Red Wings Deal Defenseman Saarijarvi for Goalie Comrie

With goalie Jimmy Howard injured, the Red Wings improved their depth at that position on Saturday, trading defenseman Vili Saarijarvi to the Arizona Coyotes for minor league goalie Eric Comrie.

I’ve always been a Saarijarvi fan but over the last several years it’s become clear that he was not in the Red Wings’ long-term plans.  As such, with it seeming like Howard will be out for an extended period, it makes sense to use the player you’re not going to use to acquire something you need right now.

Comrie is not waiver-exempt, and Calvin Pickard has already cleared waivers, so it seems likely that Comrie will back up Jonathan Bernier while Howard is out with Pickard heading back to Grand Rapids (and Pat Nagle headed back to Toledo from there).

At only 24, Comrie could also have a future with the organization, rather than just being a stop-gap.  He’s signed through the end of next season, as is Bernier, so Detroit could be looking at a Bernier/Comrie tandem for 2020-21, with Howard a free agent this summer and potentially departing.

Of course, Pickard is also signed with Detroit for next season, so it gives the team options.  The Red Wings will want Filip Larsson getting playing time in Grand Rapids, though, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see both Pickard and Comrie with the Griffins at any point in the next 18 months.

2019 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

With the Red Wings having claimed the Matthew Wuest Memorial Cup as champions of the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, the team is ready for their main training camp to begin, and with that comes the release of their training camp roster.

The roster includes 67 players.  Only two players who were on the Prospects Tournament roster will not be appearing in the main camp – Elmer Soderblom and Gustav Berglund.  No NHL free agents will be appearing with the Red Wings as pro try-outs.

There are no surprise jersey number changes revealed by the roster announcement.

Evgeni Svechnikov, who missed the entire 2018-19 season, will keep the #37 he was scheduled to wear last year.  He wore that number for his debut in 2016-17 before switching to #77 for the 2017-18 campaign.

Finnish free agent signing Oliwer Kaski claims that #77, after having worn #7 with Pelicans last season.  Kaski taking #77 would explain why Taro Hirose, who specifically was looking for a number with seven in it, took #67 instead of #77.

I had speculated that #26 might have gone to Thomas Vanek on a PTO but that ended up going to Grand Rapids Griffins’ captain Matt Ford, who was assigned #77 last fall.  Similarly, I thought that #50 might go to someone on a try-out but, instead, it’s been assigned to Dominik Shine, with Ryan Kuffner having taken the #56 that Shine wore in camp last year.

Goalie Calvin Pickard, the Red Wings’ only remaining free agent signing to not have a number announced, has taken #31.  He’s worn #30 in the past but Detroit has that semi-retired for Chris Osgood, it would seem.

The #3 worn last season by Nick Jensen has been assigned to defenseman Jared McIsaacLibor Sulak‘s #47 has gone to Marcus Crawford of the Griffins.

Any other changes are related to camp invitees and/or were already confirmed.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
8 Justin Abdelkader
11 Filip Zadina
15 Chris Terry
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Matthew Ford
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
41 Luke Glendening
42 Mathieu Bizier
43 Darren Helm
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
50 Dominik Shine
51 Valtteri Filppula
54 Matt Puempel
56 Ryan Kuffner
57 Turner Elson
58 David Pope
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 Jacob de la Rose
62 Cody Morgan
64 Josh Kestner
67 Taro Hirose
70 Christoffer Ehn
71 Dylan Larkin
72 Andreas Athanasiou
73 Adam Erne
75 Troy Loggins
76 Jarid Lukosevicius
78 Gregor MacLeod
79 Thomas Casey
81 Frans Nielsen
82 Tyler Spezia
88 Chad Yetman
89 Owen Robinson
90 Joe Veleno

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Jared McIsaac
17 Filip Hronek
20 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
22 Patrik Nemeth
25 Mike Green
28 Gustav Lindstrom
29 Vili Saarijarvi
32 Brian Lashoff
47 Marcus Crawford
52 Jonathan Ericsson
53 Moritz Seider
63 Alec McCrea
65 Danny DeKeyser
74 Madison Bowey
77 Oliwer Kaski
83 Trevor Daley
86 Charle-Edouard D’Astous
87 Marc-Olivier Duquette
94 Alec Regula
98 Owen Lalonde

Goalies

Num. Name
31 Calvin Pickard
35 Jimmy Howard
36 Kaden Fulcher
38 Filip Larsson
45 Jonathan Bernier
60 Pat Nagle
68 Sean Romeo
80 Anthony Popovich

Post Trade-Deadline Thoughts

I tried to sum up my thoughts on what turned out to be the final Red Wings’ trade of this season’s deadline in my post about the trade of Gustav Nyquist to the San Jose Sharks, but I think there’s more to it than that.

