Belated Draft Weekend Thoughts

I was in and out of cell service while camping in Manistee for draft weekend, which means I didn’t really get a chance to put down my thoughts on the Red Wings’ selections as they happened, so I’m going to run through some of that now.

After weeks of debating Quinn Hughes over Evan Bouchard over Adam Boqvist, is it weird that not getting any of them feels a little like a letdown, even if the reason the Wings “missed out” is because Filip Zadina fell to them?

Even with the Wings’ defensive needs, Zadina was absolutely the right pick at #6.¬† Or #5.¬† Or probably #4.¬† The Wings got the best player available, someone who could step into the lineup right now and contribute.

And at #30, they got another forward who fell to them in Joe Veleno, someone projected to go ten or more picks higher.  At #33 Jonatan Berggren, a projected first-rounder,  was still on the boardand the Wings were able to snap him up.  A trio of solid steals in their first three picks set the tone for a very good draft.

Jared McIsaac and Alec Regula and Seth Barton are all solid picks in the second and third rounds and hopefully one of them can give Detroit some defensive help relatively soon, but they’re not the big names we spent so long looking at.¬† I would have preferred Bode Wilde over McIsaac at #36 but I can’t argue with the pick.¬† I might have just gotten overhyped about Wilde.

From there on out we have two goalies in Jesper Eliasson and Victor Brattstrom as the Red Wings desperately search for Jimmy Howard‘s heir.¬† Detroit has gone from drafting a goalie every other year to drafting two in a single season and it’s a really weird look, to me.

Forwards Ryan O’Reilly (not that one) and Otto Kivenmaki wrap things up and I can’t help but keep coming back to the defensemen.

We keep being told you can’t get quality defensemen on the market, you have to draft and develop them yourself.¬† The Wings desperately need help on defense.¬† Yet only a third of their picks were defensemen and none of them were top names.

But at the same time, I can’t fault any of their picks, really.¬† Would I sacrifice Berggren to give them the option to get both McIsaac and Wilde?¬† I’m not sure I can sell myself on that.

Really, after getting Zadina, they could have drafted me and I’d still call this a solid draft.¬† There’s a difference between worrying about defense and complaining about who they did pick.


Speaking of defense, Sunday night the Wings made an effort to clear some of their blueline logjam.

I think this is a sign of how the Griffins will look next year more than anything.¬† The Wings have kept players around to help prop up the Grand Rapids roster for several years now and this summer they’re cutting them loose.

Russo has been dealt.¬† Dan Renouf wasn’t given a qualifying offer.¬† Add in buyout candidate Xavier Ouellet and it’s clear the Wings are trying to give room for guys like Joe Hicketts, Dennis Cholowski, and Filip Hronek.¬† And Vili Saarijarvi, who suddenly moves from Grand Rapids’ seventh defenseman to their second pair.

Like in Detroit, next season in Grand Rapids will probably be a bit difficult.¬† But it’ll be good for the rebuild.

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 Ericsson, Mike Green, Niklas 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.

Wings Add Defenseman Witkowski

The Red Wings signed defenseman Luke Witkowski from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday at the opening of NHL free agency.

The move comes paired with the signing of veteran defenseman Trevor Daley from the Pittsburgh Penguins. ¬†Assuming Witkowski isn’t bound for the Grand Rapids Griffins, it gives the Red Wings nine defensemen on their roster.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports that the team may shift Witkowski to forward.

Witkowski, a native of Holland, Michigan, captained the Syracuse Crunch team that the Griffins defeated in the Calder Cup Finals for the first half of the season.  After being called up to the Tampa Bay Lighting, he could not be returned to the team for the playoffs.

I don’t like this move.

As a defenseman, Witkowski doesn’t seem to provide anything that the recently re-signed Dylan McIlrath¬†can’t. ¬†If he makes the Wings’ roster, it’s at the expense of Xavier Ouellet or Ryan Sproul. ¬†If he’s in Grand Rapids, he’s taking a roster spot from Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek or Robbie Russo or Dan Renouf, or forcing Vili Saarijarvi back to juniors.

