On the State of the Logjam

It feels like every offseason we talk about the logjam on the Red Wings’ blueline.  With Libor Sulak bolting the Griffins for the KHL on Tuesday and Jake Chelios doing the same last week, now’s a good time to take a look at where things stand in the Detroit organization.

Last season, the Red Wings came out of camp with the following 14 defensemen spread out between Detroit and Grand Rapids, excluding players signed to AHL deals:

Jake Chelios
Dennis Cholowski
Trevor Daley
Danny DeKeyser
Jonathan Ericsson
Mike Green
Joe Hicketts
Filip Hronek
Nick Jensen
Niklas Kronwall
Brian Lashoff
Dylan McIlrath
Vili Saarijarvi
Libor Sulak

There were also part-time defenseman Luke Witkowski and signed-but-assigned-to-Europe Gustav Lindstrom but I’m ignoring them for the purposes of this.

With everyone healthy, it made for a nice, even split of seven defensemen each for the Red Wings and the Griffins.  For most of the season, though, not everyone was healthy, leading to everyone on that list with the exception of Saarijarvi playing at least one game in Detroit.

As an aside, it drives me slightly nuts that the Red Wings brought up Chelios – who had no future in the organization even then – late in the season, rather than giving Saarijarvi a look.  In meaningless games, there’s no harm in giving an actual prospect minutes, even if you’re concerned he’s not quite ready.  McIlrath could be swapped for Chelios in this argument as well.

By the end of the season, Jensen was gone but Madison Bowey had joined the group, keeping the numbers the same.

Since then we’ve seen the addition of Finnish free agent Oliwer Kaski and the departures of Chelios and Sulak.  Not much of a difference.  What else could we see this summer?

The big name is Kronwall, whose contract is up this summer.  Ken Holland had stated that, should Kronwall want to return, there would be a spot for him.  Holland is in Edmonton and this is Steve Yzerman‘s team now, so does that offer still stand?  It feels like buzz about Kronwall returning for one more season has died down in the last several weeks.  Is that meaningful or is it just the nature of the news cycle?  My gut feeling is that Kronwall is done.

Hicketts is also something of a question mark.  He’s a restricted free agent so he has limited options but it’s possible he bolts for Europe, seeing few options in the Detroit organization.  I wouldn’t call it likely, though.

Then there are trade options.  Early “What Will Yzerman Do as GM?” stories pushed the possibility of trading Jonathan Ericsson or Trevor Daley before the start of the season.  While I’d like to see that, I think they have more value at the trade deadline and Yzerman will hold onto them until then.

On the flip side, there’s the question of whether or not Lindstrom will come over this season, adding a body back to the mix.  Gut feeling again…  I’m going to say he spends another season in Europe.  That could change if Ericsson or Daley are moved in the summer.

So coming out of camp next fall, that gives the Red Wings and Griffins something like the following:

Bowey
Cholowski
Daley
DeKeyser
Ericsson
Green
Hicketts
Hronek
Kaski
Lashoff
McIlrath
Saarijarvi

That’s still 12 names, so the logjam isn’t gone but there might be some room to work.

Let’s say Detroit starts with Bowey, Cholowski, Daley, DeKeyser, Ericsson, Green, and Hronek.  Bowey could be buried in GR but he can also be your seventh defenseman so we’ll assume he and Cholowski split time.

That puts Hicketts, Kaski, Lashoff, McIlrath, and Saarijarvi in Grand Rapids.  Maybe Kaski has a great camp and swaps out for Bowey…  Whatever.

The thing to see here is that, while the roster is still pretty packed, minutes in Grand Rapids have become available.  The ascension of Hronek and Cholowski, combined with the departures of Chelios and Sulak, means that Saarijarvi and Kaski (again, assuming he’s in GR) could have the opportunity for a decent amount of playing time to prove that they’re ready, which will be important if Daley, Ericsson, and/or Green are moved at the trade deadline.

