Thoughts on the Red Wings’ 2021 Roster

The Red Wings made a series of assignments to their taxi squad and to the Grand Rapids Griffins yesterday and, with that, their roster for the 2021 season is pretty much confirmed.

I qualify that because the Red Wings are starting with Bobby Ryan, Darren Helm, and Christian Djoos out of the lineup. So, while this might be the roster on opening night, it’s probably not exactly the one they’d hoped for, nor is it the expected roster on a nightly basis.  Even if they are small changes, we’re probably going to see a bunch of adjustments to this roster over the first month of the season.

Right now the taxi squad consists of Michael Rasmussen, Givani Smith, Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindstrom, Kevin Boyle, and Calvin Pickard.  You can bet that, once the Grand Rapids Griffins’ season gets going, five of those players will be in GR.  The Red Wings won’t want any of their youngsters sitting in the press box (or wherever the NHL has mandated that taxi squad players sit) when they could be playing in the AHL. They’ll keep one of the goalies up, as required, then swap out everyone else who isn’t playing for guys like Turner Elson and Dylan McIlrath.

Meanwhile, on the playing roster, we’re seeing these lines:

Obviously we’ve got some taxi squad guys in there but they’re not in positions we need to worry about. Rasmussen and Smith on a “fifth line” with a no-contact Bobby Ryan isn’t a real line and while Lindstrom may very well effectively be the Red Wings’ eighth defenseman right now, they’re not going to roll four pairings in a game so his play alongside Alex Biega in practice doesn’t matter.

The top line has been virtually set in stone since last season so there are no surprises there.  Vladislav Namestnikov with Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina is somewhat unexpected but likely influenced by Ryan’s injury.  Mathias Brome got some buzz in camp and seemed likely to get some NHL playing time once Helm and Ryan were out.  The fourth line looks a whole lot like a “and everyone else” line as I don’t see a reason for Frans Nielsen to be there.

I think once Ryan returns, we’ll see Nielsen drop out of the lineup (unless he’s rebounded strongly from last season but there’s been no camp chatter to say we should expect that) and Brome drop down a line.  Namestnikov could also move to the third line to make room for Ryan with Fabbri and Zadina.

Helm’s return (which I’m assuming would come later as he’s not even skating right now) would then seemingly push Adam Erne off the fourth line, unless Brome is shown to need AHL time to adjust to the North American game and he is the one who comes out of the lineup.

On defense, the big thing left to see is Djoos’ role on the team.  He’s sticking in the Detroit lineup as he would otherwise have to clear waivers and the Red Wings didn’t claim him just to be a tradable asset as they also can’t trade him without first waiving him.  Does he bump Marc Staal or Troy Stecher off that third pairing or is he just here as another depth guy, effectively replacing Lindstrom alongside Biega?

Assuming what I’ve suggested, a healthy lineup would need one more change, though, as the Red Wings would have 14 forwards, eight defensemen, and two goalies, putting them over the 23-man roster limit.  The easy answer there would be to drop Brome down to the Griffins as he wouldn’t need to clear waivers.  That said, I’ve already advocated for keeping Brome in the lineup over Nielsen and Erne, so a more interesting option would be to waive Nielsen and (assuming he’s not claimed) put him on the taxi squad.  The Red Wings have the salary cap space to eat his contract and the one-season taxi squad gives a place for Nielsen to go where he can’t take a spot with the Griffins from one of the kids who needs it.

Given that the Red Wings just re-confirmed that Nielsen will be an alternate captain under new captain Dylan Larkin, I can’t see them punting him to the sidelines so easily, though.

Obviously further injuries could change this quickly but I think this is an approximation of what we could be looking at under ideal conditions.

Griffins Jersey Number Notes

The Grand Rapids Griffins updated the roster on their website yesterday, adding jersey numbers for new players and reflecting a change for one returning player.

Goalie Kaden Fulcher is shown as switching from #33 to the #36 worn last season by Kyle Wood.  Fulcher has worn #33 for most of his career but appears to have switched to make room for Kevin Boyle, who takes over as the new #33 in Grand Rapids and gets his usual number.  Fulcher is also assigned #36 in Detroit.

Mathias Brome has been assigned his usual #86, as he was in Detroit.

Kyle Criscuolo picked up the #51 he wore during his first stint with the Griffins, which had been worn in the interim by Trevor Yates for two games during the 2018-19 campaign.

