Red Wings Deal Sproul, Sheahan in Separate Deals

A day after agreeing to terms on a new contract with restricted free agent forward Andreas Athanasiou, the Red Wings cleared salary cap space for his deal by trading defenseman Ryan Sproul and forward Riley Sheahan in separate deals.

The Sproul deal is strictly to clear up the roster spot he was holding down in Grand Rapids.  With Sproul on the Griffins, prospect Filip Hronek was stuck as the team’s seventh defenseman, only playing one of their first five games (and even then it was a night they went with seven defensemen and eleven forwards).  Puempel is a former first-round pick from the Ottawa organization but in all likelihood has no future in Detroit.

Sheahan had long been rumored to go to the Penguins, as they were looking for a third-line center.  The original deal was supposedly Sheahan for defenseman Derrick Pouliot but Pouliot was dealt to the Vancouver Canucks at the start of the season.  Wilson is a better pick-up for the Red Wings as – if nothing else – he doesn’t contribute to the defensive logjam across the organization.

It appears that Wilson will remain with the Red Wings.  If that’s the case, David Booth could be assigned to the Griffins.  He will not need to clear waivers as he did that to start the season.

I look at it as this…  Sproul for Puempel clears the logjam a bit and that’s good, though I expect Vili Saarijarvi to remain stuck in Toledo because he should play there instead of sitting as the Griffins seventh defenseman.  Sheahan was the piece on the existing roster that could bring back the most in trade and still clear cap space for Athanasiou, so that’s a good deal, too, no matter what happens with Wilson.

Not a bad set of deals for Ken Holland.

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.

Red Wings Prospect Tournament Number Notes

The Detroit Red Wings announced their roster for the 2017 NHL Prospect Tournament on Friday and we’ve got some returning players who will be changing their jersey numbers.

Summer numbers can be somewhat volatile, so who knows what of these will stick for main camp.

Evgeny Svechnikov, who’s been wearing #37 with the Red Wings, is now shown wearing #77.  This matches the switch that he made with the Grand Rapids Griffins last season.  Dan Renouf had been assigned that number last season and is not appearing in the prospect tournament so we don’t know what change he might be making.

Dominic Turgeon has gone from #78 to #23.  This is somewhat interesting as veteran Brian Lashoff is still with the Red Wings’ organization and that number had been assigned to him.  Turgeon has traditionally worn #23 in honor of his sister.

Filip Hronek and Givani Smith, who wore numbers in the 80s in camp last summer, will wear #24 and #48, respectively.  Griffins captain Nathan Paetsch had worn #24 last year while Ryan Sproul abandoned #48 in his summer switch to #62.

Vili Saarijarvi, who lost his #28 to Luke Witkowski, switches to #29.  That will be his third camp number, having started with #71.

Axel Holmstrom, who had previously (and humorously) worn the #96 that formerly belong to Tomas Holmstrom, is now assigned #49.  Eric Tangradi had been assigned #49 so, like Lashoff, we’ll see if there’s a coming change there.

Dennis Cholowski is wearing #53 after wearing #2 at this summer’s development camp and #95 at last summer’s.  Jordan Sambrook, who had been wearing #95 after Cholowski, switches to #63.

Six 2017 draft picks will be appearing on the Red Wings’ tournament roster, with none of them keeping the numbers that they wore in July.  Michael Rasmussen switches from #37 to #27, taking the number that Joe Hicketts had been assigned.  Combined with Cholowski’s switch, I wonder if Hicketts will be assigned #2 in the main camp.  Lane Zablocki goes from #67 to the #46 worn in camp last year by Ben Street.  Reilly Webb switches from #84 to #50.  Zach Gallant goes from #73 to #64.  Brady Gilmour inverts #76 to #67.  Cole Fraser gets #74 instead of #85.

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.

How Losing Players in Expansion Can Help the Wings

I wrote yesterday (and ranted on Twitter before that) about the Red Wings leaving Petr Mrazek unprotected for the expansion draft but I should make something clear: No player the Golden Knights claim is going to immediately hurt Detroit to lose.  In fact, many of them would be addition by subtraction.

Oh, there are players that might sting more than others but even Mrazek (among others) is “only” a problem from an asset-management perspective.

Let’s look at it player-by-player (or group of players)…

Petr Mrazek
I’ll get this one out of the way first.  If Mrazek is claimed it clears $4 million from under the salary cap and solves the Wings’ goalie logjam.  Since all of the hit pieces went out, Mrazek probably doesn’t even want to come back to Detroit, so that awkward situation is resolved.  Jimmy Howard was the better goalie last year so assuming he can keep that up, the Wings actually upgrade in goal (if you’re comfortable making that assumption about a 33-year-old goalie).

