On Draft Pick Quantity vs. Quality

After trading Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday night, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said something that triggered a gut reaction of concern in me.  I honestly don’t know if there are numbers to back up my worry, so I’m going to walk through it a bit.

“What’s driving me is I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup. We’re competitive, but we’re not quite where we need to be in order to be where we want to be. I have to acquire draft picks and we need to hit on those draft picks.

“The more draft picks I can acquire, or young players through trades, is a better chance we’re going to wake up three or four or five years from now, or two years from now, and start to see young players coming on to the team and have an impact.”

That’s from the Detroit News but Winging it in Motown highlighted it this morning.  It also comes coupled with rumblings that the Red Wings may accept two second round picks for Mike Green rather than a first-rounder.

It’s well-known that the Red Wings haven’t had many high draft picks in the last several decades.  Trying to find a team that has consistently picked near the Wings in the draft even just going back to the big lockout in 2005 is impossible.  They’re in a relatively unique situation that has – to a large extent – led to their current downswing, as they haven’t been able to restock their talent pool with top prospects.

Knowing that – yet hearing Holland declare than the answer is to acquire more second, third, and fourth round draft picks – is triggering my spidey sense, so to speak.  If the team’s downfall is because they never pick at the top, how is the path to a rebuild through the second and third and fourth rounds?

Let me take a second to acknowledge that defining picks by round is somewhat lazy.  The 32nd overall pick and the 62nd overall pick this summer will both be second-rounders but they’re not really comparable.  As such, while I’m attempting to apply some logic to this, it’s entirely unscientific.

With that in mind, I’ve been looking back at Detroit’s recent drafts, trying to determine just how good the organization is at making use of picks outside of the first round.  I went back to the 2005 draft as the salary cap era is really when the Wings were no longer able to replenish their roster via free agency.

Detroit has had 95 draft picks in that time.  Thus far, 33 of them have played at least one NHL game.  Yes, that measure means there’s built-in bias against recent drafts, as those players haven’t had the chance to make their debuts.

Eliminate the first-rounders, since we’re talking about what the Wings can do if they don’t acquire extra picks in the opening round, and we’re down to 26 players.  We might as well drop the sixth- and seventh-rounders, too, since no one has claimed you rebuild with those.  That’s another four gone, so we’re at 22.

Of those, only 14 are still in the NHL, though that leaves out Dominic Turgeon, who got a call-up earlier this year and is now back with the Griffins, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and call it 15.

That means since 2005, the Red Wings have drafted 15 players who “made it” (by a generous definition of the term) in the NHL in the second through fifth rounds.  That list is as follows:

If you’re looking at a rebuild, are those the players you’re looking for?

The Red Wings’ draft record in the rounds where they’re targeting picks seems to show that they won’t be able to do what they’re trying to do.

Obviously not every draft is equal and, as I already mentioned, not every pick in the same round of the same draft is equal.  If the Wings grabbed another Tatar and Nyquist in the second round this summer – combined with a good pick in the first round – it’d be a successful draft.  But if adding all of these picks results in more Xavier Ouellets and Ryan Sprouls, it’ll just be a waste.

Frankly, I’d be a lot more comfortable if the asking price for Mike Green went back to being a first-rounder.

Update, 12:15 PM: Via Twitter, @RedWingRubbish pointed out that @ChartingHockey has statistically determined that, outside of the top 24 picks, quantity does indeed beat quality.

This made me take a second look at the first-rounders I dropped from my original list.

Player Year Overall
Jakub Kindl 2005 19
Dylan Larkin 2014 15
Anthony Mantha 2013 20
Tom McCollum 2008 30
Riley Sheahan 2010 21
Brendan Smith 2007 27
Evgeny Svechnikov 2015 19

If you should be able to reasonably expect a “hit” in the top-24, the Red Wings are still doing something wrong.

Kindl made it into 353 games but never really panned out.  Larkin and Mantha are the players the Red Wings are building around right now.  McCollum is a bust.  Sheahan seems to have maxed out as a third-line center.  Smith – somewhat like Kindl – has washed out of the NHL.  Svechnikov is still a question mark.

