How Losing Players in Expansion Can Help the Wings

I wrote yesterday (and ranted on Twitter before that) about the Red Wings leaving Petr Mrazek unprotected for the expansion draft but I should make something clear: No player the Golden Knights claim is going to immediately hurt Detroit to lose.  In fact, many of them would be addition by subtraction.

Oh, there are players that might sting more than others but even Mrazek (among others) is “only” a problem from an asset-management perspective.

Let’s look at it player-by-player (or group of players)…

Petr Mrazek
I’ll get this one out of the way first.  If Mrazek is claimed it clears $4 million from under the salary cap and solves the Wings’ goalie logjam.  Since all of the hit pieces went out, Mrazek probably doesn’t even want to come back to Detroit, so that awkward situation is resolved.  Jimmy Howard was the better goalie last year so assuming he can keep that up, the Wings actually upgrade in goal (if you’re comfortable making that assumption about a 33-year-old goalie).

Riley Sheahan
If Sheahan is claimed, the Wings get $2 million back on the salary cap and lose a player who can probably be replaced by Tomas Nosek.  Like Mrazek, there’s an asset-management issue here, as Sheahan was reportedly worth a first-round pick in trade and the Wings are risking giving him away for nothing.

Luke Glendening
See Riley Sheahan, minus the first-round pick.  Glendening is entirely replaceable at a cheaper rate.

Darren Helm
Helm is a little less replaceable but his contract is an albatross.  Getting out from under it would be helpful a few years down the road.  Supposedly other teams were interested in signing him last summer, so maybe he has trade value that would be forfeited.

Jonathan Ericsson / Niklas Kronwall
While there would be a PR hit from losing alternate captain Kronwall, both of these defensemen are somewhat replaceable and carry relatively large contracts.  Both have negative trade value, so unloading one via expansion would be useful.

Ryan Sproul / Xavier Ouellet
These are the players that could sting most to lose (outside of Mrazek).  Giving up young, cheap defensemen for nothing is never good.  Given their play to-date, they’re probably replaceable, but given their youth we can’t say that for sure.

Jared Coreau
The Golden Knights aren’t going to pick Coreau but if they did it’d leave the Wings with two goalies with NHL experience in the system, one of whom they just burned bridges with.  Ouch.  Perhaps there’s some entertainment value in that.

Any of the other Griffins names or free agents
Include Coreau in this one.  If Vegas were to, for some reason, claim someone who spent most of the season in Grand Rapids, it would mean Detroit’s roster survived expansion intact.  Of course, whether that’s a plus or a minus is really a matter of opinion.


One thing to consider in all of this is that cap space may not matter if the Wings are rebuilding.  Rebuilding means not signing big-name free-agents, so cap space becomes less important.

Term, however, can start to matter.  Helm and Glendening have the longest deals available, so having those off the books might not be helpful immediately but could pay off down the road.  Which is why the Golden Knights won’t claim them.

On Mrazek’s Attitude

I don’t buy it.  I’m just going to come out and say that up front.

Yesterday morning the surprise news dropped that the Red Wings were leaving Petr Mrazek available in the expansion draft, opting instead to protect Jimmy Howard.

By the end of the day, MLive’s Ansar Khan had released a piece declaring that Detroit “seemingly soured on Mrazek due to a combination of performance and attitude.”

Performance?  Absolutely.  Howard had a career year in which his playing time was limited due to injury.  In his absence, Mrazek – who was supposed to be the starter anyway – put up a career-worst 3.04 GAA and .901 save percentage.

Attitude, though?

Khan points to Mrazek’s unhappiness with losing starts to rookie Jared Coreau – specifically the outdoor Centennial Classic game in Toronto – as a sign of his attitude problem.  I’d argue the opposite: If – in the middle of a down year and lost starts – your goalie is happy with how things are going, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

According to Khan, there were also off-ice issues – which we conveniently heard nothing of until the day Mrazek was left unprotected for expansion.

Part of the reason Mrazek’s luster has faded could be due to deportment issues that can be traced to contentious off-season contract negotiations (they settled on a two-year, $8 million deal; Mrazek will be a restricted free agent in 2018).

Mrazek was not happy the Red Wings were unable to trade Howard in the off-season and let the club know in less-than-tactful terms.

I repeat: I don’t buy it.

Were Mrazek’s contract negotiations contentious?  I’m sure they were.

Going into last summer, Mrazek had claimed the starting role in Detroit, a spot the team had been paying Howard $5.3 million to occupy.  This is just conjecture, but it’s easy to see how Mrazek would think he was worth that money and the Red Wings wouldn’t want to have to pay him that.  Of course it’s going to be a contentious negotiation.

Mrazek was handed the starter’s role and was upset that the team kept around the previous starter?  I was upset about that, too.  I’m not going to fault Mrazek for being frustrated with Ken Holland‘s tire kicking not finding a taker for Howard.

