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.

Thoughts on Game One

I spent most of the Red Wings’ 2018-19 season opener watching how the five players making their debuts looked.  Mostly eye-test stuff, this is not a detailed breakdown, but here are my thoughts nonetheless.

Christoffer Ehn
There was a stretch in the third period where I was pleasantly surprised to see Ehn on the ice for two consecutive scheduled shifts.  That’s how little ice time he got (8:09, by far the fewest minutes of any Red Wing and only beating out Sonny Milano‘s 7:30).  That’s largely driven by the fact that his linemates were getting time on special teams, so it’s not his fault, but it still makes it hard to get much of a read on him.

Michael Rasmussen
I felt like I was looking for him and not finding him.  Is that because he was invisible or because he only got 12:06 of ice time?  Probably a combination of the two.

I will say that the look that I got from staff at the LCA Team Store when I asked if they had any Rasmussen jerseys was slightly hilarious.  It’s rare to come across someone else with my last name, I’m going to have fun with it.

Filip Hronek
Hronek had at least three giveaways that weren’t recorded as such and on one of those I was certain it was going to turn into a goal against.  He also wasn’t afraid to shoot the puck, even if those shots didn’t always end up on net.  Jeff Blashill said during the preseason that Hronek needs to consistently have more positives than negatives and I don’t think he did last night.

Libor Sulak
There were a could times Sulak surprised me when he was carrying the puck on a rush and just held onto it himself, ending up in an offensive-zone corner.  On one hand, these plays didn’t turn into anything so they probably weren’t the right call.  On the other hand, with how predictable the Red Wings’ zone entries have been over he last several years, with over-reliance on getting too cute with the puck, it was kind of nice to see someone willing to go all Thanos on it – “Fine… I’ll do it myself.”

Dennis Cholowski
The goal-scorer of the bunch, Cholowski looked solid.  He showed great timing on that goal, stepping up exactly when he should.  But I don’t think we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in that, because I really don’t remember a lot of positives for him other than that.  Kind of the inverse of Hronek, where he didn’t make many mistakes or do a whole lot, other than that goal.

That said, one thing I noticed is that, when I was shooting photos during the game, I kept coming back to him.  Someone my eye was just drawn to.  Not sure if that means anything.


Joe Hicketts
Hicketts wasn’t one of the five players making his debut but as part of the kid contingent, I figured he deserved some thoughts.  Once or twice there was a group of bodies around the Detroit net and Hicketts came screaming in to clear things out.  It was this combination of awesome and hilarious to see, at his height.


Henrik Zetterberg
It was time.  Zetterberg has been playing on a bad back forever and with what it took for him to play last year, him calling it a career before the start of training camp made sense.  I’ve been ready for the team to move on, to name a new captain, all of that.

But…  Man…  Watching him come out for the ceremonial puck drop?  That was hard.  I’m ready for this team to rebuild.  Zetterberg’s absence opens up a roster spot for that.  It comes at the cost of an icon, though.

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.

Wings Bring Back Forward Vanek

After it was reported this morning that the two sides had reached a deal, the Red Wings officially announced that they’re bringing back forward Thomas Vanek.

Reportedly it’s a one-year, $3 million deal.

As I said in the pre-free agency post, I like Vanek.  I don’t like this signing.

Unless the Red Wings move a forward, I don’t think they’re leaving enough roster spots open for Michael Rasmussen or Filip Zadina or anyone else to make a push in training camp.  And, as I don’t think this team is competing for the Cup any time soon, I’d rather see the kids out there than retreads.

That said, at least it’s a one-year deal, so he can be flipped (again) at the deadline if the Wings are, in fact, out of it by then.

I guess the next question about Vanek is if he wears the #62 he had during his first run with the Wings or takes his usual #26.


Update, 12:25 PM: So much for easily flipping Vanek at the deadline:

I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked.  Holland just can’t help himself from giving out random NTCs to veterans.  I suppose we can always hope that, if necessary, Vanek will, in face, waive it.

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.

Petrella’s Pre-Lottery Look at the Red Wings’ Options

Editor’s Note: Formerly of The Production Line, Michael Petrella is known for his NHL Entry Draft previews, having provided his thoughts on previous drafts here.  Now he takes a look at options and issues the Red Wings might have with their first-round pick as we wait for the Draft Lottery to find exactly where that pick will land.

My favorite thing to do leading up to the NHL Draft is to try and build a consensus. I’ll find as many reputable lists as I can, see how they line up with one another, and try to order the players in such a way that – usually – plays out fairly predictably on Draft Day.

