Over the holidays I ended up in several conversations with family members about the state of the Red Wings’ rebuild.
There was a lot of disbelief about how bad the Red Wings are (which shows me which of my family members don’t follow this site on Twitter). The general assumption was that the team would have rebounded more quickly than they have. When looking at rebuild timelines, I found myself comparing the Red Wings to the New York Rangers.
The difference between the teams is that the Rangers had assets to give up in trade when they started their rebuild. They shipped out Ryan McDonaugh and J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, Rick Nash to Boston, and Kevin Hayes to Winnipeg, among others.
The Red Wings, meanwhile, had to watch a market not develop for Jimmy Howard, and a market not develop for Thomas Vanek, and Mike Green get hurt in the lead up to the trade deadline.
Former Detroit GM Ken Holland deserves credit for some of his deals, certainly, but he was working from a disadvantage from the start, as the Red Wings haven’t had big pieces to sell for futures.
So start the rebuild earlier, right? When the Red Wings actually had tradable assets? I’ve looked at what the Red Wings’ rebuild might have looked like if they’d stopped buying at the deadline sooner, but what if they were actively selling?
Let’s call the lockout-shortened 2013 season the Red Wings’ last chance at a deep run, an overtime loss away from a spot in the conference finals. As such, this rebuild doesn’t begin until the 2014 trade deadline. Perhaps they not only choose not to acquire David Legwand but they decide to actively sell and start the rebuild.
Daniel Alfredsson has value at that point but he also had a no-move clause; I’ll assume he stays put.
Jonas Gustavsson could have some value as a pending free agent. The goalie market is fickle and he has a modified no-trade clause. It’s unlikely he’s bringing in a difference-making haul but there’s room for something there.
Kyle Quincey is a pending free agent in the summer of 2014, so there’s an interesting rental option. Similarly, Jonathan Ericsson is on an expiring deal (though with a modified NTC).
I’ll assume Gustavsson, Quincey, and Ericsson all get traded, replaced by the earlier promotions of Petr Mrazek and Ryan Sproul and an Adam Almquist that stays in North America with a roster spot reserved for him.
Come February 2015, the Red Wings are out of contention but don’t have any obvious candidates to deal away. Brendan Smith could be an option but I’m going to say he’s young enough for the Wings to keep and not good enough for a team to throw a great deal at Holland to pry him away. It’s possible that Detroit signed a veteran defenseman instead of going with Sproul/Almquist and that this veteran could be flipped here but that’s going to be the case at every deadline.
In 2016 we’re looking at Darren Helm and Justin Abelkader being possible trade deadline departures. We’re also getting into a series of years where the Red Wings should be looking to deal Howard and go with the younger Mrazek in goal.
So by the time we catch up with when Detroit’s rebuild actually happened, we’ve moved out Gustavsson, Quincey, Ericsson, Helm, Abdelkader, and Howard. We might have also seen the Red Wings sign some veterans to one-year deals only to flip them at the deadline (which could be how this alternate Red Wings team still ends up with Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott in time for the 2017 deadline). We also might have seen Sproul and Almquist (or anyone else who stepped up with more ice time available) flipped.
I can’t see them having moved Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, or Niklas Kronwall.
The problem is I also can’t see any of those deals having brought back large pieces for Detroit’s rebuild.
Quincey is two seasons removed from having fetched a first-round pick but hasn’t really proven that he was worth that investment. Ericsson is comparable. Neither Helm nor Abdelkader has dropped off quite as much as we’ve seen since then. Possibilities are there, for certain. But there’s no McDonaugh in that group.
That said, that doesn’t mean there would have been no benefit to starting the rebuild sooner. While I lament the Red Wings’ lack of high-value draft picks, high quantity of draft picks is still a good thing.
Dropping out of contention sooner also makes the Red Wings’ draft picks from 2014 on better, perhaps with bouncing lottery balls being kinder as well. The 2019 version of this team could be benefitting from those draft picks rather than a 2014 draft that has produced only Dylan Larkin and Christoffer Ehn.
Given that we know the Red Wings got nothing for Quincey and Gustavsson and will likely get little to nothing for Ericsson, Helm, and Abdelkader, it’s safe to say that starting the rebuild sooner would have allowed them to cash in on more pieces. However, that doesn’t mean that the team would be back in contention by now.
A deeper comparison of the Red Wings and Rangers…
Detroit’s streak of making the playoffs ended in 2017, with their rebuild beginning six weeks earlier at the at the trade deadline. The Rangers, meanwhile, notified their fanbase of their intent to rebuild via letter in February 2018, in advance of that season’s trade deadline.
Starting with the 2017 trade deadline, through the end of the 2018-29 season, Detroit turned nine roster players (Nick Jensen, Tomas Jurco, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist, Steve Ott, Riley Sheahan, Brendan Smith, Tomas Tatar, and Thomas Vanek) and a draft pick (a 2018 fifth-rounder that became Justin Almeida) into two players (Madison Bowey and Dylan McIlrath) and 13 draft picks.
None of the players selected with those picks have made the NHL, so it’s far too early to tell how the trades turned out overall. That said, I want to look at what the Red Wings traded for, not the specific players they used those picks on. Using PDWhoa’s Consolidated Draft Pick Value, the thirteen picks come to a total value of 481.24 (excluding the two future draft picks that don’t have a value yet, as we don’t know their overall position in their respective drafts).
The pick that became Almeida carries a value of 19.36, giving Detroit an increase of 461.88 in draft pick value.
That number feels underwhelming to me.
The Rangers, on the other hand, acquired 480.29 in draft pick value. That doesn’t seem like much difference but New York started their rebuild one year later, giving them two drafts worth of picks to work with instead of three. They also added players such as Brendan Lemieux and Brett Howden.
New York was also able to leverage the number of picks they’d acquired into deals for long-rumored Red Wings’ target Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox.
I’m not saying the Rangers’ rebuild is complete by any means. They’re simply my example for how different a rebuild looks when a team has pieces to work with from the start.