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.

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.

Development Camp Jersey Number Stuff

I’ve been told time and time again that jersey numbers at the Red Wings’ development camp are meaningless but we’ve seen hints of pending changes there in the past.  For example, Philippe Hudon being assigned the #63 that had been worn by Joakim Andersson was the first sign of Andersson’s switch to #18 back in 2013.

That said, of late there have been many cases of assigned numbers being handed out for the development camp, especially goalie numbers.  A previously-assigned number being given out at camp doesn’t mean the player who had it is switching, it’s just worth looking out for.

This year the Red Wings didn’t release a roster that included player numbers but George Malik noted them in his first write-up from camp.

I predicted last week that Ryan Sproul might be changing his number.  With new draftee Gustav Lindstrom wearing #48, that could be a sign.  Of course, I thought Sproul might take #4, which is now assigned to Alfons Malmstrom.

Malmstrom wore #88 in camp last season, which is assigned to free agent signee Libor Sulak this time around.  Sulak’s usual number is #88 so it would appear that he wanted that number and would wear it if he makes the Wings’ roster.

Somewhat unexpectedly, 2017 first-rounder Michael Rasmussen is wearing the #37 that had been assigned to Evgeny Svechnikov.  Svechnikov also wore #37 in his first full season with the Grand Rapids Griffins before switching to #77.  Dan Renouf had been assigned #77 but is not in camp, so we don’t know if Rasmussen getting #37 while #77 is unassigned means Svechnikov is switching to #77 again.

Also somewhat oddly, Dylan Sadowy kept the #44 he got after Steve Ott took his usual #29 rather than switching back, with #29 going unassigned.

Aside from that, there are some relatively normal number shifts.

Dennis Cholowski switched from #95 to the #2 vacated by Brendan Smith, with Jordan Sambrook going from #94 to #95 (which he wore for the prospects tournament last fall).  Patrick Holway went from #4 to #24.  Mattias Elfstrom went from #82 to #56.  Chase Pearson took Tomas Jurco‘s #26 instead of #92 while David Pope got Daniel Cleary‘s #11 instead of #90 (which went to goalie Keith Petruzelli).

As I mentioned, the goalie numbers almost never matter, but there were changes there, too.  Filip Larsson went from #31 to #68, with Chase Perry going from #68 to #30 and Matej Machovsky going from #30 to #31, which is still assigned to Jared Coreau.  Meanwhile Joren van Pottelberghe went from #50 to #38, which will probably be assigned to Tom McCollum by the time the main camp comes around, as he wore it in his initial stint with Detroit.

What’s all that mean?  Probably not much.  I still think Sproul is changing and now I wouldn’t be surprised if Svechnikov is as well.  Numbers for Trevor Daley and Luke Witkowski probably aren’t reflected here as the roster was set before they signed (although I have a second prediction of Witkowski taking #28 and Vili Saarijarvi switching to #17).


Update – 7/9, 11:30 AM: The Red Wings tweeted out a roster with jersey numbers included in advance of today’s scrimmage.  It includes confirmation of Axel Holmstrom‘s #96 being assigned to Michael Pastujov and I think I know what to read into this now.

Evgeny Svechnikov, Axel Holmstrom, and Joe Hicketts (among others) were all expected to attend development camp until the Grand Rapids Griffins made their Calder Cup run.  The players wearing their numbers were all late additions to the development camp roster.  I’d be willing to bet the jerseys were already made up so they just swapped the names.


For the record, here’s the full list of numbers:

Forwards

Num. Name
74 Jack Adams
79 Oliver Castleman*
45 Christopher Ehn
56 Mattias Elfstrom
70 Luke Esposito+
73 Zach Gallant
76 Brady Gilmour
82 Isaac Johnson*
78 Sean Josling*
80 Luke Kutkevicius*
17 Tommy Marchin*
96 Michael Pastujov*
26 Chase Pearson
11 David Pope
37 Michael Rasmussen
44 Dylan Sadowy
63 Dominik Shine+
32 Graham Slaggert*
81 Givani Smith
47 Brett Supinski*
67 Lane Zablocki

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Dennis Cholowski
92 Tomas Dvorak*
27 Mitch Eliot*
75 Evan Fiala*
85 Cole Fraser
24 Patrick Holway
87 Filip Hronek
94 Kasper Kotkansalo
97 Adam Larkin*
48 Gustav Lindstrom
4 Alfons Malmstrom
58 Patrick McCarron+
53 Alex Peters*
28 Vili Saarijarvi
95 Jordan Sambrook
86 Malte Setkov
88 Libor Sulak
84 Reilly Webb

Goalies

Num. Name
36 Kaden Fulcher*
68 Filip Larsson
31 Matej Machovsky
30 Chase Perry
90 Keith Petruzzelli
38 Joren van Pottelberghe

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