Pre-Free Agency Thoughts

NHL Free Agency opens in about 6 hours and the Red Wings are already expected to be active.

The league’s free agent interview period reduces some of the drama of July 1.  We already know that Detroit has a verbal deal with Jonathan Bernier after calling on Carter Hutton and having Robin Lehner visit Detroit.  We know they’ve talked to former Red Wings Thomas Vanek and Valtteri Filppula.  We know they have interest in Carolina center Derek Ryan.

Filppula and Ryan come with a somewhat unexpected connection: According to Craig Custance of The Athletic, the Red Wings are interested in centers in case Henrik Zetterberg is unable to play this season.

That’s a bit to unpack so I want to break it down bit by bit.

Goaltending

This is the easy one.

I think I would have preferred 26-year-old Lehner over 29-year-old Bernier, as Lehner still has time to turn his career around and possibly become what Petr Mrazek was supposed to be for the Red Wings.  That said, Bernier has stats that are similar to Jimmy Howard‘s over the last several seasons and, with Howard a free agent next summer, it gives the Red Wings the option of trading him at next spring’s trade deadline if they’re out of playoff position.

Zetterberg

This is a complicated one.

When his contract was signed, I don’t think anyone expected him to play it out.  Then the CBA was rewritten to punish teams who had signed back-diving contracts.  Since then, LTIR has been abused to circumvent that punishment.

If Zetterberg’s back is hurt again, it would be very easy for him to go on LTIR for the rest of his career.  That said, when the Red Wings packed up for the summer, he said he expected to play in the fall.  What could have happened between then and now that would change that?

Filppula or Ryan could just be an insurance policy, but it seems expensive and premature unless there’s something the team isn’t telling us at this point.

Bottom line is I wouldn’t want to see the Red Wings sign a Zetterberg replacement without knowing for sure that Zetterberg would be out.

Vanek

Sigh.

I like Thomas Vanek.  I don’t want the Red Wings to sign him.

Custance made the point that Vanek seems to make Andreas Athanasiou better.  I agree.  But I also think Athanasiou isn’t long for the Red Wings, so signing someone to make him better doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Maybe you sign Vanek for a year and Athanasiou for a year and try to flip them both at the deadline?  I don’t know.

The larger point is that Vanek takes up a roster spot.  I already wrote about Mike Green‘s re-signing leaving little room for “the kids” on the Wings’ blueline.  If Vanek is signed, that gives the Red Wings 13 forwards on the roster (including Tyler Bertuzzi, who was in Detroit to end last season).

Yeah, they could send Luke Witkowski to Grand Rapids.  Or Martin Frk.  But all that does is open a spot on the fourth line or in the press box.  Where’s the spot that Michael Rasmussen is supposed to compete for.  Or Filip Zadina?  Or Evgeny Svechnikov?

Vanek’s signing would only take one spot and they need a lot more open than that to get the kids playing time, but it would seemingly show that, once again, the organization is only giving lip service to the idea of a youth movement.


So what will we see when noon rolls around?

Bernier is the only “confirmed” signing.  backup goalie is also the only position the Red Wings actually need to fill.

Vanek wouldn’t surprise me, based on the buzz and the fact that they wanted to bring him back last year.  I hope not, though.

Anything beyond that would unnecessary, so I hope it’s a quiet day for Detroit.

Pregame: Red Wings @ Sabres – 11/23

In previous years, much has been made of the fact that, for the most part, if a team isn’t in a playoff spot by Thanksgiving, they won’t be in one come the end of the season.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and not only are the Red Wings sitting out of the playoffs, they’re dead last in the Atlantic Division and only one point up on the New York Islanders for the last spot in the Eastern Conference.  A win over the Sabres would lift them past Buffalo tonight but, at 8-10-1 on the season, they’d still be under .500 at Thanksgiving.

If you’re looking for a positive out of that, the good news is that the Red Wings have been under “true” .500 (same number of wins and losses, whether or not they got a point in the loss) a quarter of the way through the season (or later) six times in their current 25-year playoff streak.  In the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign, they didn’t get “back” to .500 until the last game of the season.  Last year it wasn’t until Game 78.


As for Wednesday’s game itself, the Red Wings are expected to bring Brendan Smith and Tyler Bertuzzi back into the lineup.  Smith replaces the injured Alexey Marchenko while Bertuzzi takes Drew Miller‘s spot.

Jimmy Howard gets the start against Robin Lehner.

Game time is 7:00 PM on FSD+.

Pregame: Senators @ Red Wings – 11/23

The Red Wings host the Ottawa Senators tonight and the Detroit Swede most under the microscope isn’t former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson but Gustav Nyquist.

Nyquist made his first appearance of the season on Thursday, scoring twice against the Carolina Hurricanes. Playing a second game with the Wings would mean he can’t return to the AHL without clearing waivers, so his appearance in the lineup tonight means he’s up for the rest of the season.

Alfredsson, as well as fellow summer signing Stephen Weiss, remains out injured.

Jimmy Howard is expected to start opposite Robin Lehner.

Stupid stat of the day: The Red Wings are unbeaten this season with Gustav Nyquist in the lineup.

Game time is 7:00 PM on FSD.

