On Blashill and Other Season-Ending Thoughts

The Red Wings ended their season on Friday night in New Jersey and entered the offseason with a slate of decisions to make about the direction of the team. It took under a day for General Manager Steve Yzerman to make the first one.

Jeff Blashill will not return as the team’s head coach.

The move comes in the form of the team cleaning house behind the bench. Assistant coach Doug Houda and goalie coach Jeff Salajko will also not return.  It is believed – coach contracts are rarely made as public as player contracts – that none of the three were explicitly fired; instead their contracts were not renewed.

Assistant coach Alex Tanguay remains with the team.  The 2021-22 campaign was his first in Detroit.

Blashill, as The Athletic’s Max Bultman notes, never had much to work with as far as player personnel goes, taking the team over from Mike Babcock as the Red Wings entered their current rebuild.  There seems to be the thought that he’ll end up coaching back in the NHL sooner rather than later.  In the meantime, there’s already buzz that he could take over the Ferris State program in 2023.

For the Red Wings, though, answering the question of whether or not Blashill would return has just raised another; that of who will replace him.

I won’t pretend to have insight into what Yzerman might be thinking regarding that (turn to Bultman again for some options Yzerman might be considering).  My hope – and my expectation given Yzerman’s history – is that we won’t see someone from the NHL coaching carousel brought in.  No John Tortorella or Paul Maurice or Dave Tippett.

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m equal parts curious and terrified of the idea of bringing Sergei Fedorov over from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, with all the baggage that would entail. I’d been on the Roger Ronnberg bandwagon for a while but I’m not so sure about that anymore.

Whoever the new coach is, another big question for the summer is how similar the team he takes over looks to the one Blashill leaves behind.

Thomas Greiss is expected to depart as a free agent this summer, opening up the backup slot with the Red Wings.  Is the late-season signing of Magnus Hellberg, who made his Detroit debut in the season finale, a sign that he has the inside track on replacing him?  Hellberg himself is an unrestricted free agent, so he might not even return.  If Calvin Pickard leaves the organization and Victor Brattstrom returns to Europe, Alex Nedeljkovic would be the only returning goalie from Detroit or Grand Rapids, so upheaval is coming there.

On defense, it’s hard to see Danny DeKeyser – waived and unclaimed during the season – returning next year.  Mid-season waiver claim Olli Juolevi was largely ineffective in his time in Detroit and – as a pending restricted free agent – may not be given a qualifying offer, becoming unrestricted.  Jake Walman was good for the Wings after being acquired in the Nick Leddy deadline day trade and can reasonably be expected to return as a restricted free agent.

The biggest question mark of the current blueliners is Marc Staal.  Along with DeKeyser, he was named an alternate captain to start the season and the team appreciates his veteran leadership.  Though he’s not the player he once was, his performance didn’t drop as much as DeKeyser’s did, so there may be interest in bringing him back.

If Staal and Walman return, the Detroit blueline would be made up of Moritz Seider, Filip Hronek, Jordan Oesterle, Gustav Lindstrom, Staal, and Walman.  Simon Edvinsson, the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, could claim a spot out of training camp.

Even with the addition of Edvinsson, it’s hard to see that defense corps being much of an improvement over what the Red Wings had this year, so there may be appetite to let Staal (and/or Walman) walk to clear roster spots for upgrades brought in via free agency.

Up front there’s a similar situation.  Ten of the 12 forward spots are accounted for by returning players.  One of those is restricted free agent Filip ZadinaJonatan Berggren, who set a new Grand Rapids Griffins rookie scoring record this season, can also be expected to take up a spot.  That’s 12 just by letting pending restricted free agent Mitchell Stephens and unrestricted free agents Sam Gagner, Turner Elson, and Carter Rowney walk.

Like Staal, the team has appreciated Gagner’s veteran hand and may want him back next year.  Pushing Givani Smith into the 13th forward slot wouldn’t be the end of the world but it again means that there’s little room to add upgrades via free agency.

The Red Wings are getting into a dangerous spot in their rebuild.  To take advantage of the prime of Dylan Larkin‘s career, they will need to add pieces now.  Trotting out the same basic lineup behind a new head coach won’t do it (though having both Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana healthy at the same time would be a benefit).

