On the Blueline Logjam

It feels like this is a topic that comes up every year.  Throughout the entire Red Wings organization, there is a logjam at defense.

It’s been this way for several seasons.  The initial answer was that the team would trade defensive depth for help at forward but those trades never materialized.

Other moves have happened.  They did lose Alexey Marchenko on waivers to Toronto last season and then traded Brendan Smith to the New York Rangers.  Nathan Paetsch and Conor Allen chose to leave the Griffins for Rochester.  They also added Trevor Daley and sometimes-defenseman Luke Witkowski in Detroit while Filip Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi graduated from juniors to Grand Rapids.

This led to last night, where Hronek and Saarijarvi, two of the organization’s top prospects, couldn’t even crack the lineup for the Griffins’ home opener.

Some of that is politics, I’m sure.  You don’t send Ryan Sproul to Grand Rapids to have him sit there and the other five guys all played on the Griffins’ championship-winning team last year, so of course you dress them for the banner-raising.  But that you have to deal with issues like that shows a bigger problem.

When healthy, the Red Wings expect to be playing Danny DeKeyser,
Daley, Jonathan EricssonMike GreenNiklas Kronwall, and Nick Jensen.  Xavier Ouellet slots in as the seventh defenseman, and he filled in on opening night with Kronwall hurt, while Witkowski is your thirteenth forward or eighth defenseman (depending on injuries).

That pushes Ryan Sproul down to Grand Rapids, where he, Brian Lashoff, and Dylan McIlrath are the vets on the blueline.  That’s three spots out of six taken up by players who are legitimately no longer prospects.  Dan Renouf and Robbie Russo, who both made it into games in Detroit last season, come next, followed by Joe Hicketts.  Hronek and Saarijarvi have nowhere to play.

Oh, sure, there will be injuries.  And players will rotate in and out of the lineup.  But is that how you want these guys to start their pro careers?  Slotting in irregularly, hoping someone else gets hurt so they get a chance?

The organization has made no move to fix this.  In fact, they’ve only added to it by bringing back players such as Lashoff and McIlrath, opting for veteran leadership in Grand Rapids over a chance for their prospects to play.  In fact, if the rumored Riley Sheahan for Derrick Pouliot trade had gone through, it would have only made the situation worse.

This has been an issue for several seasons.  I can’t help but think that this is the year it becomes a big problem.

Thoughts Heading Into Free Agency

NHL free agency opens in about three hours and, while some signings seem certain thanks to the league’s interview period, some things are still up in the air.

The Red Wings are likely to sign veteran defenseman Trevor Daley.  Five years ago, I love this deal.  I still like Daley quite a bit.  I don’t think he makes Detroit a competitor, though, so I’m not sold on him taking a roster spot from Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul.

In no particular order, that would give the Wings Daley, Ouellet, Sproul, Nick Jensen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, and Danny DeKeyser on the blue line.  Eight guys who’d have to be waived to go to Grand Rapids, plus Robbie Russo, Dan Renouf, and Joe Hicketts waiting with the Griffins.  Quite the logjam.

The Wings are rumored to be interested in another defenseman or a forward but it looks like the cap hit for Daley – coupled with re-signing Ouellet and forwards Tomas Tatar and Andreas Athanasiou – takes them out of consideration there.  I would be completely against bringing in another defenseman but given the loss of Tomas Nosek via expansion, adding a center as a reclamation project wouldn’t be a horrible move.

I’d love to see the Wings take a flyer of Mikhail Grigorenko, who Craig Custance wrote about a couple days ago at The Athletic.  It would have to be on the cheap and it would have to be with the caveat that the Wings don’t try to turn Grigorenko into a grinder.

If you want a grinding center who can play on the fourth line, bring back Landon Ferraro.  Worst-case scenario, you can probably get him through waivers to Grand Rapids, as the Blues slid him through last year.

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.

Available
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)

Protected
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.

Red Wings Sign Defenseman Libor Sulak

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Wednesday the signing of Czech defenseman Libor Sulak.

Sulak was slated to play for the Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League next season.

For the past two seasons, Sulak has played for Orli Znojmo of the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga.  In 2016 he was the league’s rookie of the year.  He played for Czechia – alongside Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek – at the just-completed 2017 IIHF World Championships.

The move gives the Red Wings 14 defensemen who are either already signed or are restricted free agents headed into this summer.  Some, such as prospect Dennis Cholowski, will almost certainly spend next season with their junior clubs.  However, it’s safe to assume that the Grand Rapids Griffins will add some veteran defensemen on AHL-only deals, meaning that blueline roster spots throughout the organization will be at a premium.