Of course, it’s still early in the summer.  The Red Wings could make another Chelios-like signing to put a body (or bodies) in Grand Rapids, making those minutes harder to find.  Jared MacIssac could make the jump from juniors over the summer.  As of right now, though, there has been some movement on the logjam.

On Ken Holland Joining the Oilers

As I write this, former Red Wings’  General Manager and short-time Senior VP Ken Holland is being announced as the new GM of the Edmonton Oilers.

This news does not come as a surprise, having been broken over the weekend and rumored since Holland graciously stepped aside and allowed the Red Wings to hire Steve Yzerman in the role that used to be his.

There’s been a lot of talk about how Holland will be remembered in Detroit.  About what his legacy is.  About how we, as fans, should make sure we remember the good times.

Yes, Holland is due credit for his role in Detroit’s Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008 (and other accomplishments along the way).  He should also be accountable for Justin Abdelkader‘s contract and the trades for Kyle Quincey, David Legwand, and Erik Cole.  Don’t pick and choose the good or the bad, remember it all.

So I guess that’s my take on his departure.  Holland did great things for the Red Wings organization.  He also flamed out at the end and got fired for it, no matter how they worded it.  And now he’s going to an Edmonton team where a lot of the problems he’ll face are similar to the ones he’s leaving Yzerman with.

It’s not existential.  It’s not dramatic.  Holland was the face of the Red Wings’ business and that’s all this is: business.

Yzerman to Replace Holland as Red Wings GM

The Stevening is here: The Detroit Red Wings have announced a press conference to name former captain Steve Yzerman as the team’s general manager.

With Yzerman taking over as GM, Holland will be booted upstairs to a senior vice president role.  That said, it might be a temporary move.

Holland has long been rumored to be in the running for the GM role with expansion Seattle, and they had previously said they wanted to get someone in place this summer, so the timeline for that does fit.

I’ve said before, and I Tweeted it again this morning, that my concern with Yzeman coming in as GM is that he’s already a god in Detroit.  He seemingly has nothing left to accomplish.  I don’t want to see his legacy damaged if the Wings are still a lottery team in five years and he’s forced out.

Part of that fear is based on expectations for Yzerman and what he actually has the ability to do.

This is going to be Ken Holland’s team for a long time.  Holland will, at least until he’s named GM in Seattle, remain with the organization.  AGM Ryan Martin will remain.  Kris Draper will remain.  This is, for the most part, Yzerman stepping into a management team that already exists.  How much impact can he have in that environment?

Similarly, at least for the 2019-20 season, the Red Wings roster is relatively locked in.  The bad contracts to Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm aren’t going anywhere.  The best move this summer, no matter who the GM is, is to stand pat.

So the earliest Yzerman will be in a position to really shape this team will be at the trade deadline next February.  Even then, it will mostly be selling pending free agents like Mike Green, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericsson.  In all likelihood, those potential trades bring back draft picks, which means the first players acquired via moves Yzerman makes won’t be known until the 2020 Entry Draft, over a year into his tenure as GM.

Maybe he’ll surprise me.  I don’t see it, though.

On Jersey Number Retirements

The Red Wings announced yesterday that they will retire the #4 of Leonard “Red” Kelly prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 1, 2019.

Kelly won four Stanley Cups as a defenseman with the Red Wings in the early 1950s, was the team’s captain later in the decade, and then was traded to the Maple Leafs during the 1959-60 season (as punishment for disclosing that he had played on a broken ankle, something Detroit general manager Jack Adams was keeping secret).  He switched to playing center with Toronto and won four more Stanley Cups.

After retiring in 1967, Kelly was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1969.  The Maple Leafs honored his number on October 4, 2006, and fully retired it on October 15, 2016, in a celebration of the team’s 100th anniversary.


Retiring Red Kelly‘s number makes sense but I still can’t shake a cynical feeling about it.

It’s an honor that should have happened in the early 1990s.  The Red Wings retired Ted Lindsay‘s #7 and Alex Delvecchio‘s #10 in 1991, Terry Sawchuk’s #1 in 1994, and Sid Abel’s #12 in 1995.  Kelly would have fit perfectly into that group as the core of the team’s early 1950s Stanley Cup Championships.  That his number wasn’t raised to the rafters then seemed to show that it wouldn’t be.

