Zetterberg Officially Done Playing

Detroit general manager Ken Holland announced today that team captain Henrik Zetterberg‘s  back condition will keep him from returning to play.  His career is over and he will ride out the final three years of his contract on long-term injured reserve.

The announcement does not come as a surprise, with each update on Zetterberg’s condition over the summer getting progressively worse.

While the team will be without its leader, Zetterberg going on LTIR does solve their salary cap situation.  Additionally, the team could look to move his contract (or that of Johan Franzen, also “LTIRetired”) to a team that needs to get to the salary cap floor.

The Red Wings are not expected to replace Zetterberg as captain this season, instead rolling with three alternate captains.  Dylan Larkin will likely wear the third A alongside Justin Abdelkader and Niklas Kronwall.

2018 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings released their 2018 training camp rosters today and with that any changed jersey numbers for players in the organization.

Unsurprisingly, July 1st free agent signees Thomas Vanek and Jonathan Bernier will wear their usual #26 and #45, with Vanek opting not to go back to the #62 he wore in his first stint with Detroit (as #26 then belonged to Tomas Jurco).

Evgeny Svechnikov appears to have switched for the second year in a row, going from the #77 he wears in Grand Rapids to the #37 he wore for his first year in Detroit.

With Svechnikov back in #37, Griffins captain Matt Ford will wear #77 in camp rather than the #79 he had last year.

Chris Terry keeps the #15 he was assigned for the prospects tournament while Colin Campbell, having lost his previous #45 to Bernier, takes the #17 vacated by the departure of David Booth.

I’d expected Tyler Bertuzzi to switch to #17 but he keeps his #59.  Maybe next year.

Pro tryout Jussi Jokinen will wear the #20 previously held by Dan Renouf while Griffins-bound forward Wade Megan has been assigned the #22 of Matt Lorito, who moved on to the Islanders organization.

Tryout Bryan Moore takes the #61 previously worn by Xavier Ouellet, who was bought out and signed with Montreal this summer.

Jake Chelios, son of Chris Chelios and signed for the Griffins, has been assigned #84.  Griffins-bound goalie Harri Sateri, who usually wears the #29 of defenseman Vili Saarijarvi, has the former #31 of Jared Coreau.

The full training camp roster is below:

Forwards

Num. Name
8 Justin Abdelkader
11 Filip Zadina
14 Gustav Nyquist
15 Chris Terry
17 Colin Campbell
20 Jussi Jokinen
22 Wade Megan
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Thomas Vanek
27 Michael Rasmussen
28 Luke Witkowski
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
40 Henrik Zetterberg
41 Luke Glendening
42 Martin Frk
43 Darren Helm
44 Dylan Sadowy
46 Lane Zablocki
48 Givani Smith
49 Axel Holmstrom
51 Frans Nielsen
53 Jordan Topping
54 Matt Puempel
56 Dominik Shine
57 Turner Elson
58 David Pope
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 Bryan Moore
64 Zach Gallant
67 Brady Gilmour
70 Christoffer Ehn
71 Dylan Larkin
72 Andreas Athanasiou
76 Nicolas Guay
77 Matthew Ford
81 Trevor Yates
85 Luke Kirwan
88 Carter Camper
89 Pavel Gogolev
90 Joe Veleno
92 Maxim Golod

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Nick Jensen
4 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
24 Filip Hronek
25 Mike Green
29 Vili Saarijarvi
32 Brian Lashoff
47 Libor Sulak
50 Reilly Webb
52 Jonathan Ericsson
55 Niklas Kronwall
62 Trevor Hamilton
63 Jared McIsaac
65 Danny DeKeyser
73 Marcus Crawford
74 Cole Fraser
79 Brenden Kotyk
83 Trevor Daley
84 Jake Chelios
86 Mackenze Stewart
87 Matt Register
94 Alec Regula

Goalies

Num. Name
31 Harri Sateri
34 Patrik Rybar
35 Jimmy Howard
36 Kaden Fulcher
38 Pat Nagle
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Justin Fazio

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 Hicketts?  Dennis Cholowski?  Evgeny 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.

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 the Red Wings’ Blueline Depth and Future Callups

Last week I wrote about how the Red Wings’ then-upcoming road trip through Western Canada, specifically Sunday afternoon’s tilt with the Edmonton Oilers and last night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks, might give them an opportunity to get a prospect such as Joe Hicketts into the lineup.

My thinking was that with Danny DeKeyser eligible for long-term injured reserve, a roster spot and cap space would be available.  Combined with road games on consecutive nights, the team might have wanted to rest someone (I was thinking Niklas Kronwall), giving a chance for Hicketts to step into the lineup.

We know now that that didn’t happen.  While the Wings won both of those games, it still concerns me a little.

What this trip seems to have shown us is that Luke Witkowski is the team’s eighth defenseman.  He’s also the 13th forward but I’m not worried about getting him in the lineup, I’m looking at how he blocks others.

It appears to me that the Red Wings are not going to call up a defenseman when Witkowski is available.  That means that to get someone like Hicketts into the lineup, three injuries need to happen, either three defensemen or two defensemen and a forward.

Right now Detroit has only one blueliner hurt.  If another was, or needed to be rested, Witkowski would step in.  If a third defenseman got hurt, it would open up a spot.  If a forward got hurt, Witkowski would shift there and his blueline spot would open up.

That final scenario could be further complicated, though, as David Booth could take over for an injured forward while Witkowski continued to skate on defense.  This means it might take the right combination of four injuries for one of Grand Rapids’ defensemen to get called up.

