On Lottery Odds and the Red Wings’ Options

I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m on #TeamTank for the Red Wings.  They can’t finish 31st overall anymore to get the best odds in the NHL’s draft lottery – and they probably can’t finish 30th, either – but they could still drop to 29th and get an 11.5% chance at drafting Rasmus Dahlin first overall.

The argument against the tank is that an 11.5% chance isn’t all that great, and not that much better than the 7.5% chance they currently hold.  You can’t expect players to give up, anyway, and it’s worth the drop in draft position to give young players such as Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Joe Hicketts valuable experience, playing hard even in games that seemingly don’t matter.

That last point is absolutely valid.  The Wings’ younger players have looked good as the season winds down and that bodes well for next season and beyond.

The second point, that you can’t expect players to give up, makes sense but is a little harder to handle.  After seeing the Red Wings drop ten consecutive games looking relatively awful earlier this season, it’s a little hard to see them suddenly look so much better when more of those losses could actually be put to use.  But that’s how a season goes; you have ups and downs.

The problem I have is with the first argument, and I have it for two reasons.

The first is simple.  Yes, 11.5% isn’t that much more than 7.5%, but it’s still more.  More is good.

The second is that it focuses entirely on first overall when there are more players to look at.

Dahlin is the consensus number one pick and is in a tier of his own when it comes to the available players in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.  Then come forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina, then back to defensemen with Evan Bouchard, Quinn Hughes, and Adam Boqvist.  You could argue for Brady Tkachuk or Ryan Merkley, especially depending on each team’s needs, but that’s the top group I’m going to go with.

The Red Wings need a defenseman.  I could see them picking Svechnikov and uniting him with brother Evgeny but it wouldn’t make a ton of sense.  Win the lottery and that’s easy, it’s Dahlin.  Lose and you’re looking at Bouchard, Hughes, or Boqvist.

But what if you not only lose but get passed by lower teams?  That’s what I think the Wings should be worried about.

Detroit holds the sixth overall pick right now at 26th in the current standings.  That puts them in a position to get one of the four defensemen on our list.  But it also means there’s a 31% chance that they get passed by at least one team, bumping them out of the top six and into a position where they have to hope another team reaches for someone else.

If they were to drop behind the Vancouver Canucks and up to the fifth pick at 27th in the standings, the chances of getting bumped out of the top six drop to 9.61%.  That becomes 2.98% if they drop to 28th and it becomes impossible to go lower than sixth overall after the lottery if they end up in 29th.

Tanking wouldn’t just increase their chances at getting Dahlin but put them in a better position if they don’t.

That said, as I admitted above, you can’t expect the players to quit.  If they wouldn’t embrace the tank for Dahlin, they’re not going to just to make sure they get Hughes instead or Merkley or something like that.  I just think there’s so much focus on first overall that we lose sight of who will be available when the Wings are more likely to pick.

On the Red Wings’ Blueline Depth and Future Callups

Last week I wrote about how the Red Wings’ then-upcoming road trip through Western Canada, specifically Sunday afternoon’s tilt with the Edmonton Oilers and last night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, might give them an opportunity to get a prospect such as Joe Hicketts into the lineup.

My thinking was that with Danny DeKeyser eligible for long-term injured reserve, a roster spot and cap space would be available.  Combined with road games on consecutive nights, the team might have wanted to rest someone (I was thinking Niklas Kronwall), giving a chance for Hicketts to step into the lineup.

We know now that that didn’t happen.  While the Wings won both of those games, it still concerns me a little.

What this trip seems to have shown us is that Luke Witkowski is the team’s eighth defenseman.  He’s also the 13th forward but I’m not worried about getting him in the lineup, I’m looking at how he blocks others.

It appears to me that the Red Wings are not going to call up a defenseman when Witkowski is available.  That means that to get someone like Hicketts into the lineup, three injuries need to happen, either three defensemen or two defensemen and a forward.

Right now Detroit has only one blueliner hurt.  If another was, or needed to be rested, Witkowski would step in.  If a third defenseman got hurt, it would open up a spot.  If a forward got hurt, Witkowski would shift there and his blueline spot would open up.