I absolutely get playing the percentages.  I get that you can’t trade for things that other teams don’t want to give you.  It’s just that this team isn’t very good right now, it isn’t very fun to watch, and even their rebuild strategy is boring.

So, yeah, good deal, I’m just not going to get excited about it.

When Ken Holland spoke to the media after the trade deadline passed, he highlighted that there wasn’t a market for goalies, so he couldn’t move Jimmy Howard.  He wasn’t going to ask Niklas Kronwall to move out of respect for the veteran.  No one asked about Thomas Vanek and no one was willing to pay for Luke Glendening.

The general consensus reflects that.  The Red Wings did the best they could with what they had.

I think that’s the part that’s depressing to me.  Not that the Wings were sellers.  Not that the team is in a rebuild.  That they’re sellers with not much to sell, so they can’t get big pieces back for the rebuild.

Maybe Glendening on a cheaper contract or Darren Helm on a shorter one would have been moved but that’s not what the Wings have.  The trade deadline is hard to swallow because the team as constructed is not good and can’t even be sold for scrap.

Next year it might be different, with Mike Green and Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson all on expiring deals.  But that’s all we have as Wings fans now.  Wait for bad contracts to be burned off.  Watch what little the team can sell be moved for second and third round draft picks.  Hope that one of those picks hits.

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.

Forty-one

It’s a new year, the Red Wings are exactly halfway through their season, and I haven’t written anything in quite awhile.  Sounds like a good time to check in.

If you’re positive, you look at the Wings being ten points out of a playoff spot and think “Hey, that’s only five wins, there’s still a chance!”  You’d be correct, and someone in the Wings’ front office might even say something to that effect.  “Just go on a run and see what happens.”  I’d feel a lot better if we didn’t hear that, though.

If you’re negative, or if you’re more focused on the future, or if you’ve written off this season for whatever reason, you might look at the standings in the opposite direction.  Detroit is three points up of last-place Ottawa with the Sens holding a game in hand.

You could argue that the “Lose for Hughes” case is strong here – I called for it often last summer – but even that has an issue.  Detroit might be just three points out of last place but there are so many teams at the bottom of the standings that the Wings would still have (pre-draft lottery) the seventh overall pick.  The standings are so packed that a single additional win in the first half of the season would have put them out of the top ten in the draft.

To me, the standings are a worst-case scenario for the Red Wings.  Bad enough to be out of the playoff race but not bad enough to have locked up a high draft pick.

Okay, so the standings are bad.  That was to be expected.  What’s good?

Not much, but what’s good is important.

Dylan Larkin is on a pace to shatter his season scoring records.  Eighty points wouldn’t be a stretch with a previous personal best of 63.  He could end up in the mid-thirties in goals scored.  The Wings needed him to take a step forward and he has.

Similarly, Andreas Athanasiou is putting up career numbers and is getting the ice time that he seemed to think he was due last season, at 16:29 per game.

Dennis Cholowski has stepped in and looked good on a Detroit blue line that’s been wracked by injuries.

Jimmy Howard is having himself a bit of a renaissance just in time to raise his trade value.  Whether or not the team actually moves him will probably have to wait to be seen.  My prediction is that they don’t, simply because I strongly believe they should and this team frustrates me to no end.

Gustav Nyquist‘s trade value also looks good, and if you squint just right you might think he could hit 70 points on a better team (he’s almost on that pace as it is).

So there are positives here.  The Wings still sit in good draft spot, they’ve had young players step forward, and some of their potential trade pieces are keeping up their value.  It might make the season hard to watch but it’s good overall.

What else?  Well…

Anthony Mantha remains out after injuring his hand in a fight on December 2.  He recently re-iterated that, despite having hurt his hand twice in his four career fights, this won’t stop him from fighting in the future.  This drives me nuts.

I get that hockey is a fast sport.  I get (but don’t believe in) “the code” and all that, by which players attempt to police themselves.  There are two things wrong with that.