Sulak’s contract is a two-year entry level deal.


Update, 3:25 PM: Apparently Sulak’s deal with the Pelicans means he will either play there or with Detroit next year, not with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.  I have to think him making the Detroit roster comes at the expense of one of Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, or Ryan Sproul, who likely wouldn’t make it through waivers to the Griffins, so this signing wouldn’t impact the roster spot crunch as much as it originally seemed.

Morning After: Red Wings @ Maple Leafs

This was a hard game to watch.

The Red Wings shot themselves in the foot early with a Darren Helm giveaway leading directly to a goal by Alexey Marchenko – the defenseman Detroit gave away for free via waivers because Ken Holland has such a weak grasp on the concept of asset management.

Then Niklas Kronwall takes a penalty and the Leafs score pretty quick on the power play and, ugh, it looks like it’s going to be one of those nights.

Nazem Kadri makes it 3-0 early in the second and the Toronto-based media is calling for a blowout but a strange thing happens.  Despite not managing a shot for about 15 minutes in the middle period, the Red Wings turn it on for the last five minutes and Gustav Nyquist scores.

Nyquist adds another just 36 seconds into the third and suddenly it’s a game.  But not really because most of the rest of the period is just the two teams fumbling around with each other.

We end with controversy, as Henrik Zetterberg gets high sticked – with a significant amount of blood drawn – and there’s no penalty.  Not that I want to have games relying on the Red Wings’ power play, but that could have made a massive difference.

After an earlier marginal goalie interference call on Nick Jensen, the missed high stick just adds to the “hard to watch” aspects of the game.  Yes, missed calls always go both ways and over a season they probably even out, but combined with the “Toronto Maple Leafs: Team…  Of…  Dessssstiny” narrative, it feels like the ice is tilted.

In the end, it wasn’t all bad.  Most of the losses this season haven’t been.  They just haven’t been good enough.  Late start, comeback falls short, blah blah blah.

On the plus side, Robbie Russo didn’t look horrible in his NHL debut.  A beat too slow in his decision making, probably (Mickey Redmond was harping on Russo taking too many hits), but his skating looked good.

Nyquist and Zetterberg also looked good.  Like the game mattered to them more than it did to some others.  There’s been some talk about not losing the culture of winning that the Red Wings have had and how Zetterberg is carrying that on even as the team misses the playoffs and I think you could really see that last night.

Thoughts on the Red Wings’ Trade Deadline

I was feeling pretty good about the Red Wings’ efforts in the lead up to the NHL’s trade deadline this morning.  Then the Thomas Vanek trade happened.  Those who follow DH.N on Twitter know I am less than happy about that but I’ll look at each of the Wings’ moves piece-by-piece here.

Tomas Jurco
The Red Wings traded Tomas Jurco to the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday.  An upcoming restricted free agent, Jurco never really latched on with the Red Wings.  Detroit got a third-round pick in the deal, which is more than I would have expected.

I don’t think Jurco was ever used properly in Detroit so it hurts to see him go to Chicago, but if the Wings weren’t going to use him, at least they got some value for him.  This is a pretty solid deal.

Brendan Smith
The first of Detroit’s pending unrestricted free agents, the team tried to sign him to a contract extension but the trade offer from the New York Rangers was too much to turn down.  Smith netted the Red Wings a third-round pick in the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round pick in 2018.

This was Detroit’s best move of the week.  I probably would have been happy with a second or a third, to get both feels like larceny.  That said, like Jurco, perhaps Smith just needs a change of scenery.  It’s not that he was particularly bad this year in Detroit, but he’s weighed down by the expectations and the memory of bad performances.

Steve Ott
I never liked Ott’s signing, that’s no secret.  I don’t know why the Canadiens thought they needed him, either.  He wasn’t horrible in Detroit by any means, I just think his role could have been filled by one of the kids in Grand Rapids, namely Tyler Bertuzzi or Tomas Nosek.  Getting a sixth-round pick for Ott seems like a near-miracle.

Thomas Vanek
I’m going to need more space for this one.

Nick Jensen
Not a trade, the Red Wings locked up Jensen for two more years at around $800,000 each.  Jensen has stepped onto the Wings’ blue line and seemingly leapfrogged both Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet (and definitely Alexey Marchenko, now in Toronto).

I like this signing for multiple reasons.  One, it’s only two years, unlike the ridiculous four-year deal that Brian Lashoff got after serving in a similar capacity back during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.  Two, it can entirely be buried in the minors if Jensen ends up being a bust or if the Wings acquire a legitimate top defenseman at some point.