That final scenario could be further complicated, though, as David Booth could take over for an injured forward while Witkowski continued to skate on defense.  This means it might take the right combination of four injuries for one of Grand Rapids’ defensemen to get called up.

Obviously I could be reading too much into one road trip.  Maybe Hicketts didn’t get a look because the Griffins were playing on Sunday and the team figured he should stay there.  I don’t know.  But it seems to me like it’s going to take a lot for one of the Red Wings’ prospects to get a chance in Detroit this season.

On Hicketts, DeKeyser, and Kronwall

Last weekend, Katie Strang of the Athletic did a feature on Grand Rapids Griffins’ defenseman Joe Hicketts.  A notable item from it is the assertion of Daniel Cleary that Hicketts nearly made the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp.

“He was close to making our team this year,” said longtime Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, now a director of player development with the organization. “Very, very damn close.”

Yesterday, Peter Flynn from Winging it in Motown ran with that, suggesting that Hicketts should be in the Detroit lineup with Danny DeKeyser now expected to miss enough time to go on long-term injured reserve.

I agree with Flynn.  It was understandable to not bring Hicketts up when DeKeyser went down because he wasn’t expected to have to go on LTIR, which means there wouldn’t have been enough cap space for the call-up.  Now that we know DeKeyser will miss at least ten more days (and four more games), it’s time to give Hicketts a look.

That said, this is the Red Wings we’re talking about.  They’re not going to sit Niklas Kronwall or Jonathan Ericsson for being (relatively) terrible because the vets on this team are allowed to play through their issues.  They may swap Hicketts in for Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen but my gut feeling is that’s not the change fans are clamoring for.

There is an in for Hicketts, however.  Last season the Red Wings brass said they wanted to limit Kronwall’s playing time in certain situations and, while they didn’t say as much coming into this season, one has to think it still holds true.  One of those situations just happens to be coming in a week, with the Wings headed through Western Canada and playing on back-to-back nights in Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Red Wings could easily use that opportunity to get a look at Hicketts without stepping on any of their veterans’ toes.

It’s telling that Hicketts hasn’t been called up yet.  It’ll be even more telling if he doesn’t get a look early next week out west.

Update – 10/31, 12:00 PM: WIIM’s Prashanth Iyer shows that my eye test of Kronwall and Ericsson doesn’t seem to stand up.

With that the case, and knowing that the Red Wings aren’t going to sit Trevor Daley or Mike Green in favor of Hicketts, you’re looking at benching Nick Jensen or Xavier Ouellet to make room.  Now they’ve got the room to do that but do you?  I don’t know if I should, but I hesitate.  Maybe that’s more of a failing eye test thing, though.

On the Blueline Logjam

It feels like this is a topic that comes up every year.  Throughout the entire Red Wings organization, there is a logjam at defense.

It’s been this way for several seasons.  The initial answer was that the team would trade defensive depth for help at forward but those trades never materialized.

Other moves have happened.  They did lose Alexey Marchenko on waivers to Toronto last season and then traded Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers.  Nathan Paetsch and Conor Allen chose to leave the Griffins for Rochester.  They also added Trevor Daley and sometimes-defenseman Luke Witkowski in Detroit while Filip Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi graduated from juniors to Grand Rapids.

This led to last night, where Hronek and Saarijarvi, two of the organization’s top prospects, couldn’t even crack the lineup for the Griffins’ home opener.

Some of that is politics, I’m sure.  You don’t send Ryan Sproul to Grand Rapids to have him sit there and the other five guys all played on the Griffins’ championship-winning team last year, so of course you dress them for the banner-raising.  But that you have to deal with issues like that shows a bigger problem.

When healthy, the Red Wings expect to be playing Danny DeKeyser,
Daley, Jonathan EricssonMike GreenNiklas Kronwall, and Nick Jensen.  Xavier Ouellet slots in as the seventh defenseman, and he filled in on opening night with Kronwall hurt, while Witkowski is your thirteenth forward or eighth defenseman (depending on injuries).

