On Blashill and Other Season-Ending Thoughts

The Red Wings ended their season on Friday night in New Jersey and entered the offseason with a slate of decisions to make about the direction of the team. It took under a day for General Manager Steve Yzerman to make the first one.

Jeff Blashill will not return as the team’s head coach.

The move comes in the form of the team cleaning house behind the bench. Assistant coach Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko will also not return.  It is believed – coach contracts are rarely made as public as player contracts – that none of the three were explicitly fired; instead their contracts were not renewed.

Assistant coach Alex Tanguay remains with the team.  The 2021-22 campaign was his first in Detroit.

Blashill, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman notes, never had much to work with as far as player personnel goes, taking the team over from Mike Babcock as the Red Wings entered their current rebuild.  There seems to be the thought that he’ll end up coaching back in the NHL sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, there’s already buzz that he could take over the Ferris State program in 2023.

For the Red Wings, though, answering the question of whether or not Blashill would return has just raised another; that of who will replace him.

I won’t pretend to have insight into what Yzerman might be thinking regarding that (turn to Bultman again for some options Yzerman might be considering).  My hope – and my expectation given Yzerman’s history – is that we won’t see someone from the NHL coaching carousel brought in.  No John Tortorella or Paul Maurice or Dave Tippett.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m equal parts curious and terrified of the idea of bringing Sergei Fedorov over from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, with all the baggage that would entail. I’d been on the Roger Ronnberg bandwagon for a while but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Whoever the new coach is, another big question for the summer is how similar the team he takes over looks to the one Blashill leaves behind.

Thomas Greiss is expected to depart as a free agent this summer, opening up the backup slot with the Red Wings.  Is the late-season signing of Magnus Hellberg, who made his Detroit debut in the season finale, a sign that he has the inside track on replacing him?  Hellberg himself is an unrestricted free agent, so he might not even return.  If Calvin Pickard leaves the organization and Victor Brattstrom returns to Europe, Alex Nedeljkovic would be the only returning goalie from Detroit or Grand Rapids, so upheaval is coming there.

On defense, it’s hard to see Danny DeKeyser – waived and unclaimed during the season – returning next year.  Mid-season waiver claim Olli Juolevi was largely ineffective in his time in Detroit and – as a pending restricted free agent – may not be given a qualifying offer, becoming unrestricted.  Jake Walman was good for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy deadline day trade and can reasonably be expected to return as a restricted free agent.

The biggest question mark of the current blueliners is Marc Staal.  Along with DeKeyser, he was named an alternate captain to start the season and the team appreciates his veteran leadership.  Though he’s not the player he once was, his performance didn’t drop as much as DeKeyser’s did, so there may be interest in bringing him back.

If Staal and Walman return, the Detroit blueline would be made up of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom, Staal, and Walman.  Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, could claim a spot out of training camp.

Even with the addition of Edvinsson, it’s hard to see that defense corps being much of an improvement over what the Red Wings had this year, so there may be appetite to let Staal (and/or Walman) walk to clear roster spots for upgrades brought in via free agency.

Up front there’s a similar situation.  Ten of the 12 forward spots are accounted for by returning players.  One of those is restricted free agent Filip ZadinaJonatan Berggren, who set a new Grand Rapids Griffins rookie scoring record this season, can also be expected to take up a spot.  That’s 12 just by letting pending restricted free agent Mitchell Stephens and unrestricted free agents Sam Gagner, Turner Elson, and Carter Rowney walk.

Like Staal, the team has appreciated Gagner’s veteran hand and may want him back next year.  Pushing Givani Smith into the 13th forward slot wouldn’t be the end of the world but it again means that there’s little room to add upgrades via free agency.

The Red Wings are getting into a dangerous spot in their rebuild.  To take advantage of the prime of Dylan Larkin‘s career, they will need to add pieces now.  Trotting out the same basic lineup behind a new head coach won’t do it (though having both Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana healthy at the same time would be a benefit).

If they can’t do that, realistically, this rebuild is going to take at least another three or four years and they should be looking at selling Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi or Vrana for assets that will make them competitive when Seider and Lucas Raymond are in their primes.  It might be a hard pill for Wings fans to swallow but it makes sense.

Red Wings Name DeKeyser, Staal as Alternate Captains

The Red Wings announced on Wednesday that defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Marc Staal will serve as the team’s alternate captains for the coming season.

They join returning captain Dylan Larkin, who will wear the C for Detroit for his second season.