This year, outside of #1, there’s very little consensus. That would be exciting any other year – but as a Red Wings fan with a vested interest in the Draft Lottery, it is absolutely terrifying. By the end, I’ll hope to make a convincing argument that “winning” the second or third pick might actually be a little bit of a disaster for the Red Wings – not because they won’t get a great player, but because they’ll get a great player that, perhaps, they don’t need as badly as others.

THE PLAYERS

The one spot where there’s a consensus is at the top. Aside from a list or two trying their best to build some suspense, the prize of this year’s Draft is Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Whichever team wins the lottery will be selecting Dahlin, regardless of organizational need. Period, full stop.

Things start to get murky (though not as murky as they’re about to) at 2. A pair of wingers have emerged as the next tier of players available for this Draft. One of them – Evgeny’s little brother Andrei Svechnikov – seems to be gaining an edge, but no one would call you an idiot if you preferred Czech LW Filip Zadina. For what it’s worth, the Wings seem to be leaning Zadina, who The Athletic named as the one guy they’d go off-script to grab, if given the chance. More on that later.

After the top three, things go off the rails. A more-or-less consensus Top 10 does seem to be coming into focus, but the rankings therein vary wildly. Let’s look at a few examples.

Brady Tkachuk, son of Keith and brother of Calgary Flame Matthew, is another winger who plays with an edge (like the rest of his family) but seems to possess a better nose for the net. He’s ranked 4th in a bunch of places, in the 5-6 range in a bunch of others, somewhere around 9 in a few, and even – in one place – outside of the top ten.

There’s a trio of defenseman who find themselves in this tier, as well. Swedish defenseman Adam Boqvist, U of M blueliner Quinn Hughes, and London Knights captain Evan Bouchard are all reasonable selections in the top five. Boqvist is usually the one listed highest (in other words, the second best defenseman in the Draft), but no one should be shocked if all three are taken in the top six selections. Hughes is listed 3 or 4 a few times, but 5-7 a few more times. Bouchard, the year’s more impressive Draft riser, may be taken before Hughes – with size as a primary reason why (Bouchard is 6-2, 192 compared to Hughes’ 5-10, 174), as is the great attribute of being a “one-man breakout.”

Dahlin is all alone in Tier I. Zadina and Svechnikov headline Tier II, which likely includes the rest of the guys mentioned so far. A third tier is headlined by the next three.

A fifth defenseman who will likely go in the top ten is Noah Dobson, a 6-3 player from the QMJHL. He sometimes hops one of the above listed guys, but he’s more often found in the 6-9 range.

A pair of centers round out what’s shaping up to be top ten-ish picks. They are USNTDP player Oliver Wahlstrom and the first player to gain Exceptional Status from the Q, Joe Veleno. Neither seem like they’re in play in the top five, but you never know how things shake out on Draft Day. After the top ten, things go even further off the rails, but since the lowest the Wings can pick is 8th (until the Vegas pick), that’s where we’ll stop exploring for the time being.

WHY THIS MATTERS

The Red Wings can select 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th, pending the results of the Draft Lottery. The top three selections are made via lottery, and Detroit has a fairly equal chance at any of those picks (8.5% for first, 8.7% for second, and 8.9% for third). They have an 8.4% chance at remaining at fifth, a 34.5% chance at sliding down to sixth, a 26.7% chance at sliding to seventh, and a 4.3% of ending up at eighth.

One of the following statements will be painfully obvious, and the other will seem like absolutely nonsense, but bear with me.

Winning the Draft Lottery would be the best possible scenario (duh).

Winning one of the other two spots – 2nd or 3rd – would be a minor disaster (allow me to explain).

If they get the first pick, we’ve already established it’s a no-brainer. Dahlin is the pick, and they get the best defensive prospect to come through the Draft in literal decades. He’s the best player by a mile, and he fills a glaring need for Detroit, who hasn’t had a bluechip prospect on the back end in some time (also literal decades).

Things start to get weird if they’re picking 2nd or 3rd. It’s no secret that they’re desperate to pick a defenseman, and have no real organizational need for another winger. Aside from Dylan Larkin, most of their young players and prospects are on the flanks: Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Givani Smith, and Michael Rasmussen are all being used (or will be used) as wingers at the NHL level. So, if defenseman is the priority for their first round pick, a center (which you can never have enough of) is a secondary priority.