I think you could just as easily spin this as saying that Holland and the Detroit brass have thin skin and can’t handle being criticized.  Is is a bad move by Mrazek?  Uhh, yeah, don’t go making your boss angry.  Does it mean he has a bad attitude?  I wouldn’t say that, and I certainly wouldn’t base roster decisions on it.

There’s also the timing of this to consider.

Mrazek’s contract negotiation took until the 11th hour, which doesn’t happen without at least a bit of contentiousness, but there was never any publicized indication of lingering animosity from that.

Similarly, nothing was made of Mrazek’s frustration with Holland being unable to deal Howard.

The “oh, by the way, all this horrible stuff has been happening in the background, trust me” tone makes it feel like a hit piece to me.  The timing is just too convenient and I don’t trust it.

Do I buy that Mrazek has an attitude?  Yes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Do I buy that he has an attitude problem?  Not a chance.

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.

Wings Sign Czech Goalie Machovsky

The Detroit Red Wings signed Czech goalie Matej Machovsky to a one-year deal on Tuesday.

Machovsky skated with the Red Wings at their 2016 Development Camp in Traverse City, so he’s a bit of a known quantity to the organization.

On one hand, the move seemingly comes out of nowhere, as Machovsky left the Ontario Hockey League four years ago and has been playing in Czechia ever since.  At 23 years old (24 by the time the season starts) he’s not exactly a traditional prospect.

That said, the Red Wings’ goaltending pipeline is a mess.  They have to hope they’re able to unload Jimmy Howard (and his contract) this summer  without taking on another NHL-level goalie so they can go with a tandem of Petr Mrazek and Jared Coreau next season.  Eddie Pasquale is a free agent.  Cal Heeter is as well, and was never signed to an NHL deal anyway.  Jake Paterson hasn’t been able to break into the AHL, let alone look NHL-ready, and is a restricted free agent this summer.  Chase Perry and Filip Larsson simply aren’t ready.  Maybe Joren van Pottlebergh could make the jump.

This at least gives them a body going into the summer, a bit of depth to work with.  Is it a sign that a deal for Howard is coming?  Does Machovsky leapfrog Coreau on the depth chart?  I have no idea.

It is worth noting that Machovsky will be exempt from the waiver draft.  Maybe the Wings think Coreau will get claimed and this is a move to replace him.  Again, I don’t know.

Looking at the 2017-18 Red Wings

With the trade deadline having passed, we can start to get a look at the contracts the Red Wings will likely carry into next season, and from that see what the team might look like.

The bad news: It’s a lot like this one.

The only unrestricted free agents in the Wings’ lineup right now are Drew Miller and Mitch Callahan.  Assuming they don’t return (or end up in GR, where Callahan was recalled from yesterday), Detroit’s roster is as follows:

Forwards
Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Henrik Zetterberg

Defensemen
Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, Nick Jensen, Niklas Kronwall, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul

Goaltenders
Jared Coreau, Jimmy Howard, Petr Mrazek

That’s 11 forwards, seven defensemen, and three goalies.  It’s a $67.7 million cap hit, not counting new contracts for restricted free agents Tomas Tatar and Xavier Ouellet.  It’s a pretty full roster.

So where does that leave the Red Wings as far as options for getting better?

With all of the picks they grabbed at the trade deadline, there’s the draft, but unless they manage to win the draft lottery I don’t think you can expect anyone Detroit selects this summer to be NHL-ready next fall.

The Wings could call up players from the Grand Rapids Griffins to rebuild from within.  Maybe they give Matt Lorito a chance or Evgeny Svechnikov.  That’s what a truly rebuilding team would probably do.

There are trades, which Ken Holland has spoken a little bit about over the last couple days.  That said, Holland’s plan late last summer was to trade the team’s forward depth for defensive talent and those deals weren’t there.  The market will be different this summer and the expansion draft may impact things as well but if the Wings’ history is any indicator, this path can’t be relied on.

Finally, there’s Detroit’s tried-and-true method: Free agency.  Go back to that list of players, though, and pick the one(s) you see being exiled from the lineup in favor of a newcomer.  Unless the Wings are willing to bench a player like Luke Glendening or Riley Sheahan, there’s only one spot on the roster for adding players.

As I said, there is the expansion draft to make things interesting.  If I’m Ken Holland, I hope for Vegas to claim Jimmy Howard, freeing up cap space and solving the goalie logjam.  That doesn’t open a spot anywhere that they’d want to sign a free agent, though.

Holland is going to have to get creative.  Maybe that means trading a player like Sheahan to the Golden Knights in return for them agreeing to claim Howard, which would given them cap space and an extra roster spot to add forward help.

Without that creativity, though, we’re already looking at next year’s lineup, and we know that’s not good enough.

On the Red Wings as Trade Deadline Sellers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Ericsson Done for Season

Red Wings’ defenseman Jonathan Ericsson is seemingly done for the season, having suffered a fractured wrist in last night’s game against the Washington Capitals.