The pair take over for Frans Nielsen and Luke Glendening.  Nielsen was bought out by the team over the summer and Glendening departed as a free agent for the Dallas Stars.

As I wrote on Sunday, DeKeyser and Staal wore the A for all three of their preseason games and were two of four players that appeared to be in the running to get the alternate captain designations for the 2021-22 campaign.  The other two players were Sam Gagner and Robby Fabbri.

It will mark the first time in over forty years that two defensemen have been assigned letters for the Red Wings.

Red Wings Alternate Captaincy Watch

With the Red Wings’ exhibition schedule wrapping up in Buffalo today, we may not yet know what their opening night roster will look like but we do have some data to work with towards guessing who the team’s new alternate captains might be.

With the offseason departures of Luke Glendening and Frans Nielsen, both of Detroit’s alternate captain slots opened up.  The expectation was that the team wouldn’t announce replacements until opening night against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday but it would be a surprise if someone who didn’t wear an A all preseason were handed one to start the regular season.

Nine players dressed as alternates at least once over the Wings’ eight preseason games: Adam Erne, Filip Hronek, Vladislav Namestnikov, Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner, Nick Leddy, Danny DeKeyser, Marc Staal, and Troy Stetcher.

There doesn’t appear to have been any kind of rotation among those players, where some wore the A for home games and other for road games.  As such, I think we can limit the potential new alternates to players who wore a letter for every preseason game in which they appeared.

That removes Leddy, Hronek, Stetcher, Erne, and Namestnikov from the list.

Fabbri wore the A for all three exhibition contests in which he appeared, as did Staal and DeKeyser.  Gagner was an alternate in all four of his games played.

I think this shows that Detroit’s new alternate captains will be some combination of those four players.

I’m already on the record as thinking that Gagner and DeKeyser will be the new alternates and I hadn’t considered Fabbri at all but I admit that I kind of love the idea of number 14 wearing the A for Detroit again, for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else.

2021 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings announced their 2021 training camp roster on Wednesday and, following the Tuesday announcement of Bobby Ryan joining the team on a PTO, there were no surprises on the roster itself.

Which means I get to move on to my favorite annual tradition: Analyzing jersey number changes.

Between returning players from last year’s roster, incoming players who had already had their numbers announced, and players whose numbers were revealed by Detroit’s prospects tournament roster, there weren’t a lot of surprises left.

The biggest surprise is probably Taro Hirose switching from #67 to #25.  He’d previously switched to #67 after debuting wearing #53, specifically requesting a number with a seven in it, so switching to a number without a seven was unexpected, to me.

Additionally, Hirose’s switch makes Mitchell Stephens having picked #22 interesting.  Stephens had worn #67 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and seemingly wore it whenever his preferred #27 wasn’t available.  With #27 taken by Michael Rasmussen in Detroit and #67 vacated by Hirose, I’m surprised that Stephens went with #22 instead.

Two players making their returns to the Detroit organization also have some slightly-surprising numbers.

Luke Witkowski will wear #20 in Detroit’s camp after having worn #28 in his first stint with the Wings.  I’d wondered if Gustav Lindstrom would give up #28 but he keeps it, and Witkowski’s usual alternate number #82 went to summer free agent signing Jordan Oesterle.

Dan Renouf had previously worn #77 in Detroit but that number is now assigned to Oscar Plandowski.  In camp, he’d also worn the #20 taken by Witkowski, leaving him switching to the #21 made available by Dennis Cholowski‘s departure.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
15 Jakub Vrana
22 Mitchell Stephens
23 Lucas Raymond
24 Pius Suter
25 Taro Hirose
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Carter Rowney
42 Kyle Criscuolo
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
50 Dominik Shine
51 Hayden Verbeek
52 Jonatan Berggren
54 Bobby Ryan
56 Pasquale Zito
57 Turner Elson
58 Cameron Butler
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 T-Bone Codd
62 Cooper Walker
63 Jon Martin
64 Luke Toporowski
67 Dennis Yan
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
74 Cross Hanas
76 Tyler Spezia
78 Patrick Curry
79 Kirill Tyutyayev
89 Sam Gagner
90 Joe Veleno
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Nick Leddy
3 Jared McIsaac
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Luke Witkowski
21 Dan Renouf
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
44 Donovan Sebrango
47 Wyatt Newpower
49 Seth Barton
53 Moritz Seider
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stetcher
77 Oscar Plandowski
82 Jordan Oesterle
83 Mason Ward
84 Alex Cotton
86 Adam Brubacher
87 Ryan Murphy

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
31 Calvin Pickard
33 Sebastian Cossa
34 Victor Brattstrom
36 Kaden Fulcher
39 Alex Nedeljkovic
60 Jan Bednar

Red Wings Sign Pair of Depth Defensemen

The Red Wings are signing a pair of depth defensemen: Jordan Oesterle from the Arizona Coyotes and Ryan Murphy from the American Hockey League’s Henderson Silver Knights.