Picking 2nd or 3rd, and taking any of the non-Dahlin defensemen or centers might be a bit of a stretch. So the Wings are left with a few options: do they take the best player, even if it doesn’t help fill their glaring needs? Do they select a player they really like, regardless of Draft position, possibly reaching to get a guy outside of his pedigree? Do you fantasize about trading down before realizing this is Ken Holland we’re talking about, and moving from 2nd to 5th doesn’t really benefit the also-bad team that is selecting 5th in this scenario?

Craig Custance had a really great article on The Athletic a few weeks ago. In it, he identified a pool of eight players that, even in the worst-case scenario where the Wings move down to 8th, one or more will be available for selection. They are the same eight players listed above (before discussing Wahlstrom and Veleno).

Custance also mentions that Svechnikov and Tkachuk don’t fit any organizational need. And then there’s this tidbit: “The Red Wings like both players but the crucial need is on defense and it would be hard to pass on a potential top pair defenseman for another winger in the system. The one exception would be Filip Zadina. The organization is well aware they need a game-breaker to compete with the best teams in what’s becoming a one-goal league. Zadina is that guy.”

Considering how important this Draft is for the Red Wings, taking a guy that doesn’t necessarily fit an organizational need would be really disappointing, despite Zadina (or Svechnikov for that matter) being an excellent player. Perhaps “DISASTER” is over-selling it a touch, but it’s not ideal for the team to take someone they don’t NEED when they’re picking as high as they have in 28 years. A similar situation arises if they’re picking 6th or lower, which we’ll explore in a moment.

SO WHO’S THE PICK

I ran Tankathon’s Draft Lottery Simulator a bunch of times. The Wings won the Lottery a little less than 10% of the time, as the numbers above suggest would be the case. They picked in the top three about 20%, again in line with the numbers. They picked 6th or 7th more than 50% of the time, so it’s difficult to gauge who their selection could be until the Lottery is complete. But, we can mock out who it might be at any of those potential spots.

If they win the Lottery, and select first overall, they will add D Rasmus Dahlin to the team.

If they select second overall, Custance’s article seems to point to their preference for LW Filip Zadina. Though a defenseman is of the utmost importance, the gap between Zadina and Boqvist, et al, might be too wide to pass on the Czech winger. They’re in the same tier, yes, but that tier is leaning a little top-heavy to the wingers.

If they select third overall, there’s a decent chance that whoever selected above them took Andrei Svechnikov, so they may still get Zadina here. If Zadina is picked second, I don’t have a clue what they’ll do. A fair bet would be D Adam Boqvist, or whoever they have as the second-ranked defenseman, drafting him a slot or two above where they could probably get him otherwise.

They cannot select fourth overall. Better hope Svechnikov, Zadina, and Tkachuk go in order!

If they select fifth overall, and the three wingers are taken, they have their pick of the remaining defensemen, with Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, or Quinn Hughes all available – and they get to select the one that fits their needs the most. If, however, it goes Dahlin-Svechnikov-Zadina-Boqvist (for example), they’re left with two of those three. Still an okay position to be in.

If they select sixth overall, there will either be two of those three defensemen on the board… or one of those three and Tkachuk, which means their pick will likely be made for them, letting Tkachuk slide to 7, and taking whichever D is still unselected. The pressure to make the “right” choice would come off, which might be a good thing, but if they have their lists ranked differently than this one, perhaps all of their guys are gone.

If they select seventh overall, they’re in trouble. It’s possible that all four of those defensemen are gone, as are the top two wingers, leaving them Brady Tkachuk, who we’ve already established they don’t really need, one of the centers that are probably being selected a little bit too high, or Noah Dobson, a defenseman who, again, is very good but seems to be ranked a touch lower than the others. If someone above them loves Tkachuk, great – there’s one of Boqvist/Hughes/Bouchard left, and he’s your choice.

If they select eighth overall, things are rough. It’s possible that Tkachuk is there, who at this point you almost have to take… or they take one of the “third tier” players in Dobson, Veleno, or Wahlstrom – all wonderful hockey players, but two tiers below where you want your highest pick in generations to come from. The best case scenario for the 8th pick is someone above them really needing a center and taking one of them, or someone really loving Tkachuk (neither of which is that difficult to believe, really), and there’s still a Tier II defenseman on the board, and he falls into Detroit’s lap.

TL;DR

1st overall (8.4%) – Rasmus Dahlin. This would be a franchise-altering pick.

2nd overall (8.7%) – Filip Zadina. Purest goal-scorer in the organization, will have to find D elsewhere.