Technically the Red Wings could make the playoffs and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals and Ericsson would have recovered in time to rejoin the team, but I don’t see that happening.

The positive in this is that it clears a roster spot and some cap space for the rest of the season.  Jimmy Howard‘s return will no longer be an issue and guys like Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet should get more playing time.

Ericsson’s play has been criticized for years but he’s been somewhat better this year.  Losing him will hurt the Wings’ defense but I’ve written off the season already so I don’t see that as a big deal.  Additionally, his contract makes him virtually untradeable so it’s not like he’d have been dealt at the trade deadline for future assets.

Morning After: Mistakes, Instigators, and Howard

A week and a half ago I wrote about how Ryan Sproul made a mistake that directly led to the overtime game-winning goal for the Florida Panthers.  While I didn’t like the mistake, I was glad that Sproul was out there to make it.  I saw it as a sign that he was getting his chance, that the Red Wings were willing to suffer through some growing pains.

The next game, Sproul was on the ice for three of the Penguins’ four third-period goals as Pittsburgh rallied to win. The only mistake I see on those plays is his failure to cut off a cross-crease pass on the third.

He hasn’t played since, having been replaced by Brian Lashoff (of all people) and then Alexey Marchenko, having returned from injury.

Maybe I was wrong about him getting his shot.  Or maybe I’m missing a mistake that earned him a spot in the pressbox.  Xavier Ouellet has been playing while Sproul sits and I think Sproul has been better this season than Ouellet.  But what do I know?


Speaking of Ouellet, he took an insigator minor and a misconduct for jumping Michael Raffl last night after Raffl hit Steve Ott.  I think it’s hilarious that Ott, the guy who was brought in to stand up for guys, needed someone to stand up for him.

While Matt Shepard was quick to throw praise to Ouellet for fighting on behalf of the guy who usually sticks up for everyone else, I think that was a really dumb move.  Midway through the third period of a tied game you put your team down a man for two minutes and short a defenseman for effectively the rest of the game.

There’s standing up for your teammate and there’s making a smart play.  Sometimes that overlaps.  This time it didn’t.


Jimmy Howard didn’t deserve that loss, but that’s not the first time it’s happened this season.  It’s nothing new that his goal support has been pathetic this season and while a 1-0 loss (even in overtime) doesn’t help the Red Wings much, his play in those games does.

Howard, in all likelihood, will not be a Red Wing next season.  Vegas should claim him in the expansion draft if he’s available.  If they’re not right now, the team should try to trade him at the deadline.

Who knows what kind of market there will be but a team like the Calgary Flames may decide that the Brian Elliot experiment was a failure and, as they scratch for a playoff spot, they need someone more reliable than career backup Chad Johnson.

My point being that Howard’s play makes it easier to trade him, and trading him means that they’re not only free of his contract but also the player who Vegas ends up taking instead of Howard.

This is nothing new, of course.  It’s just worth mentioning that Howard’s play might make it a little more possible to pull off.

Pregame: Marchenko, Athanasiou, Howard Return as Wings Host Jackets

The Red Wings are getting some bodies back, as three players will return from injury tonight.

Goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Alexey Marchenko, and forward Andreas Athanasiou will all be in the lineup as Detroit starts a five-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Howard – who will back-up Petr Mrazek tonight – and Athanasiou back, Jared Coreau and Tomas Nosek returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Brian Lashoff remains with the Red Wings but will likely be a healthy scratch in place of Marchenko.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD+.


Stupid Stat of the Day: The Red Wings have never lost in regulation to the Blue Jackets in December at Joe Louis Arena.  The last meeting between the teams in December in Detroit was a 1-0 shootout win for Columbus.

Red Wings Injury Updates

The Detroit Red Wings made a handful of announcements regarding injuries on Monday.  Any time you make a handful of injury announcements is a problem.

On the positive side of things, Tomas Jurco was re-called from his rehabilitation stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he had a goal and an assist – along with six penalty minutes – in two games played.  He wore #13 in Grand Rapids with his old #28 having been taken by Matt Lorito this season.

Jurco will have a chance to slide into the Detroit lineup immediately in part due to an injury to Tyler Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi left Saturday’s matchup with the Montreal Canadiens with a high ankle sprain after a hit by Alexei Emelin.  He’s expected to miss three- to five- weeks.

Meanwhile, defenseman Brendan Smith is expected to miss four weeks after a knee-on-knee collision with Phillip Danault.

Both Bertuzzi and Smith were placed on the seven-day disabled list while Jurco came off long-term injured reserve.  As of today, the Red Wings have seven players on various forms of IR: Andreas Athanasiou, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm, Joe Vitale, Alexey Marchenko, Jimmy Howard, Bertuzzi, and Smith, though neither Franzen or Vitale are expected to play this season.

The team will go with six defensemen for now, with no call-up planned to replace Smith.

Over the weekend, the Red Wings called up goalie Jared Coreau after Jimmy Howard left Friday’s win over the New Jersey Devils with a groin injury.