Seven first-round picks – five in the top 24 overall – and only two players that can reliably play in the top half of the lineup.  Will Svechnikov or Michael Rasmussen or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi join that list?  Perhaps.  So for the sake of discussion I’ll switch to the 2005 – 2014 date range.

That gives the Red Wings six first-round picks, four in the top 24, with a 50% “hit” rate.

Who are their hits through the other rounds?  Tatar.  Nyquist.  I think it’s safe to include Athanasiou.  Mrazek, too, despite his epic slump.

There are plenty of other useful players, guys like Abdelkader and Helm.  A team needs those guys.  But you can’t make a team of them, you need high-end talent to lead them.

Over a decade, the Red Wings managed to draft one starting goalie (assuming Mrazek has shaken that slump), no top-three defensemen, and five top-six forwards.  It’s worse if you don’t include Mrazek or Athanasiou.

So maybe it’s not about the Wings needing to get more first-round picks.  Maybe it’s that – contrary to the myth – the Red Wings just don’t draft very well.

I don’t want to dig in to compare them to other teams.  As I said originally, it’s near-impossible to find a team that picked near the Red Wings for that whole period to use as a comparison anyway.  Maybe San Jose?

If it’s that the Wings don’t draft well, and they’re putting everything they have into the draft, things could get ugly fast.

Michael Rasmussen and The Plan

“That was always the plan.”

Among other moves today, the Red Wings assigned Michael Rasmussen – their first rounder from last summer’s draft, ninth overall – back to the Tri-Cities Americans of the Western Hockey League.

Rasmussen led the Red Wings in goals scored over the preseason, with four goals in five games.  One might think that’d earn him an extended look, especially considering that he could play up to nine games in the NHL without burning the first year of his entry-level contract.  As I was reminded many times via Twitter and has been included in most of the articles about his demotion, though, it was always the plan to send him back to junior.

It might be the right move.  With the salary cap crunch the Red Wings are facing, buying an extra year before Rasmussen hits free agency definitely makes sense.  With the roster the team is looking at, though, there’s certainly a case that can be made for keeping him up (at least for those free nine games).

Rasmussen is better served by playing top-line minutes, we hear, than toiling on the fourth line in Detroit.  Absolutely true.  But that’s a false equivalency.

Martin Frk, who has made the opening night lineup after being waived out of town (and later brought back) to start the season last year, is currently slotted on the nominal top line with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha.  I suggest that he could have gone on a line with Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader instead, bumping Darren Helm onto Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening‘s line, and pushing Luke Witkowski into the 13th forward’s spot.  Then Rasmussen would join Larkin and Mantha, getting those top-line minutes.

This has trickle-down impact as by the time Rasmussen’s nine games are up – or it has been determined that he’s unable to play that role, if that’s what comes of it – Tyler Bertuzzi or Evgeny Svechnikov may be ready to step up.  This would make signing David Booth, which seems inevitable right now, unnecessary.

Whether or not it’s the right move, the fact that this was always the plan smacks of “Red Wings Way” to me.

No one expected Rasmussen to come in and score four goals.  That’s fine.  But how many goals would he have had to score to change the plan?  Is it even possible to change the plan?  Because there’s another plan that looks like it could be good here, but we won’t see it because it was never the plan.

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.

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)

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.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Flyers – 11/2

Hey, have you heard?  The Red Wings are in Philadelphia tonight.  You know what else?  They haven’t won there since 1997!  I’m sure no one else has mentioned this.

It’s not just the ongoing 11-game losing streak, the Red Wings have always been bad in Philadelphia.  Their .285 road winning percentage against the Flyers is their worst against any team.  The only other sub-.300 road winning percentage they’ve got is a .294 at the old Omni against the Atlanta Flames.

The Red Wings have a losing record on the road against all of the teams of the 1967 Great Expansion.  They’re at .311 in Pittsburgh, they went .397 against the Oakland/California/Cleveland franchise, they’re .429 visiting Los Angeles, they’re .457 in St. Louis, and they’re at .460 between Minnesota and Dallas.

For the record, the Detroit went 2-1 while visiting Philly during the only season of the Philadelphia Quakers’ existence, back when Detroit was still the Falcons.