My initial complaint was that if Anthony Mantha (or Dylan Larkin, or Michael Rasmussen, or whoever) is the one fighting to avenge dirty hits, then what is Luke Witkowski on the Wings’ roster for?  We don’t have traditional enforcers anymore, true, but isn’t Witkowski supposed to be here to handle that for the enforcers?

As I said, though, it’s a fast game.  Witkowski’s not out there and Mantha is so Mantha handles it.  Okay.  But if Mantha is fighting Patrick Nemeth because he didn’t like a hit that Nemeth put on Dylan Larkin, what does Nemeth learn from it.  In theory, he learns that if he makes that hit, he’s going to get hurt back.  In practice, he just learned that if he makes that hit, he can hurt a second Red Wings’ scorer by letting Mantha smash his hand into his head for a bit.

It just seems counterproductive to me.  Mantha needs to learn that it doesn’t help.  So we’ll see how much his views on fighting carry into the second half of the season.

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.

Belated Draft Weekend Thoughts

I was in and out of cell service while camping in Manistee for draft weekend, which means I didn’t really get a chance to put down my thoughts on the Red Wings’ selections as they happened, so I’m going to run through some of that now.

After weeks of debating Quinn Hughes over Evan Bouchard over Adam Boqvist, is it weird that not getting any of them feels a little like a letdown, even if the reason the Wings “missed out” is because Filip Zadina fell to them?

Even with the Wings’ defensive needs, Zadina was absolutely the right pick at #6.  Or #5.  Or probably #4.  The Wings got the best player available, someone who could step into the lineup right now and contribute.

And at #30, they got another forward who fell to them in Joe Veleno, someone projected to go ten or more picks higher.  At #33 Jonatan Berggren, a projected first-rounder,  was still on the boardand the Wings were able to snap him up.  A trio of solid steals in their first three picks set the tone for a very good draft.

Jared McIsaac and Alec Regula and Seth Barton are all solid picks in the second and third rounds and hopefully one of them can give Detroit some defensive help relatively soon, but they’re not the big names we spent so long looking at.  I would have preferred Bode Wilde over McIsaac at #36 but I can’t argue with the pick.  I might have just gotten overhyped about Wilde.

From there on out we have two goalies in Jesper Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom as the Red Wings desperately search for Jimmy Howard‘s heir.  Detroit has gone from drafting a goalie every other year to drafting two in a single season and it’s a really weird look, to me.

Forwards Ryan O’Reilly (not that one) and Otto Kivenmaki wrap things up and I can’t help but keep coming back to the defensemen.

We keep being told you can’t get quality defensemen on the market, you have to draft and develop them yourself.  The Wings desperately need help on defense.  Yet only a third of their picks were defensemen and none of them were top names.

But at the same time, I can’t fault any of their picks, really.  Would I sacrifice Berggren to give them the option to get both McIsaac and Wilde?  I’m not sure I can sell myself on that.

Really, after getting Zadina, they could have drafted me and I’d still call this a solid draft.  There’s a difference between worrying about defense and complaining about who they did pick.


Speaking of defense, Sunday night the Wings made an effort to clear some of their blueline logjam.

I think this is a sign of how the Griffins will look next year more than anything.  The Wings have kept players around to help prop up the Grand Rapids roster for several years now and this summer they’re cutting them loose.

Russo has been dealt.  Dan Renouf wasn’t given a qualifying offer.  Add in buyout candidate Xavier Ouellet and it’s clear the Wings are trying to give room for guys like Joe Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski, and Filip Hronek.  And Vili Saarijarvi, who suddenly moves from Grand Rapids’ seventh defenseman to their second pair.

Like in Detroit, next season in Grand Rapids will probably be a bit difficult.  But it’ll be good for the rebuild.

Random Season-Ending Thoughts

I’ve been holding off on writing an end-of-season post because something felt off about the end of the Red Wings’ season and I think I’ve figured it out.

This doesn’t feel like the end of the season.  Not because the Red Wings aren’t advancing to the playoffs, but because the 2017-18 campaign didn’t feel like a season to me at all.

I had no expectations last fall.  I knew that this was going to be another lost year.  While it was good to get to open Little Caesars Arena and there were some important milestones and some young players took big steps forward, there wasn’t a single game this season that really mattered.  It was essentially a six-month slate of exhibitions.