That pushes Ryan Sproul down to Grand Rapids, where he, Brian Lashoff, and Dylan McIlrath are the vets on the blueline.  That’s three spots out of six taken up by players who are legitimately no longer prospects.  Dan Renouf and Robbie Russo, who both made it into games in Detroit last season, come next, followed by Joe Hicketts.  Hronek and Saarijarvi have nowhere to play.

Oh, sure, there will be injuries.  And players will rotate in and out of the lineup.  But is that how you want these guys to start their pro careers?  Slotting in irregularly, hoping someone else gets hurt so they get a chance?

The organization has made no move to fix this.  In fact, they’ve only added to it by bringing back players such as Lashoff and McIlrath, opting for veteran leadership in Grand Rapids over a chance for their prospects to play.  In fact, if the rumored Riley Sheahan for Derrick Pouliot trade had gone through, it would have only made the situation worse.

This has been an issue for several seasons.  I can’t help but think that this is the year it becomes a big problem.

Wings Add Defenseman Witkowski

The Red Wings signed defenseman Luke Witkowski from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at the opening of NHL free agency.

The move comes paired with the signing of veteran defenseman Trevor Daley from the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Assuming Witkowski isn’t bound for the Grand Rapids Griffins, it gives the Red Wings nine defensemen on their roster.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports that the team may shift Witkowski to forward.

Witkowski, a native of Holland, Michigan, captained the Syracuse Crunch team that the Griffins defeated in the Calder Cup Finals for the first half of the season.  After being called up to the Tampa Bay Lighting, he could not be returned to the team for the playoffs.

I don’t like this move.

As a defenseman, Witkowski doesn’t seem to provide anything that the recently re-signed Dylan McIlrath can’t.  If he makes the Wings’ roster, it’s at the expense of Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul.  If he’s in Grand Rapids, he’s taking a roster spot from Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Robbie Russo or Dan Renouf, or forcing Vili Saarijarvi back to juniors.

As a forward…  Why not just sign a forward?  Why not give Tyler Bertuzzi a shot?

Update, 5:25 PM:  I completely missed this earlier but the Red Wings announced this as a two-year deal.

The official press release did not include term and seemingly all other outlets continue to report it as a one-year deal but it’s probably safe to trust the official Twitter account.

Thoughts Heading Into Free Agency

NHL free agency opens in about three hours and, while some signings seem certain thanks to the league’s interview period, some things are still up in the air.

The Red Wings are likely to sign veteran defenseman Trevor Daley.  Five years ago, I love this deal.  I still like Daley quite a bit.  I don’t think he makes Detroit a competitor, though, so I’m not sold on him taking a roster spot from Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul.

In no particular order, that would give the Wings Daley, Ouellet, Sproul, Nick Jensen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, and Danny DeKeyser on the blue line.  Eight guys who’d have to be waived to go to Grand Rapids, plus Robbie Russo, Dan Renouf, and Joe Hicketts waiting with the Griffins.  Quite the logjam.

The Wings are rumored to be interested in another defenseman or a forward but it looks like the cap hit for Daley – coupled with re-signing Ouellet and forwards Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou – takes them out of consideration there.  I would be completely against bringing in another defenseman but given the loss of Tomas Nosek via expansion, adding a center as a reclamation project wouldn’t be a horrible move.

I’d love to see the Wings take a flyer of Mikhail Grigorenko, who Craig Custance wrote about a couple days ago at The Athletic.  It would have to be on the cheap and it would have to be with the caveat that the Wings don’t try to turn Grigorenko into a grinder.

If you want a grinding center who can play on the fourth line, bring back Landon Ferraro.  Worst-case scenario, you can probably get him through waivers to Grand Rapids, as the Blues slid him through last year.

Red Wings Call Up Lashoff

The Detroit Red Wings called up veteran defenseman Brian Lashoff from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Thursday.

The team did not specify whether this was an emergency call-up or one of their four allotted post-trade-deadline standard call-ups.