Petr Mrazek gets the start in goal for the Red Wings and Xavier Ouellet swaps back in on the blue line, with Ryan Sproul coming out.

With Martin Frk re-claimed from the Carolina Hurricanes and immediately sent back down to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Wings don’t have any extra forwards to make changes up front if they wanted to.

Game time is 8:00 PM with NBCSN giving it the Rivalry Night treatment.

Pregame: Hurricanes @ Red Wings – 10/25

After a successful weekend with back-to-back wins over the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, the Red Wings are back at it again tonight hosting the Carolina Hurricanes.

Detroit will be without Justin Abdelkader for the second game in a row.  He returned to practice today but his middle-body injury will keep him out of the game.

With Abdelkader out, the only lineup change will be Petr Mrazek starting instead of Jimmy Howard.

The game marks Detroit draft pick Martin Frk‘s first NHL game at Joe Louis Arena, after having been claimed via waivers by the Hurricanes before the start of the season.  He’ll be joined by former Red Wing and previous waiver claim Andrej Nestrasil.

Stupid Stat of the Day:  The Red Wings only have three regular season losses to the Hurricanes at Joe Louis Arena.  They’ve all come in the last four times they’ve hosted Carolina.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD.

An Alternate Red Wings Roster

After publishing my post explaining why I’m not excited about the start of this season, I went outside and mowed my lawn, which gave me more time to think.  A dangerous thing.

I started mentally re-working the Red Wings’ roster, imagining a lineup featuring none of Detroit’s summer free agent signings or re-signings.  This is what I came up with:

Justin AbdelkaderDylan LarkinRiley Sheahan
Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergAnthony Mantha
Gustav NyquistAndreas AthanasiouTeemu Pulkkinen
Tomas NosekLuke GlendeningTyler Bertuzzi
Martin Frk

Those lines are based on the ones the team practiced with today, so they can be shuffled however you want.  The important thing is the 13 forwards.

Yeah, not having Frans Nielsen and needing to move Zetterberg back to center hurts, but look at the opportunity on that lineup.  That’s Mantha, Athanasiou, and Pulkkinen getting top-nine (none of this top-six, bottom-six nonsense) minutes.  That’s Glendening still centering a line of grinders, just as he is now.

Is it as likely to make the playoffs?  Well, I don’t think the current roster is going to make it, so zero percent chance is equal to zero percent chance.  That said, no, I can’t say I think this roster has as good of a chance.  I’m okay with that.

This roster also includes an effort to fix the Red Wings’ defense.  While the same blueliners make the team as did in reality (which is why I didn’t specifically note them), there is an additional defensive prospect in the system.

This roster has a low enough salary to absorb Pavel Datsyuk‘s cap hit, which means he’s never traded and the Red Wings draft Jakob Chychrun.

Chychrun made Arizona’s opening night roster but I have no expectation that he’d do the same in Detroit, given the Wings’ logjam.  That said, two years down the road you can expect there’d be room for him, the kind of player Detroit has been unable to sign as a free agent or trade for.

I know that I’m looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.  At the time Datsyuk’s contract was traded, no one could have known whether or not Steven Stamkos would hit the open market and the Red Wings felt that they had to be prepared for that.

That said, it’s hard not to look at what might have been and wonder.

Red Wings Place Pulkkinen on Waivers

Per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, the Red Wings have placed forward Teemu Pulkkinen on waivers.

The move comes on the heels of the Red Wings losing Martin Frk to the Carolina Hurricanes via waivers.

I get that this move likely means that either Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha have made the Wings’ opening night roster, as there’s no spot for them without cutting someone loose, but I really hate this.  This is a direct result of unnecessary signings (or re-signings) last summer.  The Wings are going to lose Pulkkinen for nothing because they couldn’t resist bringing back Helm and Miller and bringing in Ott and Vanek.

Red Wings Lose Frk to Carolina

For the second time in three years, the Red Wings lost a player to the Hurricanes via waivers, as Carolina claimed Martin Frk on Sunday.

Frk, Detroit’s second-rounder in 2012, never saw a game with the Red Wings.  He had 27 goals and 17 assists for the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.