I’m okay with that.  Another year has been burned off of the contracts of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm and Luke GlendeningNiklas KronwallDanny DeKeyserJonathan Ericsson.

But where the Wings stand today is almost exactly where they were at this time last year.

There’s room for change at forward.  David Booth is likely done.  Evgeny Svechnikov is likely up for the season next year.  Michael Rasmussen will get a chance to make the team.  Andreas Athanasiou could be gone but would likely bring a roster player back in return so that doesn’t open up a spot for anyone.

If you assume that restricted free agents Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Martin Frk all return, that’s eleven forwards under contract for next year.  Athanasiou would make it twelve.  Svechnikov is thirteen.  Rasmussen is fourteen.

On the blueline it’s worse.  Mike Green is the only pending free agent defenseman on the team and there has already been talk about bringing him back.  That would give the Wings seven defensemen, though one has to think they’ll find a way to move spare part Xavier Ouellet.  Where’s the roster spot for Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi?

In goal, Jimmy Howard is the man.  They’ll need to find a backup with Petr Mrazek gone and Jared Coreau seemingly out as well, but aside from no longer paying $9 million for their goaltending tandem, that doesn’t impact space for kids to come up.

So in April 2018 we’re in the same spot we were in April 2017, and probably in a spot similar to where we’ll be in April 2019.

Until some of these dead weight contracts are up, all of these games are an extended preseason.


Ken Holland said something that really annoyed me during the Red Wings’ locker room cleanout, speaking about the infeasibility of icing a roster of “20 kids” – which absolutely no one has suggested.

Holland’s strawman arguments and false equivalencies annoy the hell out of me.  It comes across as condescending and insulting.

Another of his favorites is that it takes ten years to do a full rebuild, which the organization refuses to do.  But I want to take a look at that one.

The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the 2013 season.  They then went on a short run that pushed the eventual champions to overtime of Game Seven in the second round.  The playoff run makes the season seem better than it was but, given that this was an improvement over their first-round loss to the Nashville Predators the previous season, I’m willing to call 2013 a success.

In 2014, Detroit backed into the playoffs with a point earned in a shootout loss in the antepenultimate game of the season, then got bounced by the Boston Bruins in five games.

It was a similar story in 2015, making the postseason on the strength of an overtime loss in Montreal with two games remaining, then getting bounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

In 2016 the Wings were only in the playoffs because, after Detroit dropped a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in the last game of the season, the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins to push the Bruins behind the Red Wings.  It was another short postseason and another elimination by the Lightning.

So we’ll call 2013 acceptable but I’m not willing to say the same for anything since.  Yes, they made the playoffs.  I’m not saying it’s Cup-or-nothing.  I’m just not willing to settle for backing into the postseason and then doing nothing once you’re there.

That means we’re five years in to the downturn.  Next year will be six.  I could very easily see it taking a few more years to get back on the upswing.  All the sudden we’re looking at the ten year rebuild that Holland refused to do.

Final Thoughts on Petr Mrazek

Much like my thoughts on Andreas Athanasiou‘s mindset during his holdout last fall, I have a theory on Petr Mrazek‘s tumultuous tenure with the Red Wings.  A lot of it is conjecture, so take it with a grain of salt, but I don’t think I’m far off.

Mrazek was known as a cocky goalie from the start.  His celebrations while playing for the Czech Republic in the 2012 World Junior Championship introduced him to the world.  His “attitude problems” through the 2016-17 season can be attributed to it.  His comments upon being traded reflect it.

“The pressure for both of us was pretty high,” he said. “You have to show up every night if you want to play the next game. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It’s a really good thing when we can battle between goalies and do the best that we can. Sometimes when they say, ‘you’re the guy who’s gonna play for a while,’ I think it’s better.”

Specifically that last line.  I read that as Mrazek being frustrated that he was never made “the guy” in Detroit.  Some might say he never earned it, given his regression last season, but I think the slump was caused by feeling threatened by the presence of Jimmy Howard.

We don’t know what went down in meetings between Mrazek and Ken Holland.  We don’t know the reasons behind decisions made by Mike Babcock and Jeff Blashill.  But what if it went something like this…

In 2012, Mrazek is coming off being named the best goaltender at the World Juniors.  He wraps up his OHL career and goes pro in the fall.  The Red Wings assign him to the ECHL to start the season but he quickly replaces future doctor Jordan Pearce in the AHL as the backup for the Grand Rapids Griffins, then supplants Tom McCollum as the starter.  He even gets in a couple games in Detroit, going 1-1 with a respectable .922 save percentage and 2.02 GAA.  By spring, he’s leading the Griffins to their first-ever Calder Cup Championship.