Since then we’ve seen Steve Yzerman‘s #19 and Nicklas Lidstrom‘s #5 raised, with much pomp and circumstance leading up to the events.  The dates were announced before the start of the season and ticket packages were sold around them.

So to see Kelly’s number retired now, with the announcement tucked into a pregame press availability, gives me a bad vibe.  It feels to me like a ploy to get people to come down to a game between a bad team and a very good team.

That said, as I Tweeted last night, the timing makes more sense than the Wings usually give to jersey retirements.  Toronto is the perfect opponent to raise Kelly’s number against, while history shows the team preferring to do so against a lesser draw on a weeknight to boost their ticket sales.  So if there’s a reason to give the team the benefit of the doubt, it’s that.

Whatever the reason, a deserving number is going to the rafters, righting the wrong of it not having been up there already.


But if I’m talking about wrongs, I have to mention Larry Aurie.  The franchise’s first star player, Aurie led the Red Wings in their early days, including when the team was known as the Cougars and the Falcons.

Jack Adams thought enough of Aurie that his #6 was retired in 1939, when Aurie hung up his skates.  It was later brought back into circulation so that Aurie’s cousin, Cummy Burton, could wear it, then put back into retirement.

Gordie Howe‘s #9 later joined Aurie’s #6 as unavailable, but in old arenas like The Olympia, teams rarely raised numbers to the rafters.

That changed with the team’s move to Joe Louis Arena and Mike and Marian Ilitch buying the team from the Norris family.  Howe’s #9 was the first number given a banner.  Ted Lindsay, Alex Delvecchio, Terry Sawchuk, and Sid Abel would follow.  Aurie did not.

At some point, the team’s story became that the core of the 1950s Cup Championship teams were all Hall of Famers and that only those in the HHOF would get banners.  Aurie never made it to the Hall, so his number would be retired but not honored.

Then the 2000-01 NHL Guide and Record Book came out, with Aurie’s #6 no longer listed among the team’s retired numbers.  Suddenly it was not only not honored but not even retired at all.

Despite this seeming lost of status, #6 was not assigned between 2000 and 2010, when Mike Modano signed with Detroit.  Modano – unable to get his usual #9 due to it’s retirement for Howe – asked about #6.

“I wanted No. 6, but they told me about Larry Aurie,” said Modano, referring to Aurie, who played between 1927-39, and had his number retired by former Wings owner James Norris.

“I thought it would be easy to just flip 9 to 6,” Modano said. “I would have loved 6, but maybe 90.”

If the all-time leading American scorer can’t have the number, that sure sounds to me like it’s retired.

They may not have raised banners to celebrate that in the 1930s, but we do now, and it’s time for Aurie’s number to have that honor.


And then there’s Sergei Fedorov.

There was buzz over the summer that Fedorov’s #91 might be retired this season, something that didn’t come to happen.  Chris Ilitch commented on that when Kelly’s number retirement was announced.

“Obviously Sergei was an outstanding Red Wing. He was a big part of bringing three Stanley Cups to Detroit. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame,” Ilitch answered. “The subject of number retirement, it’s an important subject, it deserves a lot of conversation, a lot of thought. We’re continuously evaluating that with our organization. Related to 91 and 40 (Henrik Zetterberg), let’s see what the future holds.”

It wasn’t what Ilitch said, though, that really explained where Fedorov stands with the organization.  That was Jim Devellano.

“There are other things that I’m not going to get into,” Devellano said. “Do you realize that he wanted out of the Red Wings (organization) on two occasions? Are you familiar with that? Did you know he turned the owners down on a 5-year, $50 million contract? Did you know he signed an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes and we had to match with a $24 million signing bonus?”

What this makes clear is that this is an organization that holds grudges.

You buy a team, you get to run it how you want, and that means you don’t have to honor any players you don’t want to.  We’ve seen that with Aurie (for whatever reason) and we’ll see that with Fedorov.  We’ll probably see it with Pavel Datsyuk.