Riley Barber, assigned #26 in Detroit, gets the #45 that he wore last season in nine games for the Montreal Canadiens.  It was last worn for the Griffins by Colin Campbell.

The #21 most recently worn by Chase Pearson and Michael Rasmussen during the 2018-19 season has been assigned to Max Humitz, who wore that number during his college career at Lake Superior State.

Finally, #11 has been assigned to Patrick Curry.  Curry wore that number at Boston University.  It was made available by Filip Zadina‘s promotion from the Griffins to the Red Wings.

Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings kick off their training camp for the truncated 2021 season tomorrow, announcing the camp roster and schedule today.

With the roster announced, I can do one of my favorite things of the season: Look for oddities surrounding jersey numbers.

The team is only taking forty players to camp, so there aren’t as many numbers to look at, and most of those were known already.

The team’s offseason free agent signings – Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher, and Thomas Greiss – were all previously known to be wearing #54, #92, #24, #70, and #29, respectively.  Additionally, trade acquisition Marc Staal was already known to be wearing his usual #18.

Ryan’s #54 was previously worn by Matt Puempel, who the Red Wings did not re-sign over the offseason.  Stecher’s #70 was worn last season by Christoffer Ehn, who was unsigned and returned to Europe.  Greiss’ #29 was worn in last year’s camp by Vili Saarijarvi before being taken by early-season acquisition Brendan Perlini (with Saarijarvi traded away a few weeks later anyway), who was not re-signed by Detroit.  Staal’s #18 had been assigned to Albin Grewe at the 2020 Development Camp.

European free agent signing Mathias Brome has been assigned #86, his usual number.  It was worn in last season’s camp by Charle-Edouard D’Astous.

Depth signings Riley Barber, Kyle Criscuolo, and Kevin Boyle have been assigned #26, #42, and #34, respectively.

Barber’s #26 was worn in camp last season by Griffins captain Matt Ford, who is not in Detroit’s camp this year.  Criscuolo’s #42 was worn by Mathieu Bizier.  Boyle’s #34 had been assigned to Victor Brattstrom at the start of last season and temporarily given to Eric Comrie for the few games he spent in the Red Wings organization.

The only returning player to change jersey numbers is try-out goalie Pat Nagle, who will wear the #68 that the team usually reserves for goalies who aren’t actually in the Red Wings’ system.  In that role last year, he wore #60, while Sean Romeo wore #68.

Criscuolo isn’t a returning player but has been in a Red Wings’ camp before, wearing #74 in 2016 before spending that season with the Griffins.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
41 Luke Glendening
42 Kyle Criscuolo
43 Darren Helm
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
51 Valtteri Filppula
54 Bobby Ryan
57 Turner Elson
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
67 Taro Hirose
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
81 Frans Nielsen
86 Mathias Brome
89 Sam Gagner
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Alex Biega
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
22 Patrik Nemeth
24 Jon Merrill
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stecher

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
34 Kevin Boyle
36 Kaden Fulcher
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Pat Nagle

Free Agency Day One Recap

It’s probably safe to say that Day One of NHL free agency is done and the site was down for a big part of the day so let’s do a recap.

Ryan and Merrill

The Red Wings started their day by signing forward Bobby Ryan to a one-year, $1 million deal.  As I said at the time, I love it.  Is it possible that Ryan ends up injured and/or worthless?  Absolutely.  At $1 million for one year, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

The one funny thing about the Ryan deal is that, in an interview after signing, Ryan said he might want to wear #17 because it was Brett Hull‘s number in Detroit, apparently unaware that it belongs to Filip Hronek now.

As far as Merrill goes, well, everyone expected a hometown defenseman to be signing with Detroit today, right?  The Merrill signing signals to me that the Wings expect some of their young guys to not be available this season.  Mortiz Seider in Sweden, for example.  They need veteran guys to fill in for a season in the meantime.  Merrill can burn minutes on this team cheaply.

Talbot, Markstrom, Turris and Shattenkirk

Coming into the day, the Red Wings were linked to both Cam Talbot and Jacob Markstrom to fill their gap in goal.  I would have liked Talbot in Detroit but he got three years for $11 million from Minnesota.  I actually don’t dislike that cap hit but wouldn’t have wanted to give three years.