For 2013-14 Mrazek is back with the Griffins, with Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson manning the crease in Detroit.  In 32 games he drops his GAA to 2.10 and his save percentage gets up to .924.  He gets into nine games in Detroit, putting together a 1.74 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

Come summer of 2014, Mrazek has put together stellar numbers through the first two years of his pro career and Gustavsson’s contract is up.  There is no reason for him to not think that he’s earned the backup role in Detroit.  Yet the Red Wings re-sign Gustavsson after a season where he had a 2.63 GAA and a .907 save percentage.  With one year left on his existing deal, Mrazek signs a one-year contract extension – a one-way  contract to ensure he’s in Detroit for 2015-16 – but starts 2014-15 in Grand Rapids.

Injuries open the door for Mrazek, who steps in and plays 29 games.  His 2.38 GAA and 9.18 save percentage are better than both Howard and Gustavsson.  He starts all seven games of Detroit’s playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning and, though the Red Wings drop the series, Mrazek  improves on his regular season stats, going 2.11 and .925.

Despite his playoff starts, Mrazek is the backup when the Red Wings start the 2015-16 season.  He ends up starting 49 games, though, with a 2.33 GAA and a .921 save percentage, better than Howard’s 2.80 and .906.

Come Game One of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs – with the Red Wings facing the Lightning again – Howard gets the start.  In the first two games of the series, Howard puts up a .891 save percentage and a 3.59 GAA as the Red Wings go down, 2-0.  Mrazek takes over for Game Three but Detroit falls in five games.  Mrazek’s GAA is 1.36 and his save percentage is .945.

Mrazek’s contract extension from 2014 is up and on July 27, 2016, he agrees to something of a bridge deal, two years at $4 million each.  It’s less than Howard’s salary and a shorter deal but he’s being paid like a starter.  The rumor is that Howard will be dealt.  By all appearances, the Red Wings are now Mrazek’s team.

But Howard isn’t dealt.  Mrazek gets the start to open the season in Tampa and at the final home opener at Joe Louis Arena.  He gets 14 starts in the first two months, being pulled once.  Howard started 11 games, also being pulled once.  It’s clear it’s a 1A-1B situation.

It’s at this point that the wheels come off for Mrazek.  Even with Howard hurt for much of the season, Mrazek puts up the worst numbers of his career, with a 3.04 GAA and a .901 save percentage.  Both are better than the 3.46 and .887 of Jared Coreau, who “steals” some of Mrazek’s starts, including the outdoor Centennial Classic in Toronto.  Rumors abound about Mrazek’s attitude and it’s even suggested that Coreau is the true heir-apparent to the Detroit crease.

Six months later, Mrazek is left unprotected in the expansion draft, going unclaimed.

He comes into the 2017-18 season the clear backup.  It’s expected the Red Wings won’t even give him a qualifying offer when his contract is up (which has since been confirmed).  His .910 save percentage and 2.89 GAA nearly match Howard’s numbers but Mrazek ends up dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers.

If I were in Mrazek’s skates, I would have a bad attitude, too, and it would certainly impact my play.  I’m not saying it’s okay for that, just that I can understand it.

You rise up from the ECHL to the AHL to the NHL in your first season and carry your team to a Calder Cup Championship.  The next year your stats are even better, but a worse goalie is re-signed to play in front of you.  You take over the starting role anyway and make the most of it, putting up great numbers in a seven-game playoff series.

By next fall, you lose the starting role anyway.  You fight your way back to become the playoff starter again, you get a starter’s contract, and then again you’re the backup on opening night and the guy who they said they’d trade is still there taking up space in your crease.

It’s in your head, you falter, and suddenly the third-string goalie who hasn’t done anything is stealing your starts.  The spiral continues.  You pull yourself together over the summer.  After a rough start, you’re putting up similar numbers to your partner in the crease.  But it’s too late, you’re out.

Again, I’m not saying that Mrazek didn’t slump and didn’t have an attitude.  I’m saying that I can see why he would have one and why it would impact his play.  And, with that perspective in mind, it’s also why I think the Red Wings should have tried harder to deal Jimmy Howard, rather than giving up on Mrazek.