Yzerman Steps Down as Tampa GM

Okay, I wasn’t going to even post about this as it’s only Red Wings news if you immediately jump into rumor-mongering, but if you interpret the tea leaves in just the right way, it’s very big news for Detroit.  So here we go…

Of course, if Yzerman is leaving Tampa then he has to be coming to Detroit, right? And HSJ confirms this for us.

But that wording is… Peculiar. So let’s go back to Joe Smith on that take.

Okay, that’s a little bit more clear.

What we know is that Yzerman is stepping down as GM of the Lightning.  We know he has a house and family in Detroit.  It sounds like he’s coming back to that house.

It sounds like he’s going to spend the remaining year of his contract as an adviser to the Lightning.  Which he can do from Michigan, of course.

In the meantime, Detroit has GM Ken Holland signed for two more seasons.  He could always be fired or moved into another position and just get paid to go away, so that contract doesn’t mean too much.  It is worth noting, though, that Holland refused to step aside and allow Yzerman to take over his role back in 2010, leading to Yzerman leaving for Tampa.

Aside from the rumors that have existed since Yzerman first left the Wings that he would one day return to lead the team again, we have no evidence that

The big question for me is timing.  I can understand Yzerman leaving the Lightning.  I can even understand him leaving the Lightning for the Red Wings.  I can’t understand why the eve of training camp is when he would choose to do it.

Then there’s this…

I was already concerned that this isn’t a professional move and that his return to Detroit is for personal reasons.  Pure conjecture on my part.  But that the GM community is surprised by this might lend credence to the idea.

The press conference announcing the move is at 4:00 PM today, so maybe we’ll know more then.

Saying Goodbye to the Joe

I don’t know if last night is what I expected from the last game at Joe Louis Arena.  I don’t know what I should have expected, either.

It was always going to be hard.  You want to hold on to every last thing.  You want to hold on to every last thing.

I was taking photos of every third-period faceoff, in case it was the arena’s last faceoff.  Some people I was with made sure to buy beer at the last “last call” at the Joe.  There was the last “Livin’ on a Prayer” and the last “Don’t Stop Believing” and the last goal (Riley Sheahan, because of course) and the last penalty and the last zamboni ride and there were probably lasts that I didn’t even register.  I touched on that a bit on my way out last night.

It’s the lasts that will stick with me.

The atmosphere was fun.  I’ve seen people compare it to a playoff game and I can see why, ’cause the crowd was lively, but it really wasn’t a playoff atmosphere at all.  There was no anxiety.  We knew the game didn’t matter.

I think the post-game ceremony was oddly appropriate.

It was awkward.  There was a 45-minute gap between the game and the ceremony, leaving the crowd wondering what was going on.  Microphones didn’t work.  The whole thing took place on seemingly-dingy red carpets.

The alumni present were an eclectic mix.  Sergei Fedorov and Brendan Shanahan and Pavel Datsyuk were absent; the Grind Line and Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom were there; and then there were Andreas Lilja and Fredrik Olausson and Boyd Devereaux.

Then everyone raised their sticks to the air and there were fireworks and it just kind of ended.  If fireworks can ever be anti-climatic, that was it.

As I said, oddly appropriate.

Then it was time to leave for the last time.  The last of the lasts.  And that was the hardest.

Circling the concourse, we took one last look in from several sections.  Stared up at the banners.  Thought about where we were sitting for different games we’d been to.

Then it was time to go.

Joe Louis Arena Memories

It’s the morning of the last day of Red Wings hockey at Joe Louis Arena and I can’t sleep.

Recovering from a concussion, I’m supposed to sleep as much as I can, and I’m definitely not supposed to be on my computer, but I’ve got memories and emotions swirling around in my head.

I never had season tickets at the Joe so I wasn’t there for a lot of the big games.  But there are memories that are big in my mind.