I think the move is a little bit weird. Per Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News, Lashoff is a depth call-up as the Wings had only six defensemen on the roster.  In that case, calling up Lashoff instead of someone like Joe Hicketts makes sense, as you’d rather have Hicketts playing in Grand Rapids than sitting in Detroit.

But if Lashoff is just going to sit, that means it’s a standard call-up, and why burn one of those on a guy who’s just going to hang out in the press box?

Lets be clear, Hicketts wouldn’t have saved the Red Wings’ season, so it’s not like it really matters.  It’s just curious.

Red Wings Logjam Won’t Get Better On Its Own

Xavier Ouellet is back in Grand Rapids and Mattias Backman has returned to Sweden. For the time being, the Red Wings’ logjam on the blue line is resolved. Seven defensemen in Detroit, seven with the Griffins (Scott Czarnowscan was called up from Toledo when Ouellet was brought to Detroit).

That the Red Wings aren’t icing the best lineup they can right now is irrelevant. That one of their prospects is now disgruntled is as well. There is now a spot for everyone, that’s all that matters, fixing it is a problem for the future.

So let’s look at that future.

We’ll assume that the Red Wings don’t trade anyone (because they haven’t yet) and sign all of their restricted free agents. We’ll also assume that the Griffins bring back Nathan Paetsch and Brennan Evans because they’re a couple of blue line leaders in GR. None of the unrestricted free agents return.

That means that Niklas Kronwall is back. And Jonathan Ericsson. And Kyle Quincey. And Danny DeKeyser, and Brendan Smith, and Jakub Kindl, and Brian Lashoff. Ouellet and Ryan Sproul and Alexey Marchenko and Nick Jensen. Evans and Paetsch and Backman. Richard Nedomlel, currently in Toledo.

Joe Hicketts, who just made the Canadian World Junior team? He’s probably turning pro. Marc McNulty? Mitch Wheaton? Ben Marshall? James DeHaas? Not under contract yet but very well could be by next year.

The Red Wings have zero unrestricted free agents on defense next summer. Their two RFAs are Smith and Jensen, both of whom will return. In short, there are exactly as many roster spots available throughout the organization next year as there are right now. And in all likelihood there will be even more players fighting for them.

Without the Red Wings making a trade – dumping one or more players – their current roster crunch isn’t getting any better until at least the summer of 2016. That’s one more full season before there’s even a roster spot in Detroit available, which means another full season before there’s even a spot in Grand Rapids available, which means the Wings are dumping their prospects straight to the Walleye.

Or back to Sweden, in the case of Backman, ’cause why should he stick around for that?


I’ve been among the crowd clamoring for the exit of Jakub Kindl (and, to a lesser extent, Brian Lashoff) as a means to clear up the logjam. At varying points the Red Wings have said they’re trying to move Kindl but just how hard they’re trying is up for debate, as the Carolina Hurricanes just managed to get a sixth round pick back for Jay Harrison while Kindl remains in Detroit.

I see three possibilities: The Red Wings see value in Kindl and want a return that reflects that. Teams are interested in Kindl but not given his current contract. No one is interested in Kindl.

All three of these reflect poorly on Detroit.

If the Wings want more for Kindl than anyone is willing to give, then they’re overvaluing him and are no better than the Buffalo Sabres asking for Anthony Mantha for Tyler Myers. This is an addition by subtraction move, stop worrying about the return.

If the contract is the issue, it means the Red Wings gave him a contract that no one else would have.

If no one is interested, then Detroit continues to employ a player that no other team wants.

Red Wings Sign Defenseman Hicketts

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of undrafted free agent defenseman Joe Hicketts on Wednesday. The deal is a standard three-year entry-level contract.

Spending the last two seasons with the Victoria Royals of the Western Hockey League, Hicketts scored six goals and 18 assists each year. He was limited to just 36 games in the 2013-14 season due to injury.

The 18-year-old had attended Detroit’s development camp in July and represented the Red Wings in last week’s Prospects Tournament in Traverse City as a try-out.

Hicketts will be returned to Victoria for this season, meaning his contract won’t yet kick in.