As a forward… ¬†Why not just sign a forward? ¬†Why not give Tyler Bertuzzi a shot?

Update, 5:25 PM:  I completely missed this earlier but the Red Wings announced this as a two-year deal.

The official press release did not include term and seemingly all other outlets continue to report it as a one-year deal but it’s probably safe to trust the official Twitter account.

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 Call Up Center Street from Griffins

With injuries mounting, the Red Wings called up center Ben Street from the Grand Rapids Griffins under emergency conditions on Tuesday.

While the team didn’t specifically say who Street would replace in the lineup, the move comes after Frans Nielsen was banged up in Monday’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres. ¬†If Nielsen were unable to go in Montreal tonight, Street would be available to play.

Also pointing to the idea of Nielsen missing time is that Street is the Griffins’¬†second leading scorer, behind Matt Lorito. ¬†Lorito, however, is a winger, and wouldn’t be as suited to replace a center like Nielsen.

Street is the third emergency call-up currently on the Red Wings’ roster. ¬†Tomas Nosek replaced the injured Darren Helm last night against Buffalo while Robbie Russo has been up for Ryan Sproul for the last several games.

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.

Wings Defenseman Sproul Done for Season

Detroit defenseman Ryan Sproul‘s “sprained knee” turned out to be an ACL injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.

The injury was suffered during the Red Wings’ 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Robbie Russo has been called up to take Sproul’s place and will make his NHL debut tonight in Toronto.

I was really looking forward to seeing what Sproul would do with a spot in the lineup assured. ¬†I’ve written before about liking that Sproul got a chance to make mistakes, only for him to immediately be benched for long periods of time in response to those mistakes. ¬†With the Wings’ carrying only six defensemen for the rest of the season, it would have been an opportunity for Sproul to play without fear of losing his spot.

I’m excited to see what Russo can do, but disappointed that it comes at Sproul’s expense.

Red Wings to Recall Robbie Russo

With defenseman Ryan Sproul shelved by a sprained knee suffered in a 4-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night, the Red Wings will recall Robbie Russo to take his place.

I’m okay with this call-up and was hoping for either Russo or Joe Hicketts. Basically anyone except for Brian Lashoff, who inexplicably got called up in December over the then-buried Nick Jensen.

Russo was signed by the Red Wings in 2015 as an unsigned draft pick of the New York Islanders. ¬†In his professional debut with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season, he was named to the AHL All-Rookie team and¬†was a second-team all-star. ¬†This year he represented Grand Rapids at the AHL All-Star Challenge. ¬†He has seven goals and 24 assists for 31 points in 56 games this season for the Griffins, good for first among the team’s defensemen.

Red Wings Call Up Nosek, Lashoff

The Red Wings announced a slate of roster moves this morning as they head into back-to-back games this weekend while dealing with injuries to Justin Abdelkader and Brendan Smith.

To make room for Nosek and Lashoff, they shuffled Abdelkader and Andreas Athanasiou around on various forms of injured reserve.

My initial thought is that the Red Wings will try to see if Niklas Kronwall can go for both games, which is why Lashoff got the call instead of Robbie Russo. ¬†I mean, if the call-up is actually going to get minutes, don’t you want the guy who has a future in the organization getting a look? ¬†Call up Russo or Nick Jensen and see what they can do. ¬†If the guy is expected¬†to just sit in the press box, go ahead and call up Lashoff, and if he ends up being needed then you already know what he’s capable of.

I’m curious whether Nosek will actually play, and where he’ll play. ¬†If he’s on the third line, I guess I’m okay with it. ¬†I’ve already said that I wanted to see Evgeny Svechnikov and that Matt Lorito would be an interesting option. ¬†I just don’t want to see the Wings do the whole “call up a grinder, drop him on the fourth line, and pull Drew Miller or Steve Ott up to the third line” thing they’ve traditionally done. ¬†Scratching Nosek and bringing back the OMG line also works, I suppose.