Growing up, before the Red Wings had won any Cups and banner raisings became common, I always said that I wanted to be there when Steve Yzerman‘s jersey number was retired.  It was never a question of whether it would be, for me, and I wanted to be sure that I would be there.

Fifteen years after that declaration, I was able to see that happen live.  The ceremony, hosted with a sort of breathless wonder by Darren Pang, attended by decades of Red Wings dignitaries, is probably my favorite Joe Louis Arena event.


I’ve never seen the Red Wings win the Cup at the Joe.  Not strictly, at least.  In 1998, my parents packed all of us in the family minivan and drove in for Joe Vision for Game Four of the Stanley Cup Finals.  A packed arena watched the Red Wings win a game that wasn’t even being played there but celebrated as if it had been.


The things that stick with me most, though, aren’t necessarily the events I was there for, or even good moments.

My cousin, a couple friends of his, and I were at Game Seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.  We parked at the MGM Grand and walked down to the arena.  By the time the game was winding down, they’d all gone back to the casino, certain that it would not end well.

They ended up being right, of course, and as I walked down Third Street by myself after the game, I called my then-father-in-law, who was also a Red Wings fanatic.

“It’ll be okay,” he said as a greeting.

“Do you know where I am?” I asked him.  He didn’t.  “I’m walking down Third Street right now, headed to MGM.  I was there.

The pause as he tried to figure out how to respond to that will always stick with me.


I mentioned in the Puck Daddy roundtable that will be published this morning that I was at Game Two of the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals, a triple-overtime win over the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.  Another of my favorite JLA memories is attached to that game.

My uncle’s business split a suite and for that game, he had invited the whole family in.  For some reason, we were running late.  The game had already started by the time we were on Rosa Parks Blvd. headed to Jefferson Ave.

There was a long line of cars waiting to get into the parking garage and we were missing more and more of the game.  As I agonized over that, my dad handed out tickets and told the four of us kids we could jump out and go ahead if we wanted.

I remember hitting the ground running, sprinting down Jefferson, blowing through the suite ticket entrance and racing up the stairs rather than waiting for the elevator.

I ran into the suite, ignoring my aunt, and stepped out onto the arena proper just as the game’s opening goal was scored.


I’ve had a lot of fun at the Joe.  I’ll miss it.  But nothing will take away these memories.

Red Wings Unveil “Mr. I” Patch

Just hours after I posted my proposal for a Mike Ilitch memorial patch, the Red Wings unveiled what the team will actually wear.

Surprising no one, it’s another “text-in-a-box” patch.

Since the 1998 season and the “Believe” patch, the Red Wings have unveiled six special event patches.  The 75th anniversary design was worn only for a few games.  The “Farewell to the Joe” patch was abandoned.  All of the rest (the BM/RS/SL patch, jersey retirement patches for Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom, and memorial patches for Gordie Howe and Mike Ilitch) have been some form of text inside a box.

I think it’s lazy and not a fitting tribute.

Rosters for Red Wings – Maple Leafs Centennial Classic Alumni Game Announced

The rosters for the Centennial Classic Alumni Game were announced on Tuesday, as tickets for the game went on sale.

The Toronto Maple Leafs alumni team will host the Detroit Red Wings alumni at BMO Field on December 31, a day before the Leafs host the Wings in the Centennial Classic.

The rosters are as follows:

Detroit Red Wings

Name Pos.
Kris Draper F
Dino Ciccarelli F
Martin Lapointe F
Doug Brown F
Sergei Fedorov F
Vyacheslav Kozlov F
Brendan Shanahan F
Tomas Holmstrom F
Mickey Redmond F
Darren McCarty F
Igor Larionov F
Kirk Maltby F
Joe Kocur F
Nicklas Lidstrom D
Larry Murphy D
Chris Chelios D
Jiri Fischer D
Paul Coffey D
Manny Legace G
Kevin Hodson G

Toronto Maple Leafs

Name Pos.
Darryl Sittler F
Doug Gilmour F
Rick Vaive F
Darcy Tucker F
Wendel Clark F
Lanny McDonald F
Gary Roberts F
Dave Andreychuk F
Tiger Williams F
Tie Domi F
Steve Thomas F
Gary Leeman F
Mats Sundin F
Tomas Kaberle D
Dave Ellett D
Bryan McCabe D
Borje Salming D
Dmitri Yushkevich D
Al Iafrate D
Bob McGill D
Curtis Joseph G
Felix Potvin G
Mike Palmateer G

Every player from the Detroit roster played in one of the two Alumni Showdown games at Comerica Park in 2013.  Lapointe, Fischer, Dandenault, and Hodson played in the first game while the rest played in the second game, which mostly featured the bigger names.

