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.

Red Wings Add Forward de la Rose

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

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

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

2018 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings released their 2018 training camp rosters today and with that any changed jersey numbers for players in the organization.

Unsurprisingly, July 1st free agent signees Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier will wear their usual #26 and #45, with Vanek opting not to go back to the #62 he wore in his first stint with Detroit (as #26 then belonged to Tomas Jurco).

Evgeny Svechnikov appears to have switched for the second year in a row, going from the #77 he wears in Grand Rapids to the #37 he wore for his first year in Detroit.

With Svechnikov back in #37, Griffins captain Matt Ford will wear #77 in camp rather than the #79 he had last year.

Chris Terry keeps the #15 he was assigned for the prospects tournament while Colin Campbell, having lost his previous #45 to Bernier, takes the #17 vacated by the departure of David Booth.

I’d expected Tyler Bertuzzi to switch to #17 but he keeps his #59.  Maybe next year.

Pro tryout Jussi Jokinen will wear the #20 previously held by Dan Renouf while Griffins-bound forward Wade Megan has been assigned the #22 of Matt Lorito, who moved on to the Islanders organization.

Tryout Bryan Moore takes the #61 previously worn by Xavier Ouellet, who was bought out and signed with Montreal this summer.

Jake Chelios, son of Chris Chelios and signed for the Griffins, has been assigned #84.  Griffins-bound goalie Harri Sateri, who usually wears the #29 of defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, has the former #31 of Jared Coreau.

The full training camp roster is below:

Forwards

Num. Name
8 Justin Abdelkader
11 Filip Zadina
14 Gustav Nyquist
15 Chris Terry
17 Colin Campbell
20 Jussi Jokinen
22 Wade Megan
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Thomas Vanek
27 Michael Rasmussen
28 Luke Witkowski
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
40 Henrik Zetterberg
41 Luke Glendening
42 Martin Frk
43 Darren Helm
44 Dylan Sadowy
46 Lane Zablocki
48 Givani Smith
49 Axel Holmstrom
51 Frans Nielsen
53 Jordan Topping
54 Matt Puempel
56 Dominik Shine
57 Turner Elson
58 David Pope
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 Bryan Moore
64 Zach Gallant
67 Brady Gilmour
70 Christoffer Ehn
71 Dylan Larkin
72 Andreas Athanasiou
76 Nicolas Guay
77 Matthew Ford
81 Trevor Yates
85 Luke Kirwan
88 Carter Camper
89 Pavel Gogolev
90 Joe Veleno
92 Maxim Golod

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Nick Jensen
4 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
24 Filip Hronek
25 Mike Green
29 Vili Saarijarvi
32 Brian Lashoff
47 Libor Sulak
50 Reilly Webb
52 Jonathan Ericsson
55 Niklas Kronwall
62 Trevor Hamilton
63 Jared McIsaac
65 Danny DeKeyser
73 Marcus Crawford
74 Cole Fraser
79 Brenden Kotyk
83 Trevor Daley
84 Jake Chelios
86 Mackenze Stewart
87 Matt Register
94 Alec Regula

Goalies

Num. Name
31 Harri Sateri
34 Patrik Rybar
35 Jimmy Howard
36 Kaden Fulcher
38 Pat Nagle
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Justin Fazio

Red Wings Sign Larkin to Five-Year Deal

The Red Wings announced on Friday the signing of restricted free agent forward Dylan Larkin to a five-year deal.

Per idiotic team policy, the financial terms of the contract were not announced, but The Athletic’s Craig Custance almost immediately reported the deal to be worth $6.1 million annually.

Larkin will be an unrestricted free agent when the contract ends.

With the signing, the Red Wings have 22 players on their roster for next season and $82,772,044 against the salary cap, which is set at $79,500,000.  While Johan Franzen going on LTIR will save them almost $4 million, those numbers include only six defensemen on the roster, leaving the Red Wings in a bit of a cap crunch, especially if Michael Rasmussen and Filip Zadina are expected to compete for roster spots.

Even assuming that Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski are treated as expendable and are replaced on the roster by Rasmussen and Zadina, the Red Wings end up about $44,000 over the cap without resolving their blueline depth issues.

Shifting Witkowski to defense and sending Frk to Grand Rapids could possibly open a spot for either Rasmussen or Zadina but then Joe Hicketts and Filip Hronek are shut out of a spot in Detroit.

Bottom line?  If any of “the kids” are going to make the Red Wings’ opening night roster, more moves are coming, with Henrik Zetterberg‘s health likely to play a large part in that.

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.

Red Wings Agree to Terms with Green

I’m going to agree with George Malik here and just call Mike Green’s new contract official.

Bob McKenzie had previously nailed down the financials of a then-unconfirmed deal.

The move was long-rumored but I can’t say I’m thrilled with it.

With Xavier Ouellet having been bought out and Green brought back, the Red Wings have six defensemen on their roster for next season.  Seven if you count Luke Witkowski.

Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek, and Joe Hicketts have all been discussed as possibly ready to jump to the NHL.  The Red Wings have said that they want to get their youth more ice time.  How are they going to do that with six guys already on the roster?

Yes, they could move Nick Jensen.  That’s a possibility that’s been rumored for most of the summer.  If they do, it opens up one spot for three players.

It could have been two spots for three players.

It’s just not necessary and it’s frustrating to see the Wings organization once again talking about playing the kids but not leaving open roster spots available to them.

Wings Send Forward Wilson to Buffalo

The Detroit Red Wings announced that forward Scott Wilson was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on Monday.

The move essentially makes the return from Riley Sheahan‘s trade to Pittsburgh (along with a fifth round pick) a third round pick and a fifth round pick.

Unless another move is made, the Red Wings now have twelve forwards on the roster, with Luke Witkowski eligible to return from his ten-game suspension in two more games.

After a brutal weekend featuring 6-3 and 10-1 losses to the division-rival Montreal Canadiens, could this be a move to clear a roster spot?  I’m not sure calling up someone like Evgeny Svechnikov is the answer.  This is a team with a lot of issues, a lone call-up isn’t going to make that much difference.

That said, getting anything for Wilson, who probably didn’t have a long-term role in Detroit, is decent.

Red Wings/Flames Morning After: Fights, Suspensions, and Other Fun

I can’t see a way that the Red Wings’ Luke Witkowski doesn’t get suspended for ten games after he left the bench to go after Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk last night.  The rule is simply too cut and dry.  Three steps earlier, while he’s still on the ice?  All clear.  Two feet on the bench?  He’s gone.

Of course, Tkachuk wouldn’t have given him that little jab three steps earlier.  The whole point of it was to hit him after he was on the bench, once Tkachuk was theoretically safe from reprisal.

Tkachuk’s move was a bit like a little brother on a road trip, sitting in the back seat declaring “I’m not touching you!” Big brother Witkowski, rather than waiting for dad to threaten to drive the car off the cliff, turned around and walloped him, consequences be damned, because Tkachuk deserved it.

I think the officials know Tkachuk deserved it, hence the heavy penalization for what was otherwise a love tap.  But that doesn’t save Witkowski from the punishment that’s coming.

Over the years I’ve made it clear that I hate that cheap, after-the-whistle, “I don’t want to fight but I want to get a jab in” nonsense that gets players praised for being an “agitator.”  As such, I’d love to see Tkachuk get the book thrown at him.  I don’t see it happening though.  With that in mind, I’m absolutely fine with Witkowski taking care of it himself and serving whatever penalty he gets.