If they can’t do that, realistically, this rebuild is going to take at least another three or four years and they should be looking at selling Larkin or Tyler Bertuzzi or Vrana for assets that will make them competitive when Seider and Lucas Raymond are in their primes.  It might be a hard pill for Wings fans to swallow but it makes sense.

Red Wings Shut Down Through Christmas

The National Hockey League announced on Sunday that the Detroit Red Wings would be shut down until at least after the league’s Holiday Break.

The Wings would be eligible to resume their schedule against the New York Rangers on December 27.

The move comes with the team announcing that forwards Sam Gagner, Pius Suter, and Joe Veleno has been placed in COVID protocol, along with assistant video coach Jeff Weintraub.

Robby Fabbri and Michael Rasmussen had been placed on the COVID list on Thursday.  Givani Smith, Carter Rowney, Alex Nedeljkovic, and coaches Jeff Blashill and Alex Tanguay were added on Saturday morning.  Filip Zadina was a late addition on Saturday, announced just before the Red Wings hosted the New Jersey Devils.

The team had only one game remaining on the schedule in the week leading up to Christmas anyway, a Thursday visit to the Minnesota Wild.  Monday’s matchup between the Wings and Colorado in Detroit had already been postponed due to COVID concerns with the Avalanche.

The Red Wings join the Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and Florida Panthers as teams having been temporarily shut down.


As I said yesterday, some kind of league-wide shutdown seems inevitable at this point.  There are over 100 players across the league in COVID protocol.  This isn’t contained.

Cross-border travel was also cancelled through the end of the Holiday Break so no one would be forced to quarantine on the wrong side of a border for Christmas.

So it seems like the league recognizes that it’s not contained.  But, to give them the benefit of the doubt, it’s also not contained in communities, so would shutting the league down actually do any good?  I’m not an epidemiologist, I don’t know.

Red Wings Name DeKeyser, Staal as Alternate Captains

The Red Wings announced on Wednesday that defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Marc Staal will serve as the team’s alternate captains for the coming season.

They join returning captain Dylan Larkin, who will wear the C for Detroit for his second season.

The pair take over for Frans Nielsen and Luke Glendening.  Nielsen was bought out by the team over the summer and Glendening departed as a free agent for the Dallas Stars.

As I wrote on Sunday, DeKeyser and Staal wore the A for all three of their preseason games and were two of four players that appeared to be in the running to get the alternate captain designations for the 2021-22 campaign.  The other two players were Sam Gagner and Robby Fabbri.

It will mark the first time in over forty years that two defensemen have been assigned letters for the Red Wings.

Red Wings Alternate Captaincy Watch

With the Red Wings’ exhibition schedule wrapping up in Buffalo today, we may not yet know what their opening night roster will look like but we do have some data to work with towards guessing who the team’s new alternate captains might be.

With the offseason departures of Luke Glendening and Frans Nielsen, both of Detroit’s alternate captain slots opened up.  The expectation was that the team wouldn’t announce replacements until opening night against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday but it would be a surprise if someone who didn’t wear an A all preseason were handed one to start the regular season.

Nine players dressed as alternates at least once over the Wings’ eight preseason games: Adam Erne, Filip Hronek, Vladislav Namestnikov, Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner, Nick Leddy, Danny DeKeyser, Marc Staal, and Troy Stetcher.

There doesn’t appear to have been any kind of rotation among those players, where some wore the A for home games and other for road games.  As such, I think we can limit the potential new alternates to players who wore a letter for every preseason game in which they appeared.

That removes Leddy, Hronek, Stetcher, Erne, and Namestnikov from the list.

Fabbri wore the A for all three exhibition contests in which he appeared, as did Staal and DeKeyser.  Gagner was an alternate in all four of his games played.

I think this shows that Detroit’s new alternate captains will be some combination of those four players.

I’m already on the record as thinking that Gagner and DeKeyser will be the new alternates and I hadn’t considered Fabbri at all but I admit that I kind of love the idea of number 14 wearing the A for Detroit again, for nostalgia’s sake if nothing else.

2021 Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings announced their 2021 training camp roster on Wednesday and, following the Tuesday announcement of Bobby Ryan joining the team on a PTO, there were no surprises on the roster itself.

Which means I get to move on to my favorite annual tradition: Analyzing jersey number changes.

Between returning players from last year’s roster, incoming players who had already had their numbers announced, and players whose numbers were revealed by Detroit’s prospects tournament roster, there weren’t a lot of surprises left.