Mitch Callahan
With Ott off to Montreal, the Red Wings called up forward Mitch Callahan to take his place.  I’m okay with this but I’d rather have seen Bertuzzi get the nod, as I mentioned above (Nosek is currently injured and wouldn’t be called up).

Drew Miller
The trade that didn’t happen.  I don’t know if anyone was interested in Miller but he’s the one upcoming unrestricted free agent that Holland was unable to unload.  Part of me thinks that if you can unload Ott, you can unload Miller.  But maybe the Habs were the only team interested in a guy like that.

Thomas Vanek
Okay, let’s try this one again…

Vanek had to be dealt.  He’s been one of the Wings’ best players this season and is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so it was assumed that he had significant value.  At the end of the day, it sounds like there weren’t that many teams interested, though, and he only fetched a third-round draft pick (plus AHLer Dylan McIlrath, minus retaining some salary).  That the Wings got the best deal they could get is good.

It’s kind of hard to see that for multiple reasons, though.  There was a lot of buzz about Vanek in the lead up to the deadline and Minnesota made a massive deal for Martin Hanzal, a player deemed to be somewhat comparable to Vanek.  You don’t trade buzz, though.  The best player the Red Wings had to offer simply wasn’t enough to generate that much interest.

Winging it in Motown’s JJ from Kansas has been talking about getting caught up in the hype about Vanek.  Take a look at Detroit’s history as buyers, though, and it’s hard not to.

In 2015 the Wings gave up a solid prospect in Mattias Janmark, a questionable prospect in Mattias Backman, and a second round pick for Erik Cole and a third rounder.  In 2014 Detroit traded Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves, and a third round pick for David Legwand.

In my mind, 2017 Thomas Vanek is better than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand, so I would expect 2017 Thomas Vanek to bring in more than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand.  But that’s not what this year’s market supported.

So it’s disappointing that costs are high when the Wings are buyers but they’re low when they’re sellers.  It’s hard to swallow.  It feels like if the Wings should have to sell, they should get to sell for the same prices that all the teams that profited from them got to sell at.

Overall
All of that said, the Wings did the best that they could with what they had.  In sheer volume of picks, the last week has been a pretty impressive haul.

I’m not as excited about the upcoming draft as Ken Holland is, though.  Holland has spoken about having so many picks to work with, more than they’ve had since 2002.  This draft is shallow and none of those picks are particularly high.  As such, I don’t see this sell off as sparking a rebuild.  Barring some big changes this summer, I don’t think the assets gained in the last week are going to turn things around next year.

Red Wings Sign Jensen to Two-Year Extension

The Detroit Red Wings signed rookie defenseman Nick Jensen to a two-year contract extension on Monday.

As per usual, financial terms of the deal were not announced. Thankfully, the Freep’s Helene St. James had them seconds later.

This gives the Red Wings six returning defensemen next season, with Xavier Ouellet still scheduled to become a restricted free agent.  I would think this makes trading unrestricted-free-agent-to-be Brendan Smith more likely but this is the team that gave Alexey Marchenko away for free so what do I know?

For the record, I like th

On the Red Wings as Trade Deadline Sellers

The NHL’s trade deadline is less than a week away and – in the middle of their “bye week” – the team sits last in the Atlantic Division, only two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes (who have four games in hand) for last in the Eastern Conference, and twenty-sixth overall in the thirty-team league.

For the first time in a quarter century, the Red Wings will (in all likelihood) not make the playoffs.  As such, they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline.

Detroit general manager Ken Holland insists that the team will not be torn down in a total rebuild.  He expects only to unload “rentals” – players who will be free agents this summer anyway.  With that in mind, there are three players who we can probably expect to see moved.

Thomas Vanek
Vanek has been one of the Red Wings’ top forwards this season, leading the team in goals with 15 in just 47 games played.  He was signed last summer to a cap-friendly one-year deal as a reclamation project and is just the kind of player a team looking to make a playoff push would want to add.  The only hiccup is that he reportedly loves Detroit and Holland may choose to simply extend his contract rather than trade him and risk being unable to bring him back this summer.

Brendan Smith
At 28, Smith is no longer a prospect, he’s a known quantity.  He could be a solid addition to a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins (who, as I write this, traded for Ron Hainsey), looking to shore up their defense.  That said, Holland has stated that he’ll talk to Smith’s camp about a contract extension, so he could stay put.  The Red Wings have five defensemen already under contract for next season, plus restricted free agents Nick Jensen and Xavier Ouellet.  If Jensen can do Smith’s job at half the price (or less), it makes sense to get what they can for him.