Obviously I could be reading too much into one road trip.  Maybe Hicketts didn’t get a look because the Griffins were playing on Sunday and the team figured he should stay there.  I don’t know.  But it seems to me like it’s going to take a lot for one of the Red Wings’ prospects to get a chance in Detroit this season.

On Hicketts, DeKeyser, and Kronwall

Last weekend, Katie Strang of the Athletic did a feature on Grand Rapids Griffins’ defenseman Joe Hicketts.  A notable item from it is the assertion of Daniel Cleary that Hicketts nearly made the Red Wings’ roster out of training camp.

“He was close to making our team this year,” said longtime Red Wings forward Daniel Cleary, now a director of player development with the organization. “Very, very damn close.”

Yesterday, Peter Flynn from Winging it in Motown ran with that, suggesting that Hicketts should be in the Detroit lineup with Danny DeKeyser now expected to miss enough time to go on long-term injured reserve.

I agree with Flynn.  It was understandable to not bring Hicketts up when DeKeyser went down because he wasn’t expected to have to go on LTIR, which means there wouldn’t have been enough cap space for the call-up.  Now that we know DeKeyser will miss at least ten more days (and four more games), it’s time to give Hicketts a look.

That said, this is the Red Wings we’re talking about.  They’re not going to sit Niklas Kronwall or Jonathan Ericsson for being (relatively) terrible because the vets on this team are allowed to play through their issues.  They may swap Hicketts in for Xavier Ouellet or Nick Jensen but my gut feeling is that’s not the change fans are clamoring for.

There is an in for Hicketts, however.  Last season the Red Wings brass said they wanted to limit Kronwall’s playing time in certain situations and, while they didn’t say as much coming into this season, one has to think it still holds true.  One of those situations just happens to be coming in a week, with the Wings headed through Western Canada and playing on back-to-back nights in Edmonton and Vancouver.

The Red Wings could easily use that opportunity to get a look at Hicketts without stepping on any of their veterans’ toes.

It’s telling that Hicketts hasn’t been called up yet.  It’ll be even more telling if he doesn’t get a look early next week out west.

Update – 10/31, 12:00 PM: WIIM’s Prashanth Iyer shows that my eye test of Kronwall and Ericsson doesn’t seem to stand up.

With that the case, and knowing that the Red Wings aren’t going to sit Trevor Daley or Mike Green in favor of Hicketts, you’re looking at benching Nick Jensen or Xavier Ouellet to make room.  Now they’ve got the room to do that but do you?  I don’t know if I should, but I hesitate.  Maybe that’s more of a failing eye test thing, though.

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.

Long Term Injured Reserve, Marian Hossa, and Niklas Kronwall

The Chicago Blackhawks announced over the summer that forward Marian Hossa would not play this season due to a skin condition.  Specific details have not been released, but the general understanding is that he essentially developed an allergy to his equipment, an ailment that was somewhat common in decades past.

The result is that Hossa develops an uncomfortable – possibly even painful – rash from wearing his hockey gear.  With medications increasingly unhelpful, the only way to avoid it is to stop wearing the equipment, which means not playing.

The NHL has investigated the situation and, per a report by The Athletic, has ruled that the Blackhawks can place Hossa on long-term injured reserve, giving them salary cap relief while Hossa is out.

Given that Hossa’s contract was one of the original back-diving deals and that this year just happens to be one of the ones that it looks like he was never supposed to play anyway, the timing is convenient.  That said, I don’t care about that.  I’m curious about how this applies to other LTIR cases.

Hossa is still physically able to play hockey.  It’s “just” uncomfortable.  Similarly, Johan Franzen may be physically able to play hockey, it would just be incredibly stupid for him to do so after having suffered such horrible repeated head injuries.

As such, it’s clear that LTIRetirement doesn’t mean that you can’t play hockey anymore, just that it’s not worth it to do so.  Exactly how far does that stretch?

About his oft-injured left knee, Niklas Kronwall said in 2016, “I don’t know if I’ll ever be pain-free, but hopefully, I’ll be able to be out there in a position where it doesn’t bite as much.”  Surgery is an option but it would effectively end his career.

Kronwall continues to play because he can and, seemingly, because he wants to.  Is it worth it for him to do so, to play through the pain, as Hossa would have to?  If the answer is no, why wouldn’t the NHL’s ruling on Hossa (and Franzen) apply to him, giving the Red Wings an out from their cap situation?

Or what if the team decides he’s no longer healthy enough to help them, even if Kronwall wants to keep playing?  That seems to be the situation Joffrey Lupul and the Toronto Maple Leafs are in.  The Hossa ruling seems to allow for that as well, though the league is investigating Lupul’s case as well.

If this is an option, I’d be using it today.  Obviously the Red Wings aren’t, but the way I read it, we could see it come up in the future.

Red Wings Sign Defenseman Daley

As expected, the Detroit Red Wings signed defenseman Trevor Daley today.

The team didn’t even get a chance to make an announcement before TSN’s Bob McKenzie was on top of it.

As I wrote earlier today, I don’t dislike the deal but I don’t love it.  I would have liked Daley a lot more five years ago but he’s still a steadying presence on a young blue line.  The problem is that we know Niklas Kronwall or Jonathan Ericsson isn’t going to sit, so he’s also taking a spot from one of those young players who need steadying.

The $3.178 million cap hit is better than the $4.5 million that had been reported earlier in the day but comes at the cost of being a three-year deal.  That’s not awful.

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.