TGTW: Wings Fall From Central Lead in Week Twelve

The Games That Weren’t is one of many projects simulating the games lost by the NHL lockout. In the absence of actual games to write about, I’ll be checking in periodically on the fictional Red Wings’ season.

The Detroit Red Wings went 1-2 on a Christmas week road trip, dropping them out of first place in the Central Division heading into the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor.

Opening their trip in Raleigh on Wednesday, the Red Wings rallied late for a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. After a scoreless first period, the Hurricanes got on the board with a Drayson Bowman goal at 6:30 of the second and made it 2-0 with 1:29 left in the period on a Jamie McBain tally. Pavel Datsyuk cut the lead in half at 3:10 of the third but Eric Staal made it 3-1 at 4:41. Johan Franzen put the Wings back within a goal while shorthanded at 7:27 and Todd Bertuzzi tied things up with 8:21 left in the period. Jonathan Ericsson‘s sixth goal of the year with 2:23 remaining gave Detroit their first lead of the game and they held on for the win. Jimmy Howard made 24 saves on 27 shots in earning the win while Cam Ward stopped 30 of 34 shots for Carolina.

The next night in Pittsburgh would feature no such comeback for the Wings, dropping a 5-1 decision to the Penguins. Chris Kunitz opened the game’s scoring at 4:40 of the first and Tanner Glass made it 2-0 midway through the opening period. Sidney Crosby‘s shorthanded goal at 3:16 of the second extended the lead to three and Kunitz added another with 6:19 left in the middle period. Carlo Colaiacovo finally got the Red Wings on the board with a power play goal with 3:03 remaining but Evgeni Malkin scored with 1:13 left to chase Howard from the Detroit crease. Jonas Gustavsson would face only six shots in the third, stopping them all for a 5-1 final. Howard finished the night with 12 saves on 17 shots in 38:47 of play while Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves on 25 shots.

The Red Wings’ scoring troubles continued on Saturday in Ottawa, where they couldn’t score a goal in a 1-0 loss to the Senators. Daniel Alfredsson scored the game’s only goal at 5:13 of the first period and 28 saves by Robin Lehner made it stand up as the game-winner. Howard rebounded from his awful night in Pittsburgh with a 31-save performance.

With only two of a possible six points earned on the week, the Red Wings fell to third in the Central Division, four points back of both the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators but with two games in hand on the Preds. The Blues are the hottest team in the league heading into the New Year, riding an eight-game winning streak.

The next week will see the Red Wings take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Winter Classic at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Stadium, then host the Nashville Predators in the last game before a five-game road trip.

Franzen’s Five Goals Carry Red Wings over Senators

Johan Franzen scored five goals Wednesday night, equaling the output of the Ottawa Senators as the Detroit Red Wings earned a 7-5 win.

The five goals were the most by a Red Wing since Sergei Fedorov scored all of the Detroit goals in a 5-4 win over the Washington Capitals on December 26, 1996.

Ottawa’s Alexei Kovalev opened the game’s scoring just 1:15 in, when he lifted a shot over scrambling Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard for a power play goal.

Franzen scored his first at 6:52 of the opening period, banging the puck past Ottawa netminder Robin Lehner from the side of the crease.

Just 48 seconds later, Franzen made it 2-1 when he beat Lehner from the high slot off a feed from Henrik Zetterberg.

The Senators replied one minute later, with Peter Regin deflecting a shot from Kovalev past Howard to tie the game back up.

With 8:48 left in the period, Daniel Alfredsson found a wide open Chris Campoli in the left faceoff circle to snap a shot past Howard, putting Ottawa up 3-2.

Kris Draper put a rebound chance past Lehner with 9:24 left in the second period and Niklas Kronwall blasted a shot into the back of the net 13 seconds later to make it 4-3 Detroit and chase Lehner from the net.

Milan Michalek tied the game back up 29 seconds after Kronwall’s goal, beating Howard on his own rebound chance to make it 4-4.

Franzen’s third of the night came just 30 seconds into the third period. He snapped a shot from the left faceoff dot past Brian Elliot on a rush and a Detroit power play.

Michalek’s second goal of the game tied it back up 29 seconds later. He tipped a Kovalev shot past Howard to make it 5-5.

Franzen scored on a two-man advantage at 7:10 of the third to put the Red Wings back out in front. Brian Rafalski‘s shot went wide of Elliot but the puck bounced off the back boards and came out the other side, where Franzen lifted it into the net.

The Senators appeared to tie the game with about eight minutes left when Chris Neil poked the puck out from under Howard and into the net but the play was blown down.

With 34 seconds left, Franzen completed the scoring, adding an empty net goal.

The Red Wings finished the night with two goals on three power play chances. The Senators scored once on two power play tries.

Howard made 29 saves on 34 Ottawa shots. Lehner stopped 15 of 19 shots faced while Elliot took the loss, stopping 16 of 18 Detroit chances.

The Red Wings are back in action on Friday when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets.


Danny Cleary returned to the Detroit lineup after missing 14 games with a broken ankle… Pavel Datsyuk is expected to return from his broken hand on Friday or Saturday. Tomas Holmstrom could also return from injury this weekend.