Oesterle, a Dearborn Heights native and Western Michigan University product, effectively replaces Alex Biega in the Detroit system while Murphy, signed to a two-way deal, can be expected to spend most of his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

This effectively locks in Detroit’s blueline for the coming season as follows:

Filip HronekDanny DeKeyser
Moritz SeiderNick Leddy
Troy Stetcher – Marc Staal
Gustav Lindstrom
Oesterle

Murphy helps fill gaps in a Griffins’ defensive corps that could be decimated by free agent departures.  Captain Brian Lashoff and veteran presence Dylan McIlrath are both free agents and longtime Griffin Joe Hicketts just signed with the Minnesota Wild.

Red Wings Re-Up Staal on One Year Deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Sunday the signing of defenseman Marc Staal to a one-year contract extension.

Staal had been a pending unrestricted free agent.  He was originally acquired last offseason in a salary dump move from the New York Rangers.

The deal is reportedly worth $2 million and includes a full no movement clause.

There were probably better defensemen that the Wings could have chased down in free agency but, since the end of the season, word from the organization has been that they wanted to bring Staal back.  Clearly the interest was mutual.

I don’t love the deal.  I’d rather have seen that cap space spent on another salary dump from another team.  That said, there are only so many of those available.  Also, $2 million is an absolutely fine number for Staal.  If he’s open to it (because of the no movement clause), the Wings can retain half of his salary and move him on to a contender at the deadline pretty easily.

It does mean that Detroit’s blueline is pretty set at this point.

Filip HronekDanny DeKeyser
Moritz SeiderNick Leddy
Troy Stetcher – Staal
Gustav Lindstrom

Those aren’t meant to be true pairings, just an idea of how spots could play out.  The point is that Staal is a $2 million third-pairing guy and that’s not horrible, even if I don’t entirely love it either.

Wings Select Defenseman Edvinsson, Goalie Cossa in First Round of Draft

The Detroit Red Wings made two selections in the opening round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft on Friday, adding defenseman Simon Edvinsson and goalie Sebastian Cossa to their slate of prospects.

The Red Wings took Edvinsson with the the sixth overall pick in the draft, where they had been projected to take center Mason McTavish.  McTavish went third overall to the Anaheim Ducks, however, and Edvinsson – projected to have been picked third by some – dropped to Detroit.

Later in the round, Detroit executed a trade with the Dallas Stars to move up from 23rd overall to 15th overall, sending the 48th and 138th overall picks to Dallas to complete the transaction.  The move enabled the Red Wings to pick the goalie, Cossa.

I had been really high on McTavish and was certain he was Detroit’s pick – if he made it to #6.  He didn’t.  With McTavish, as well as Michigan’s Kent Johnson, off the board by the time Detroit got to pick, I’m not surprised that they went with the big Swedish defenseman Edvinsson.

I don’t dislike the pick in a vacuum, it’s just that the Red Wings seemed to already have a bit of high-level defense in the pipeline, with Moritz Seider, William Wallinder, and Antti Tuomisto.  Their most glaring need was at center, but the two top centers were gone.  It left Detroit kind of in no-mans-land.

With Cossa at #15, the Wings got a player I really liked, but I’m not sure I would have traded up to get him.  Had he still been available at #23, I would have taken Cossa in an instant.  That said, the Wings had draft capital to burn.

The second rounder they gave up was acquired from the New York Rangers in the Marc Staal deal and the fifth rounder was originally Ottawa’s, acquired from Montreal for Jon Merrill, and the Red Wings still have their own picks in each of those rounds.  I’ve lamented the Wings’ having quantity but not quality when it comes to draft picks and, in making this deal, they converted quantity to quality.

So with the picks, Detroit improves on their already impressive slate of blueline prospects and gets a seemingly-legitimate goalie of the future in case Thursday’s trade for Alex Nedeljkovic doesn’t pan out (or is only a short-term fix).  They still need to find a center and improve their forward depth in general at some point.  If I were the Wings, I’d be hoping Aatu Raty continues his slide and is available at #38.

