of his plan.

I’m not sure I buy it, so I’m going to revisit those thoughts a bit.

Calvin Pickard

Yzerman confirmed that Pickard is bound for Grand Rapids, not competing with Jonathan Bernier for the backup role in Detroit, as was suggested when rumors of the deal broke on Sunday.  That makes significantly more sense.

My only concern is how Pickard (along with Curtis McElhinney) was claimed on waivers at the start of last season, leaving the Toronto Marlies without any goalies.  That said, veteran goalies make it through waivers every year, it’s last year that was the outlier.  I think it’s safe to blame my concern on recency bias.

Patrik Nemeth

I honestly don’t know much about Nemeth.  At first glance he seems like a good fit for the Red Wings.  Yzerman specifically mentioned that he could play with either Mike Green or Filip Hronek.  I imagine that whichever of those two doesn’t pair up with Nemeth gets Danny DeKeyser and, while not great by any means, that could be a solid top four.

The problem is the ever-present logjam.  Assuming a third pair of Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson with Madison Bowey as the seventh defenseman, that means there’s no room for Dennis Cholowski or Oliwer Kaski or anyone who might surprise in training camp.

I’ve seen a lot of people saying that it’ll be okay because there will be injuries, which was the case to start the season last year.  In all likelihood, yes, players will get hurt.  If you are counting on that, though, you have to count on someone getting hurt badly enough that they go on injured reserve, otherwise their roster spot isn’t cleared and no one can be called up to fill in.  So to get significant time for anyone outside that top seven, you have to hope for significant time lost due to injury to someone, which doesn’t sit well with me.

By the end of the season things might be different.  Ericsson and Daley and Green could all be gone.  Of course, there’s most of a season to play between now and the trade deadline and the last time the Wings expected to see a veteran defenseman moved in February, he got hurt and ended up signing an extension.

Valtteri Filppula

Oh, here’s the big one.  Yzerman says that Filppula was brought back to give the Red Wings depth at center, allowing them to shift Andreas Athanasiou back to his natural position at wing.

Obviously the organization thinks Athanasiou’s try-out as second-line center to end last season didn’t go well enough.  That’s fine.  I don’t think it was enough time to tell but I’m willing to accept their conclusion.  The issue is that I don’t accept that Valtteri Filppula is a second-line center.

The Wings now have a top line center in Dylan Larkin and bottom-six centers in Filppula, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening, Christoffer Ehn, and Jacob de la RoseDarren Helm can fill in at center and Yzerman mentioned Justin Abdelkader as well, which I think would be awful.  Helm and Abdelkader can be ignored anyway, though, because that’s six centers for three lines, none of which is the second line.

If the choice is between playing Athanasiou out of position and seeing how it goes or playing Filppula up a line, I’d pick Athanasiou.

I have nothing against Filppula as a third line center.  If Yzerman were to find a way to move Nielsen and slot Filppula in there, I’d be all for it.  Especially with Filppula coming in cheaper than Nielsen.  But that’s not the move that’s happening.

On Keeping Howard, Nyquist, and Jensen

We’re ten days away from the 2019 trade deadline and, because of the company line coming out of the Red Wings, I find myself looking ahead to the team’s lineup for next season.

Four months ago, at the start of what was expected to be – and has proven to be – another lost season in Detroit, much of the chatter was about which players would be moved before the end of the season and what pieces might come back that could help the team’s rebuild.  Max Bultman of The Athletic, for example, was speculating about Jimmy Howard bringing in a first round pick or a top prospect back in November (subscription only).

But now we’re hearing how much the Wings want to keep Howard, as they’ve got no goalies in the system ready to take over for him.  We’re hearing about how much chemistry Gustav Nyqiust has with Dylan Larkin.  How Luke Glendening is such an important part of the room.  How Nick Jensen‘s analytics and low contract make him worth keeping while the team’s blueline prospects continue developing.

Let’s take a look at the Wings’ roster for last night’s game against the Senators, courtesy of MLive’s Ansar Khan (who still has me blocked on Twitter).

Gustav Nyquist – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
Darren HelmFrans NielsenThomas Vanek
Andreas Athanasiou – Luke Glendening – Christoffer Ehn
Justin AbdelkaderJacob de la RoseMichael Rasmussen

Niklas KronwallMike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Jonathan EricssonTrevor Daley

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

Scratches: Martin Frk, Dennis Cholowski, Luke Witkowski

Nyquist, Vanek, Kronwall, Jensen, Witkowski, and Howard are all pending unrestricted free agents.  Additionally, Frk – who was sent down to the Grand Rapids Griffins along with Cholowski after last night’s game – is a restricted free agent.

Given the team’s stated desire to keep Howard, Jensen, and Nyquist, for this exercise, I’m going to assume that they’re brought back.  I’m also going to assume that Frk and Witkowski aren’t re-signed and that Kronwall retires.  With those assumptions in place, the Wings’ lineup becomes as follows:

Gustav Nyquist – Dylan Larkin – Anthony Mantha
Darren Helm – Frans Nielsen – Tyler Bertuzzi
Andreas Athanasiou – Luke Glendening – Christoffer Ehn
Justin Abdelkader – Jacob de la Rose – Michael Rasmussen

Dennis Cholowski – Mike Green
Danny DeKeyser – Nick Jensen
Jonathan Ericsson – Trevor Daley

Jimmy Howard
Jonathan Bernier

Scratches: Filip Hronek, available, available

I’ll continue my assumptions and have Filip Hronek up with the Red Wings next season, in this case as the seventh defenseman, after Cholowski slots into the spot vacated by Kronwall.  We can assume that Tyler Bertuzzi will be healthy so he gets Vanek’s spot.

How the Wings fill those open spots really doesn’t matter for my purposes.  The important thing is to see just how much of the roster would be returning in this scenario.

On the strength of this week’s wins over the Predators and Senators, the Red Wings currently sit in 28th place in the NHL, six points up on last-place Ottawa, with all three teams below them having a game in hand.

Some of that can be blamed on the team’s horrific start to the season when injuries forced forced them to ice an extremely inexperienced defensive corps.  At some point, though, you just have to accept that this lineup just isn’t very good.

This despite a near-career year from Nyquist.  This despite a resurgence from a Jimmy Howard who will be 35 before the season ends.

If the Wings are intent on bringing back Howard and Nyquist and Jensen, they’ll essentially be bringing back the entirety of their 28th place lineup next season, one year older, yet expecting a better result.

It’s fine for this team to be bad while they’re going through a rebuild but, at some point, you have to actually rebuild.  Bringing back the same losing lineup year after year isn’t a rebuild, it’s just losing.

Red Wings Add Forward de la Rose

The Red Wings announced on Wednesday that they have claimed forward Jacob de la Rose off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens.

de la Rose is likely a depth forward, but given that the Red Wings are already scratching Martin Frk and sometimes-forward Luke Witkowski, one has to question what adding yet another forward get them.

My guess?  This gives the team some added depth if they decide to send Michael Rasmussen back to juniors.  Evgeny Svechnikov is hurt and Filip Zadina seems to need more time in Grand Rapids.  de la Rose gives them a body who they can let sit in the press box if that’s all they need.