In 2014, Carolina claimed Andrej Nestrasil from the Red Wings.  Last season, Detroit lost Landon Ferraro to the Boston Bruins.

While Frk was claimed, Nick Jensen, Brian Lashoff, Mitch Callahan, and Eric Tangradi cleared waivers.

My thoughts on this are on Twitter but to re-hash…  I don’t think losing Frk by itself is a major issue.  I do think losing him for nothing combined with the coming demotions of Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha is disheartening.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it when those moves become official tomorrow.

Red Wings Waive Five

Per Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports, the Red Wings placed five players on waivers today.

Mitch Callahan, Eric Tangradi, and Brian Lashoff come as no surprise, as they all cleared waivers last year and spent the season (aside from a brief call-up for Tangradi) in Grand Rapids.

Martin Frk seems to be a victim of the Red Wings deciding to keep eight defensemen on the roster while Niklas Kronwall recovers from injury.  With eight blueliners, there’s only room for 13 forwards, leaving Frk out.

Nick Jensen has lost the battle for the final spots on the blue line, as it would seem the seventh and eighth spots have gone to Xavier Ouellet and Ryan Sproul.

If I had to guess, Jensen will be claimed.  Frk might be as well, but I thought there was no way Landon Ferraro and Callahan would make it through in 2014 so what do I know?

Revisiting the Myth of “Playing the Kids”

It was a summer that saw the Red Wings swing and miss on a free agent signing that would have filled a massive hole in their roster.  The team’s blueline corps was looking ineffective.  Fans were clamoring to see more of the exciting forward prospects in the system but there was no room for them on the roster.

It was 2012.

I wrote then about how the team needed defense but instead had a glut of forwards.  Unlike then, now there’s actually talk of swapping some of the forward depth for defensive help.  Maybe they can actually do that, but no trade they do for a defenseman is going to clear up the logjam they have at forward.

On April 21, as the Red Wings closed out their season in Tampa with a loss to the Lightning, they had 14 forwards on the roster.  Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen were healthy scratches.  Andreas Athanasiou was in the lineup.  So were the since-departed Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Richards, and Joakim Andersson.

Red Wings’ brass implied that there would be a battle for roster spots up front in the aftermath of another early playoff exit.  With two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner gone, there would seemingly be plenty of opportunity.

Then, when free agency opened on July 1, the Red Wings signed two top-six forwards and a fourth-liner.

Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin, and Frans Nielsen are locked in as four of the top six forwards.  One of Gustav Nyquist or Tomas Tatar might be traded but probably not both, so there’s five.  Darren Helm or Tomas Vanek likely makes the sixth, with the other dropping to the third line with Riley Sheahan.  Your fourth line is the returning Drew Miller, the extended Luke Glendening, and the recently-signed Steve Ott.

That’s one roster spot on the third line open.  Athanasiou.  Pulkkinen.  Jurco.  Anthony Mantha.  Tyler Bertuzzi.  Tomas Nosek.  Martin Frk and Mitch Callahan have to clear waivers.  Hell, throw Eric Tangradi and Louis-Marc Aubry in the mix.  That’s ten players (okay, realistically five to seven) fighting for one roster spot.  That’s not even mentioning Dylan Sadowy or Evgeny Svechnikov.  That is not opportunity.

Opportunity would have been letting Helm walk.  Letting Miller go.  Not signing Ott.  Not extending Glendening.

Vanek takes the second line spot.  The third line is Sheahan with Mantha and Pulkkinen or Jurco.  The fourth line is Athanasiou with Bertuzzi and whichever of Pulkkinen or Jurco that’s not on the third line.  Some combination of Glendening (who, without that extension, isn’t as cemented into the lineup), Nosek, Frk, and Tangradi provide your depth/healthy scratches.

Let’s go back to the trade for a defenseman plan.  This is not going to be a fantasy hockey quantity-for-quality deal.  No one is going to take Jurco and Pulkkinen and Frk for a top-pairing blueliner.  This theoretical deal starts with Nyquist or Tatar.  Maybe another prospect forward gets included but more likely Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen.

That deal would help solve the Wings’ defensive problems but it does not suddenly clear up the logjam at forward as well.