3rd overall (8.9%) –Zadina OR Adam Boqvist. Boqvist is a hell of a “consolation” prize.

5th overall (8.4%) – Evan Bouchard OR Quinn Hughes. Either would immediately be the team’s top prospect, and either would invigorate a less-than-exciting D corps, which has plenty of second pair-type guys, and no first pair-type guys.

6th overall (34.5%) – Hughes OR Bouchard. Less decision-making on their part, but still get a great player.

7th overall (26.7%) – Hughes OR Noah Dobson OR Brady Tkachuk OR Oliver Wahsltrom OR Joe Veleno. Hughes may still be around, but if he’s not, they’ve got the entire next tier of players to choose from and Tier II leftover Tkachuk.

8th overall (4.3%) – Dobson OR Tkachuk OR Wahlstrom OR Veleno. Maybe they get lucky and someone above them loves one or more of these guys, and a Tier II defenseman falls into their lap.

Random Season-Ending Thoughts

I’ve been holding off on writing an end-of-season post because something felt off about the end of the Red Wings’ season and I think I’ve figured it out.

This doesn’t feel like the end of the season.  Not because the Red Wings aren’t advancing to the playoffs, but because the 2017-18 campaign didn’t feel like a season to me at all.

I had no expectations last fall.  I knew that this was going to be another lost year.  While it was good to get to open Little Caesars Arena and there were some important milestones and some young players took big steps forward, there wasn’t a single game this season that really mattered.  It was essentially a six-month slate of exhibitions.

I’m okay with that.  Another year has been burned off of the contracts of Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm and Luke GlendeningNiklas KronwallDanny DeKeyserJonathan Ericsson.

But where the Wings stand today is almost exactly where they were at this time last year.

There’s room for change at forward.  David Booth is likely done.  Evgeny Svechnikov is likely up for the season next year.  Michael Rasmussen will get a chance to make the team.  Andreas Athanasiou could be gone but would likely bring a roster player back in return so that doesn’t open up a spot for anyone.

If you assume that restricted free agents Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Martin Frk all return, that’s eleven forwards under contract for next year.  Athanasiou would make it twelve.  Svechnikov is thirteen.  Rasmussen is fourteen.

On the blueline it’s worse.  Mike Green is the only pending free agent defenseman on the team and there has already been talk about bringing him back.  That would give the Wings seven defensemen, though one has to think they’ll find a way to move spare part Xavier Ouellet.  Where’s the roster spot for Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Vili Saarijarvi?

In goal, Jimmy Howard is the man.  They’ll need to find a backup with Petr Mrazek gone and Jared Coreau seemingly out as well, but aside from no longer paying $9 million for their goaltending tandem, that doesn’t impact space for kids to come up.

So in April 2018 we’re in the same spot we were in April 2017, and probably in a spot similar to where we’ll be in April 2019.

Until some of these dead weight contracts are up, all of these games are an extended preseason.


Ken Holland said something that really annoyed me during the Red Wings’ locker room cleanout, speaking about the infeasibility of icing a roster of “20 kids” – which absolutely no one has suggested.

Holland’s strawman arguments and false equivalencies annoy the hell out of me.  It comes across as condescending and insulting.

Another of his favorites is that it takes ten years to do a full rebuild, which the organization refuses to do.  But I want to take a look at that one.

The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the 2013 season.  They then went on a short run that pushed the eventual champions to overtime of Game Seven in the second round.  The playoff run makes the season seem better than it was but, given that this was an improvement over their first-round loss to the Nashville Predators the previous season, I’m willing to call 2013 a success.

In 2014, Detroit backed into the playoffs with a point earned in a shootout loss in the antepenultimate game of the season, then got bounced by the Boston Bruins in five games.

It was a similar story in 2015, making the postseason on the strength of an overtime loss in Montreal with two games remaining, then getting bounced by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

In 2016 the Wings were only in the playoffs because, after Detroit dropped a 3-2 decision to the New York Rangers in the last game of the season, the Ottawa Senators beat the Boston Bruins to push the Bruins behind the Red Wings.  It was another short postseason and another elimination by the Lightning.

So we’ll call 2013 acceptable but I’m not willing to say the same for anything since.  Yes, they made the playoffs.  I’m not saying it’s Cup-or-nothing.  I’m just not willing to settle for backing into the postseason and then doing nothing once you’re there.

That means we’re five years in to the downturn.  Next year will be six.  I could very easily see it taking a few more years to get back on the upswing.  All the sudden we’re looking at the ten year rebuild that Holland refused to do.