The biggest surprise is probably Taro Hirose switching from #67 to #25.  He’d previously switched to #67 after debuting wearing #53, specifically requesting a number with a seven in it, so switching to a number without a seven was unexpected, to me.

Additionally, Hirose’s switch makes Mitchell Stephens having picked #22 interesting.  Stephens had worn #67 with the Tampa Bay Lightning and seemingly wore it whenever his preferred #27 wasn’t available.  With #27 taken by Michael Rasmussen in Detroit and #67 vacated by Hirose, I’m surprised that Stephens went with #22 instead.

Two players making their returns to the Detroit organization also have some slightly-surprising numbers.

Luke Witkowski will wear #20 in Detroit’s camp after having worn #28 in his first stint with the Wings.  I’d wondered if Gustav Lindstrom would give up #28 but he keeps it, and Witkowski’s usual alternate number #82 went to summer free agent signing Jordan Oesterle.

Dan Renouf had previously worn #77 in Detroit but that number is now assigned to Oscar Plandowski.  In camp, he’d also worn the #20 taken by Witkowski, leaving him switching to the #21 made available by Dennis Cholowski‘s departure.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
15 Jakub Vrana
22 Mitchell Stephens
23 Lucas Raymond
24 Pius Suter
25 Taro Hirose
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Carter Rowney
42 Kyle Criscuolo
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
50 Dominik Shine
51 Hayden Verbeek
52 Jonatan Berggren
54 Bobby Ryan
56 Pasquale Zito
57 Turner Elson
58 Cameron Butler
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
61 T-Bone Codd
62 Cooper Walker
63 Jon Martin
64 Luke Toporowski
67 Dennis Yan
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
74 Cross Hanas
76 Tyler Spezia
78 Patrick Curry
79 Kirill Tyutyayev
89 Sam Gagner
90 Joe Veleno
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Nick Leddy
3 Jared McIsaac
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Luke Witkowski
21 Dan Renouf
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
44 Donovan Sebrango
47 Wyatt Newpower
49 Seth Barton
53 Moritz Seider
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stetcher
77 Oscar Plandowski
82 Jordan Oesterle
83 Mason Ward
84 Alex Cotton
86 Adam Brubacher
87 Ryan Murphy

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
31 Calvin Pickard
33 Sebastian Cossa
34 Victor Brattstrom
36 Kaden Fulcher
39 Alex Nedeljkovic
60 Jan Bednar

Red Wings to Buy Out Nielsen

Per CapFriendly, the Detroit Red Wings have opted to use their second buyout window to buy out the final year of forward Frans Nielsen‘s contract.

The Wings have no use for Nielsen going forward, so to that extent is makes sense to just cut him loose now. That said, the team isn’t exactly hurting for cap space, so I’m not sure what the benefit is to spreading the cost of a buyout over two seasons rather than just burying him in Grand Rapids and eating the cap hit all in one year.

Of course, it could be just that I’m a lot more willing to dump guys in GR than Steve Yzerman is. I would have done that with Nielsen and with Justin Abdelkader last summer (at least for one more year). It seems like Yzerman might be doing the “honorable” thing and not forcing veterans to ride the bus in the AHL.

Either way, Nielsen is gone at little future cost to the Wings, with a roster spot cleared up.

This also means that, combined with the departure of Luke Glendening as a free agent, both of the alternate captains from Dylan Larkin‘s first year wearing the C for Detroit are gone.  My guess is that Sam Gagner and Danny DeKeyser will each wear an A next season.

Red Wings Extend Gagner for One Year

Just before NHL free agency opened on Wednesday, the Detroit Red Wings announced the signing of veteran center Sam Gagner to a one-year contract extension.

Financial terms were not announced but the deal is reportedly worth $850,000.

Of the Red Wings’ three pending unrestricted free agent veteran forwards, Gagner was the one who made the most sense to me to re-sign.

Luke Glendening seems likely to sign a contract for more money and/or more term than I think the Wings should pay.  Bobby Ryan may be in the same situation, with an added negative of being a winger when the Red Wings seemingly needed to focus on center depth.

Post Trade Deadline Thoughts

I started mentally putting this post together just as today’s NHL trade deadline passed but held off on actually writing it for a little bit, knowing how trades often aren’t announced until well after the actual deadline.