Steve Ott
Ott signed with his “hometown” Red Wings last summer and was excited to come to Detroit.  He clearly wants to be here.  I’ve been against his signing from the start.  There are a lot of GMs who love the kind of player he is, even if I don’t.  He could be a cheap veteran addition for a team looking for a little extra grit.


In addition to the above three, there are a few others in unique positions that could see them dealt.

Drew Miller
Exiled to the Grand Rapids Griffins in the face of a roster crunch in Detroit, Miller has made it clear that he’d like to be traded and get back into the NHL.  His position is similar to Ott’s, as a veteran grinder who would come cheap, except for the fact that he already cleared waivers so any team that wanted him will have already passed him up.  The Wings would likely have to take a player back in any deal for Miller.

Tomas Jurco
Jurco has been stuck in the press box for much of the season and doesn’t seem to have a future in Detroit.  He reportedly requested a trade earlier in the year and will be a restricted free agent this summer.  That said, if the Wings were to sell on Vanek and Ott, it would seemingly open up a roster spot in Detroit for Jurco to get more playing time.

Tomas Tatar
Tatar has been one of the Wings’ top forwards this season but has been plagued at times by accusations of not living up to his potential.  He’s a restricted free agent this summer, likely due a raise from the $2.75 million he makes now to something close to the $4.75 million of Gustav Nyquist.  The Chicago Blackhawks called about Tatar and Nyquist earlier this season, so if the Wings wanted to avoid paying Tatar, they could ship him out now.


Finally, there’s a small group of players that might have value but probably won’t be dealt for various reasons, primarily because – as stated above – the Wings say they’re not tearing the team down.

Gustav Nyquist
Signed for two more seasons after this one and currently suspended, the Blackhawks did ask about him, so the possibility of moving Nyquist is there.  Even more than Tatar, Nyquist can’t shake the “underperformer” label and the Wings may want to dump his salary to facilitate re-signing Tatar (or anyone else).

Mike Green
Green has one year left on his contract for $6 million, so any team looking to acquire him wouldn’t be going for a rental.  If available, though, he’d be one of the top defensemen on the market and could probably bring in a decent haul for the Red Wings’ reload.  It’d also clear a lot of money from the Wings’ cap.  I don’t expect him to be dealt but I think it’s an intriguing possibility.  Green does have a no-trade clause.

Jimmy Howard
I don’t expect Howard to be traded at the deadline, lets get that out of the way.  But – especially if he’s not claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft this summer – the Wings are going to have quite the logjam in goal to deal with, plus a lot of money dedicated to goalies.  Clearing that up sooner rather than later would be to Holland’s benefit, so he should be trying to move Howard now.  Of course, Howard is currently hurt and has no timetable for return, so pulling off this move would be near-miraculous.


My prediction? Vanek and Smith or Ott get traded.  Maybe Miller, especially if Ott stays.

Red Wings Lose Marchenko to Leafs via Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings lost defenseman Alexey Marchenko to the Toronto Maple Leafs via waivers on Saturday.

Marchenko was waived to clear a roster spot for Brendan Smith, who is slated to return from injury tonight as the Red Wings visit the Nashville Predators.

Marchenko made the Red Wings’ roster out of camp last season, then went on to play for his native Russia at the World Championships last spring and the World Cup of Hockey.  Despite that, he lost his roster spot to Nick Jensen this season and fell behind Ryan Sproul on the team’s depth chart.

I’m not surprised that Marchenko was claimed, given how many teams have been clamoring for right-handed shooting defensemen.  I can’t help but think that this is yet another case of asset mis-management by the Red Wings’ brass.

Red Wings Place Marchenko on Waivers

The Detroit Red Wings have placed defenseman Alexey Marchenko on waivers.

The move comes with defenseman Brendan Smith scheduled to return from injury tomorrow against the Nashville Predators, requiring that the Red Wings open up a roster spot.

It would appear that Marchenko, who made the Red Wings’ roster out of camp last season and played for his native Russia at both the 2016 World Championships and the World Cup of Hockey, has been passed on the depth chart by Xavier Ouellet, Nick Jensen, and Ryan Sproul.

I had expected Sproul to be the one to get the axe, given criticism of his play.  I suppose the Red Wings brass sees more upside in him than Marchenko.

With the number of teams looking for right handed shots right now, I find it hard to believe Marchenko won’t get claimed.  That said, I’m still surprised Teemu Pulkkinen is in the AHL right now so what do I know?  If he does make it through, he’ll head to the Grand Rapids Griffins and re-join their already-packed blueline.