Riley Sheahan
If Sheahan is claimed, the Wings get $2 million back on the salary cap and lose a player who can probably be replaced by Tomas Nosek.  Like Mrazek, there’s an asset-management issue here, as Sheahan was reportedly worth a first-round pick in trade and the Wings are risking giving him away for nothing.

Luke Glendening
See Riley Sheahan, minus the first-round pick.  Glendening is entirely replaceable at a cheaper rate.

Darren Helm
Helm is a little less replaceable but his contract is an albatross.  Getting out from under it would be helpful a few years down the road.  Supposedly other teams were interested in signing him last summer, so maybe he has trade value that would be forfeited.

Jonathan Ericsson / Niklas Kronwall
While there would be a PR hit from losing alternate captain Kronwall, both of these defensemen are somewhat replaceable and carry relatively large contracts.  Both have negative trade value, so unloading one via expansion would be useful.

Ryan Sproul / Xavier Ouellet
These are the players that could sting most to lose (outside of Mrazek).  Giving up young, cheap defensemen for nothing is never good.  Given their play to-date, they’re probably replaceable, but given their youth we can’t say that for sure.

Jared Coreau
The Golden Knights aren’t going to pick Coreau but if they did it’d leave the Wings with two goalies with NHL experience in the system, one of whom they just burned bridges with.  Ouch.  Perhaps there’s some entertainment value in that.

Any of the other Griffins names or free agents
Include Coreau in this one.  If Vegas were to, for some reason, claim someone who spent most of the season in Grand Rapids, it would mean Detroit’s roster survived expansion intact.  Of course, whether that’s a plus or a minus is really a matter of opinion.


One thing to consider in all of this is that cap space may not matter if the Wings are rebuilding.  Rebuilding means not signing big-name free-agents, so cap space becomes less important.

Term, however, can start to matter.  Helm and Glendening have the longest deals available, so having those off the books might not be helpful immediately but could pay off down the road.  Which is why the Golden Knights won’t claim them.

Red Wings Leave Mrazek Exposed for Expansion Draft

There were few surprises when the Red Wings’ expansion draft protection list was (eventually) released this morning, but the one that did come down was a big one, as the team opted to protect goalie Jimmy Howard rather than Petr Mrazek.

Available
Louis-Marc Aubry (F)
Mitch Callahan (F)
Colin Campbell (F)
Martin Frk (F)
Luke Glendening (F)
Darren Helm (F)
Drew Miller (F)
Tomas Nosek (F)
Riley Sheahan (F)
Ben Street (F)
Eric Tangradi (F)
Adam Almquist (D)
Jonathan Ericsson (D)
Niklas Kronwall (D)
Brian Lashoff (D)
Dylan McIlrath (D)
Xavier Ouellet (D)
Ryan Sproul (D)
Jared Coreau (G)
Petr Mrazek (G)
Edward Pasquale (G)
Jake Paterson (G)

Protected
Justin Abdelkader (F)
Andreas Athanasiou (F)
Anthony Mantha (F)
Frans Nielsen (F)
Gustav Nyquist (F)
Tomas Tatar (F)
Henrik Zetterberg (F)
Danny DeKeyser (D)
Mike Green (D)
Nick Jensen (D)
Jimmy Howard (G)

I’ve been ranting about this on Twitter all morning, so obviously I think this is the wrong move.  Let me touch on a couple other things first, though.

I half-expected Niklas Kronwall to be protected, even though his contract and injury history make him pretty much unclaimable, so seeing him available is good.  Similarly, the Red Wings could have left Andreas Athanasiou unprotected to protect Darren Helm but didn’t.  So there were some good choices here.

Let’s come back to the goalies, though.

Yesterday the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames made waves with the Coyotes sending veteran goalie Mike Smith to the Flames for a pick and a prospect.  At the time, I wondered how Ken Holland couldn’t have gotten a deal done to send Jimmy Howard to Calgary instead, as the Wings certainly could have asked for less, with the cleared cap space being the real acquisition for Detroit.  After all, Smith is two years older than Howard, signed for more money, and had worse stats than Howard last season.

One response was that Smith is seen as more durable than Howard.  While that’s possible, it’d be somewhat ridiculous, as Howard missed significant time last season but Smith missed half the year in 2015-16.