That was somewhat fortuitous, given that the Red Wings’ biggest deadline deal wasn’t officially announced until 45 minutes post-deadline, when the team confirmed that Anthony Mantha had been traded to the Washington Capitals for Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick this year, and a second-round pick next year.

As I said in my write-up of the deal, I can’t stand Panik.  I hope he’s made available in the expansion draft and, for some reason, the Kraken take him and his contract.  But I’m curious about Vrana in a top-line role with this team.  I also think the Wings’ rebuild probably won’t work with third and fourth round picks alone so getting the first and second from Washington is important.

Detroit’s previous deals were to send Jon Merrill to the Montreal Canadiens, Patrik Nemeth to the Colorado Avalanche, and to help facilitate the Columbus Blue Jackets’ trade of David Savard to the Tampa Bay Lightning.  These were all players on expiring contracts or just salary cap space and, while fourth and fifth rounders aren’t sexy (and, as I said, probably aren’t enough on their own to facilitate a rebuild), they’re essentially free picks and you take those every time.

It’s the deals that didn’t happen that bother me about this deadline, as they have with every deadline since the Red Wings became sellers.

For years we’ve been told to just wait for some of Detroit’s players to hit the final year of their contracts and we’d see them flipped at the deadline.  Mike Green, Jimmy Howard, Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson.  Of them, only Green netted anything, and that was on his second expiring contract with Detroit after everyone passed the first time around due to him being injured.

This year was supposed to be the year for flipping vets for picks.  Bobby Ryan, Jon Merrill, Patrik Nemeth, Marc Staal, Sam Gagner, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula, Jonathan Bernier.  All on expiring deals.  But then, like Green before him, Ryan got hurt.  Like Howard, no market developed for Bernier.  Merrill and Nemeth were moved but no one called on the league’s leading faceoff man in Glendening, playoff performer Helm, or versatile veteran Gagner.

As I said in 2019, “I get that you can’t trade for things that other teams don’t want to give you.”  If there wasn’t a trade to be made, then there wasn’t a trade to be made, and that’s that.  But as I also said then, “I think that’s the part that’s depressing to me. Not that the Wings were sellers. Not that the team is in a rebuild. That they’re sellers with not much to sell, so they can’t get big pieces back for the rebuild.”

The Red Wings sold Mantha because he was the only piece anyone wanted, much like when they moved Tomas Tatar in 2018.  Both the Mantha and Tatar deals were good deals but that doesn’t mean it’s not hard to look at the big picture and think it wasn’t enough.

Especially when, back in the final years of the Red Wings’ playoff streak, a Glendening or Helm or Gagner or Staal is exactly the kind of player then-GM Ken Holland would have paid a hefty price to acquire for a postseason push.  Is Staal really that different from Marek Zidlicky or Gagner that different from Erik Cole?  Squinting a little, are Glendening or Helm that far off from the David Legwand the Red Wings acquired (rather than the one he had been for years up to that point)?

Nine years ago, Paul freakin’ Gaustad fetched a first-rounder when he was sent from the Sabres to the Predators.  Now no one wants Glendening.  And you know what?  That’s smart.  Gaustad never was worth that much and Glendening isn’t, either.  But it’s hard to see buyers giving up that much when the Red Wings were buyers but now that the Wings are sellers, the market has changed.

Blame the flat cap, blame Detroit just not having good enough players to sell.  Whatever it is, it doesn’t make it easy to see.

Training Camp Jersey Number Notes

The Red Wings kick off their training camp for the truncated 2021 season tomorrow, announcing the camp roster and schedule today.

With the roster announced, I can do one of my favorite things of the season: Look for oddities surrounding jersey numbers.

The team is only taking forty players to camp, so there aren’t as many numbers to look at, and most of those were known already.

The team’s offseason free agent signings – Bobby Ryan, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher, and Thomas Greiss – were all previously known to be wearing #54, #92, #24, #70, and #29, respectively.  Additionally, trade acquisition Marc Staal was already known to be wearing his usual #18.

Ryan’s #54 was previously worn by Matt Puempel, who the Red Wings did not re-sign over the offseason.  Stecher’s #70 was worn last season by Christoffer Ehn, who was unsigned and returned to Europe.  Greiss’ #29 was worn in last year’s camp by Vili Saarijarvi before being taken by early-season acquisition Brendan Perlini (with Saarijarvi traded away a few weeks later anyway), who was not re-signed by Detroit.  Staal’s #18 had been assigned to Albin Grewe at the 2020 Development Camp.