Post Trade Deadline Thoughts

I started mentally putting this post together just as today’s NHL trade deadline passed but held off on actually writing it for a little bit, knowing how trades often aren’t announced until well after the actual deadline.

That was somewhat fortuitous, given that the Red Wings’ biggest deadline deal wasn’t officially announced until 45 minutes post-deadline, when the team confirmed that Anthony Mantha had been traded to the Washington Capitals for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick this year, and a second-round pick next year.

As I said in my write-up of the deal, I can’t stand Panik.  I hope he’s made available in the expansion draft and, for some reason, the Kraken take him and his contract.  But I’m curious about Vrana in a top-line role with this team.  I also think the Wings’ rebuild probably won’t work with third and fourth round picks alone so getting the first and second from Washington is important.

Detroit’s previous deals were to send Jon Merrill to the Montreal Canadiens, Patrik Nemeth to the Colorado Avalanche, and to help facilitate the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trade of David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning.  These were all players on expiring contracts or just salary cap space and, while fourth and fifth rounders aren’t sexy (and, as I said, probably aren’t enough on their own to facilitate a rebuild), they’re essentially free picks and you take those every time.

It’s the deals that didn’t happen that bother me about this deadline, as they have with every deadline since the Red Wings became sellers.

For years we’ve been told to just wait for some of Detroit’s players to hit the final year of their contracts and we’d see them flipped at the deadline.  Mike Green, Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson.  Of them, only Green netted anything, and that was on his second expiring contract with Detroit after everyone passed the first time around due to him being injured.

This year was supposed to be the year for flipping vets for picks.  Bobby Ryan, Jon Merrill, Patrik Nemeth, Marc Staal, Sam Gagner, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Bernier.  All on expiring deals.  But then, like Green before him, Ryan got hurt.  Like Howard, no market developed for Bernier.  Merrill and Nemeth were moved but no one called on the league’s leading faceoff man in Glendening, playoff performer Helm, or versatile veteran Gagner.

As I said in 2019, “I get that you can’t trade for things that other teams don’t want to give you.”  If there wasn’t a trade to be made, then there wasn’t a trade to be made, and that’s that.  But as I also said then, “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.”

The Red Wings sold Mantha because he was the only piece anyone wanted, much like when they moved Tomas Tatar in 2018.  Both the Mantha and Tatar deals were good deals but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to look at the big picture and think it wasn’t enough.

Especially when, back in the final years of the Red Wings’ playoff streak, a Glendening or Helm or Gagner or Staal is exactly the kind of player then-GM Ken Holland would have paid a hefty price to acquire for a postseason push.  Is Staal really that different from Marek Zidlicky or Gagner that different from Erik Cole?  Squinting a little, are Glendening or Helm that far off from the David Legwand the Red Wings acquired (rather than the one he had been for years up to that point)?

Nine years ago, Paul freakin’ Gaustad fetched a first-rounder when he was sent from the Sabres to the Predators.  Now no one wants Glendening.  And you know what?  That’s smart.  Gaustad never was worth that much and Glendening isn’t, either.  But it’s hard to see buyers giving up that much when the Red Wings were buyers but now that the Wings are sellers, the market has changed.

Blame the flat cap, blame Detroit just not having good enough players to sell.  Whatever it is, it doesn’t make it easy to see.

Red Wings Acquire Fourth-Round Pick in Three Team Trade

The Detroit Red Wings acquired a fourth-round pick in a three team trade on Saturday, acting as a middle-man to retain salary on behalf of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Detroit effectively gave up Brian Lashoff and $1 million of salary cap space for Tampa Bay’s fourth-rounder in 2021.

However, even that is somewhat overstated, as Lashoff was immediately re-assigned by the Lightning back to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  As such, he remains with the Detroit organization but cannot be called up to the Red Wings.

This is Detroit’s second retained-salary transaction in as many days.  They retained half of Patrik Nemeth‘s salary when trading him to the Colorado Avalanche.

Given that teams can only have three players with retained salary on the books, this seems to limit the Red Wings’ options heading into the trade deadline, as they’ll only be able to do that once more.

I think this means that there isn’t much of a market for Detroit’s trade chips, as the Red Wings would almost certainly need to retain salary to move Jonathan Bernier, Marc Staal, or maybe even Luke Glendening.

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.

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