Another idea was that Calgary GM Brad Treliving specifically wanted Smith, as he was with the Coyotes when they signed him.  That’s always possible, but I find it hard to believe that familiarity was worth the higher price paid for Smith than the Wings would have to have asked for Howard.  Either Treliving did a disservice to the Flames by overpaying for a goalie or Ken Holland did a disservice to the Red Wings by not negotiating hard enough to trade Howard.

I’m also focusing on Howard here because we know the Flames traded for Smith and Howard is more like Smith than Mrazek is.  We have no idea what kind of deal it would have taken to move Mrazek to Calgary but we can guess what kind of deal would have gotten Howard there.

If Howard gets dealt yesterday, Mrazek gets protected today, and concerns about losing a goalie for nothing are gone.

I think it could have been avoided, but regardless the reason, the Red Wings hit yesterday’s deadline with two NHL goalies on their roster and could only protect one.

With that out of the way, some thoughts on protecting Howard over Mrazek…

There’s a lot of chatter that neither will be selected because there are better goalies available.  If that’s the case, I would think you try to slide Howard through because at 33 and with a $5.29 million cap hit and coming off an injury-filled season, it’s less likely that he gets claimed, just in case.

If there’s a deal in place to “guide” the Golden Knights towards picking a certain player, it doesn’t matter who you have unprotected.  That said, Ken Holland said he wasn’t going to do that.  Kenny has lied to us before, though.

Ignoring both of those, the reason to leave Mrazek unprotected is because you don’t care if you lose him.  For a team in the Red Wings’ position, that’s a mistake.  This team needs to get younger and cheaper, even if that means worse (which I think it arguable).  Shed bad contracts and look to the future.  You do that by protecting Mrazek, not Howard.

Protecting Howard over Mrazek feels like sacrificing youth for another playoff push.  It feels like the tie goes to the veteran.  It feels like the “Red Wings Way” that led to the end of the playoff streak and no long playoff runs in nearly a decade.

Red Wings Sign Defenseman Libor Sulak

The Detroit Red Wings announced on Wednesday the signing of Czech defenseman Libor Sulak.

Sulak was slated to play for the Pelicans of the Finnish Elite League next season.

For the past two seasons, Sulak has played for Orli Znojmo of the Austrian Erste Bank Eishockey Liga.  In 2016 he was the league’s rookie of the year.  He played for Czechia – alongside Detroit netminder Petr Mrazek – at the just-completed 2017 IIHF World Championships.

The move gives the Red Wings 14 defensemen who are either already signed or are restricted free agents headed into this summer.  Some, such as prospect Dennis Cholowski, will almost certainly spend next season with their junior clubs.  However, it’s safe to assume that the Grand Rapids Griffins will add some veteran defensemen on AHL-only deals, meaning that blueline roster spots throughout the organization will be at a premium.

Sulak’s contract is a two-year entry level deal.


Update, 3:25 PM: Apparently Sulak’s deal with the Pelicans means he will either play there or with Detroit next year, not with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.  I have to think him making the Detroit roster comes at the expense of one of Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, or Ryan Sproul, who likely wouldn’t make it through waivers to the Griffins, so this signing wouldn’t impact the roster spot crunch as much as it originally seemed.

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.

On Benching Mantha and Learning Lessons

I’ve Tweeted a bit about being unhappy with Anthony Mantha‘s benching for the Red Wings’ 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night.  With him skating as the extra forward again in Saturday’s practice and his status for today’s game against the New York Rangers unknown, I’ve been thinking about it a bit more.

Mantha said all of the right things about being a scratch.  He talked about needing to compete more and about playing at both ends of the ice.  He talked about the team playing well in the game he missed.  And of course he did.  What else did you really expect him to say?

So let’s assume that sitting a young guy is an effective way to teach him a lesson.  The beat writers seem to be running with the fact that Andreas Athanasiou responded to being scratched earlier this year by scoring a goal and two assists in his next game as proof that scratching works, after all.

If that works, where does it end?  Why is 22-year-old Mantha young enough for this method to teach a lesson but 25-year old Riley Sheahan is too old for a benching to get him to focus on the offensive aspects of his game?

Also, is there an additional lesson being learned here?  While Mantha – or Athanasiou or Ryan Sproul before him – sits, Niklas Kronwall and Danny DeKeyser play every night, no matter what mistakes they make.  Could that not teach resentment?  Could that not show a young player that he is an acceptable target but a seemingly worse player is safe?

Mantha is saying all the right things.  That doesn’t mean he’s learning exactly what the Wings’ brass wants him to.