European free agent signing Mathias Brome has been assigned #86, his usual number.  It was worn in last season’s camp by Charle-Edouard D’Astous.

Depth signings Riley Barber, Kyle Criscuolo, and Kevin Boyle have been assigned #26, #42, and #34, respectively.

Barber’s #26 was worn in camp last season by Griffins captain Matt Ford, who is not in Detroit’s camp this year.  Criscuolo’s #42 was worn by Mathieu Bizier.  Boyle’s #34 had been assigned to Victor Brattstrom at the start of last season and temporarily given to Eric Comrie for the few games he spent in the Red Wings organization.

The only returning player to change jersey numbers is try-out goalie Pat Nagle, who will wear the #68 that the team usually reserves for goalies who aren’t actually in the Red Wings’ system.  In that role last year, he wore #60, while Sean Romeo wore #68.

Criscuolo isn’t a returning player but has been in a Red Wings’ camp before, wearing #74 in 2016 before spending that season with the Griffins.

The full training camp roster is as follows:

Forwards

Num. Name
11 Filip Zadina
14 Robby Fabbri
23 Dominic Turgeon
26 Riley Barber
27 Michael Rasmussen
37 Evgeny Svechnikov
39 Anthony Mantha
41 Luke Glendening
42 Kyle Criscuolo
43 Darren Helm
46 Chase Pearson
48 Givani Smith
51 Valtteri Filppula
54 Bobby Ryan
57 Turner Elson
59 Tyler Bertuzzi
67 Taro Hirose
71 Dylan Larkin
73 Adam Erne
81 Frans Nielsen
86 Mathias Brome
89 Sam Gagner
92 Vladislav Namestnikov

Defensemen

Num. Name
2 Joe Hicketts
3 Alex Biega
17 Filip Hronek
18 Marc Staal
20 Dylan McIlrath
21 Dennis Cholowski
22 Patrik Nemeth
24 Jon Merrill
28 Gustav Lindstrom
32 Brian Lashoff
65 Danny DeKeyser
70 Troy Stecher

Goalies

Num. Name
29 Thomas Greiss
34 Kevin Boyle
36 Kaden Fulcher
45 Jonathan Bernier
68 Pat Nagle

Red Wings Sign Forward Namestnikov

The Detroit Red Wings signed forward Vladislav Namestnikov on Sunday, continuing the rebuild of their roster.

Namestnikov is a familiar face for Detroit GM Steve Yzerman, who drafted him in the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft for Tampa Bay.

Financial terms were, of course, not officially announced, but the deal reportedly carries a $2 million salary cap hit, with annual amounts of $1.5 million and $2.5 million.  Like Thomas Greiss‘ deal, more money is in the second year.  Whether as escrow protection for the player or expansion draft protection for the team, we’re seeing that become more common this year.

Namestnikov gives the Red Wings another option at second-line center, should Robby Fabbri not work out there.  Theoretically, the team could roll lines looking something like this:

Anthony ManthaDylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Filip Zadina – Vladislav Namestnikov – Robby Fabbri
Dmytro Timashov – Sam GagnerBobby Ryan
Darren HelmLuke GlendeningValtteri Filppula
Adam Erne
Frans Nielsen

That’s a completely rebuilt middle six since the start of last season, done entirely on the cheap.  They’re not world-beaters by any means but that’s not a bad accomplishment for Yzerman.  Perhaps most importantly, that’s a lineup where you can clearly see a top nine and then a fourth line, rather than a top line and then a bunch of other players slotted in wherever they can.

The problem is that this leaves no room for Evgeny Svechnikov, who is basically on a “last chance” one-year deal and would have to clear waivers to be reassigned elsewhere.  Maybe this means the Wings let Zadina stay overseas for another year.  Maybe it means they dump a contract.  I don’t know.

Jersey number geek notes: Namestnikov has worn #90 for virtually his entire career, save for a stint as #65 as a rookie. Will the Red Wings let him take #90 from Joe Veleno? If not, I bet Namestnikov goes with something like #60 or #95. It certainly blocks Bobby Ryan from following in the footsteps of Mike Modano and Stephen Weiss, though, and turning his #9 into #90.  Outside chance?  Namestnikov wears #13 in honor of his uncle, Vyacheslav Kozlov.

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