Markstrom was never going to sign that cheaply so I was glad to see him go to Calgary just to get him off the board, just in case Steve Yzerman did something ridiculous.  I think the six-year, $36 million he got from the Flames is ridiculous, too, but I don’t have to care what they pay.

Kyle Turris was linked to Detroit if for no reason other than his chemistry with Anthony Mantha playing for Team Canada.  He seemed like a prime candidate to want to sign with a contender for cheap, though, and that’s pretty much what he did, going to the Oilers for two years and $3.3 million.  Not a bad deal and I’d have been happy to see him sign it in Detroit, but the Wings aren’t a contender.

In the middle of the day, news broke seemingly out of the blue that the Wings were in on defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.  Just as quickly, he signed a three-year, $11.7 million deal with the Ducks.  So much for that.

Depth Signings

The Wings’s last move of the day was around 5:00 PM with a trio of AHL-level deals, bringing back forward Kyle Criscuolo, a former Griffin from the 2017 Calder Cup run, and adding goalie Kevin Boyle and forward Riley Barber.

If the AHL actually has a season, the Griffins will need bodies.  Even more so if some of the Wings’ kids are in Europe to start the year.  I’ve got no complaints about any of these moves.

The one thing I find interesting is that Detroit brought in a minor-league goalie even with Cal Pickard, Filip Larsson, and Kaden Fulcher all signed, plus Pat Nagle on an AHL deal.  I don’t think it means that Pickard has been tabbed as Jonathan Bernier‘s backup in Detroit but it could.

Torey Krug

The big late-night news was Torey Krug signing with the St. Louis Blues for $45.5 million over seven years.  For months we’ve heard about the possibility of him coming to Detroit but that was from a lot of people ignoring his exit interviews with the Bruins.  He made it clear that his top priority was getting paid, not coming back to his hometown team, and he got his money.

Tyler Johnson

To close out the night was a weird rumor from Frank Seravalli:

So the theory behind this is that Lightning tried to trade Johnson as a salary dump but he has a no-trade clause and would have used it to block a move to any team who could take his salary.  Unable to trade him, the Lightning instead waive him, which he can’t block.  Nominally, it’s for the purposes of a buyout, in which case they’d be on the hook for part of his cap hit but not all of it, so it’s a small win.

But what if a team, such as Detroit, claimed him?  His full cap hit would be gone from Tampa and Johnson would have no recourse to stop the transaction.  And if Tampa then just happened to complete a deal with the Red Wings to send something of value in to Detroit in return for peanuts, well, that’s a totally separate thing, certainly not a handshake deal to send Johnson (and his salary) to the Red Wings, circumventing Johnson’s no-trade clause.

That’s a lot of conspiracy theory talk for me, and I like sports conspiracy theories.  I can’t see Yzerman going for a move that would likely be subject to a grievance if there was any chance of it being perceived as less than legal.

That said…  I want the Wings to take bad cap dollars on to gain other assets but Johnson’s deal is really bad.  Four more seasons at $5 million per year for a guy whose numbers dropped off dramatically during the Bolts’ Cup run.  That side deal would have to be extremely impressive to make that move.

What’s Left?

As free agency moves on, the Red Wings still need a goalie, probably at least one defenseman, and maybe some forwards.  I’d hold off and save some of those roster slots for potential salary dump deals but that’s just me.

In goal, Thomas Greiss is still on the board, and he’d probably be my top choice.  As I write this, Corey Crawford signed with New Jersey for less than $2 million per season, which seems to be a sign that goalie contract numbers are getting back to sane after Markstrom’s ridiculous deal.

I wonder about Tyson Barrie on defense.  Coming off a relatively bad season in Toronto, a “show me” deal could work.  I still think I’d prefer a trade candidate, though.

Red Wings Announce Three Depth Signings

The Detroit Red Wings announced the signings of forwards Kyle Criscuolo and Riley Barber and goalie Kevin Boyle on Friday.

All three are likely AHL-bound, assuming there actually is an AHL campaign in the coming season.

Criscuolo should be a familiar name to Griffins fans, having played 80 games with the team during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, winning the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids the second year.

Boyle is a little bit of a surprise as Detroit already has Cal Pickard, Kaden Fulcher, and Filip Larsson under contract for next season.  Given Larsson’s struggles at the AHL level, though, an insurance policy does make sense.