On Blashill and Other Season-Ending Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wings Deal Namestnikov to Stars

The Detroit Red Wings traded forward Vladislav Namestnikov to the Dallas Stars for a fourth-round draft pick in 2024 on Monday, just as the NHL’s trade deadline approached.

Namestnikov was the third pending free agent shipped out by the Red Wings in advance of the deadline, following defensemen Troy Stecher and Nick Leddy.

While a higher return could have been hoped for, Namestnikov’s value had kind of been set by previous trades.  In October of 2019, he was traded by the New York Rangers to the Ottawa Senators for a fourth-round pick.  Almost five months later, the Senators moved him to the Colorado Avalanche for a fourth-rounder again.  Namestnikov played well for Detroit over the last two seasons but not well enough to change his perceived value.  I referred to it on Twitter as the Standard Namestnikov Return.

As useful as he’s been in Detroit, I don’t think Namestnikov was a long-term piece of the puzzle, so I’m not worried about losing him.  The Wings also have a ton of forward depth to ride out the rest of the season, so it’s not like his departure leaves a hole in the lineup.

This is what a rebuilding team should do.  Shipping out pending free agents for draft picks is part of the process.  It’s just that the Wings haven’t had many pending UFAs that other teams have actually wanted in awhile.

Red Wings Trade Leddy, Witkowski to St. Louis

The Detroit Red Wings made an expected move in the lead-up to Monday’s NHL trade deadline, sending veteran defenseman Nick Leddy to the St. Louis Blues for Oscar Sundqvist, Jake Walman, and a second-round pick.

Luke Witkowski, currently with the Grand Rapids Griffins, also goes to St. Louis as part of the deal.

Leddy had been a healthy scratch in games against the Vancouver Canucks and Seattle Kraken last week to prevent him from being injured before a trade could be worked out.

Leddy was acquired by the Red Wings for a second-round draft pick last summer.  With Sundqvist, Walman, and Witkowski all depth pieces, the core of the deal is essentially Leddy for a second-rounder, meaning that the cost of Detroit renting Leddy for most of this season was punting a second-round pick from 2021 to 2023.

Sundqvist is a fourth-line forward with one year left on his contract after this one, carrying a salary cap hit of $2.75 million.  Walman, a defenseman, will be a restricted free agent this summer.

I like the deal.  I was beginning to think there was no way Leddy would bring back a second-rounder and I’m glad to see that.  The rest is a big “meh” from me but it doesn’t matter with that second included.

Red Wings Alternate Captaincy Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2021 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

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

Defensemen

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

Goalies

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

Red Wings Sign Pair of Depth Defensemen

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

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

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

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

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

Red Wings Re-Up Staal on One Year Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Wings’ 2021-22 Schedule Released

The National Hockey League released its schedule for the 2021-22 season on Thursday, including that of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings will open their campaign hosting the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning on October 14, 2021, and will close it out with a visit to the New Jersey Devils on April 29, 2022.

There will be a handful of firsts for the Wings spread throughout the season.

Their first matchup against the expansion Seattle Kraken will take place at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena on December 1.  Their first visit to the New York Islanders’ new UBS Arena will be later that month, on December 29.  Their first game at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle will be on March 19.

New Red Wing Nick Leddy will face his former Islander teammates for the first time on December 4 in Detroit.  Wings goalie Alex Nedeljkovic will oppose his former Carolina Hurricanes teammates on December 16.

Detroit’s annual New Year’s Eve game returns to the schedule as the Red Wings host the Washington Capitals and Anthony Mantha.

There will be only two home-and-home series on the schedule, with the Red Wings facing the Buffalo Sabres on January 15 and January 17 and the Ottawa Senators on April 1 and April 3.

Detroit plays on back-to-back days 14 times throughout the season, with each one of them involving travel between the games.

Red Wings Expose Stetcher, Cholowski for Expansion Draft

Protection lists for each of the National Hockey League’s teams in the upcoming Seattle Kraken expansion draft were distributed at 10 AM on Sunday and, unsurprisingly, began to leak out almost immediately.

In order to protect defenseman Nick Leddy – acquired from the New York Islanders on Friday – Detroit chose to expose Troy Stetcher, coming off a fantastic turn at the World Championships that included an assist on the tournament-winning goal.

There had been much discussion about whether or not Stetcher would be exposed in order to protect young defensemen Dennis Cholowski – a former first-round pick – and Gustav Lindstrom.  Instead, Stetcher’s presumed spot went to Leddy.  Filip Hronek and Lindstrom were the other two defensemen protected, leaving Cholowski exposed.

At forward, Vladislav Namestnikov was exposed in order to meet eligibility requirements.  Richard Panik had been the only other Red Wings forward who had played enough games, was under contract for the coming season, and who wasn’t a lock to be protected, but Panik was sent to the Islanders in the Leddy deal, forcing Namestnikov to be left off the list.

Namestnikov’s exclusion left room for Detroit to protect Givani Smith, with another former first-rounder, Evgeni Svechnikov, as the odd man out up front.

As expected, Thomas Greiss was the goalie Detroit protected, as Jonathan Bernier is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Other notable – but not necessarily surprising – names left exposed by Detroit include Danny DeKeyser and Frans Nielsen.

Red Wings Acquire Defenseman Leddy from Islanders

The Detroit Red Wings acquired defenseman Nick Leddy from the New York Islanders on Friday, in exchange for forward Richard Panik and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.

Detroit also retains 50% of Panik’s salary, $1.375 million for the next two seasons.

This deal doesn’t make sense to me.

Leddy is probably an upgrade over some of Detroit’s defensemen from last season, sure.  But to take on his salary, retain half of Panik’s salary, and throw in a second-round draft pick to make that upgrade seems like a steep price to pay.

Additionally, by completing the trade now, the Red Wings pretty much have to protect Leddy over Troy Stetcher for the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.  Stetcher was not one of the defensemen Leddy would be an upgrade over, so add the risk of losing Stetcher to the cost paid for Leddy and I really don’t get it.

Sure, there’s the “They’ll get a first-rounder for Leddy at the next trade deadline” argument but, as I’ve written before, we go into every season with some player who for sure will be flipped for a high pick at the deadline and it never happens, so we should probably stop being so sure about that.  Additionally, if the Wings do lose Stetcher to Seattle, the cost includes a guy they probably could have flipped for a second-rounder.

One thing I haven’t touched on is giving up Richard Panik.  I said when he was acquired that I don’t like him, he did nothing to endear himself to me in his short tenure with Detroit, and I don’t see a negative to his departure.

I don’t get the timing on this move and I don’t get the cost.  Maybe there’s something else coming but as it is right now, this looks like a really bad deal to me.

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