Former Red Wings who appeared in that second game but won’t be in Toronto include Steve Yzerman, Chris Osgood, Viacheslav Fetisov, and Mark Howe.  Of those, only Yzerman played at the Stadium Series Alumni Game in Denver last February.

On the Red Wings’ Next Alternate Captain

With Pavel Datsyuk having departed, the Red Wings are left with an open spot among their contingent of captains.  I brought this up on Twitter a month ago and WiiM did a post on it a couple weeks ago.  I went back through the team’s recent history to see if anything can be gleaned from it to show us who might be picked.

The 2015-16 season was unique for the Red Wings in that captain Henrik Zetterberg and alternates Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall were the only players to wear letters for the team all year.  That doesn’t mean there wasn’t opportunity – both Datsyuk and Kronwall missed significant time due to injury – it means that there were 34 games where Detroit didn’t even bother sewing an “A” on anyone else’s sweater.

Captains are the only players who can speak to on-ice officials but the Red Wings’ going with fewer than the allowed number of captains shows how unimportant that rule.  Of note: Teams may have no more than three lettered players on the roster but there is nothing saying that they have to have that number.

We have to go back to the 2015 season to find replacement captains used by the Red Wings.  Despite ten games with only two captains dressed, seven players still managed to wear a letter throughout the year.  The injured Johan Franzen wore it for ten games, Jonathan Ericsson and Daniel Cleary each wore it for three, and Darren Helm wore it for one.

If he were healthy, I think Franzen would get the A, but he’ll never play again.  Cleary may very well return to the organization and get a letter in Grand Rapids, but I think he can be ruled out in Detroit.  That leaves Ericsson and the recently-re-signed Helm.

Going back one more season to 2014 adds no new names to the list, as the now-retired Daniel Alfredsson was the most-frequent extra alternate, wearing an A for 36 games to Franzen’s 31 and Cleary’s 8.  Five games were spent with only two captains.

The lockout-shortened 2013 – Zetterberg’s first as captain – featured three games with only two captains but no replacement alternates.  It was also the first season since the 2007-08 campaign, when Datsyuk was given an A along with Zetterberg and Kris Draper, that the team had only three captains.

Even with four captains on the books in 2012, Tomas Holmstrom wore the A for eight games.  The team dressed three captains for every game.

Going back further, we see the names of long-departed defensemen Brian Rafalski and Chris Chelios…  Clearly players who won’t be options now.

In the last seven years there have been ten players to wear the C or A with the Red Wings.  Two of them – Zetterberg and Kronwall – still do.  Only two of the remaining eight are still with the team: Ericsson and Helm.

At three games to one, Ericsson has more experience wearing the letter than Helm.  Maybe that gives him an edge.

So can anything be pulled from these numbers?  I think the only thing they show is that it’s time for someone new.  The old standbys are gone.

While newcomers Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, and Steve Ott have all worn letters elsewhere in their career – Nielsen had an A with the Islanders last season while Vanek and Ott co-captained the Sabres back in the 2013-14 season – the Red Wings haven’t given the alternate captaincy directly to a newcomer since trading for Brendan Shanahan in 1996.

By my count, the Wings haven’t had two defenseman with letters since before the Steve Yzerman era, which would seemingly rule out Ericsson or any of the other blueliners, so long as Kronwall wears the A.

Jeff Blashill is not Jacques Demers.  I don’t think Dylan Larkin gets the available letter by virtue of being the team’s best player.

I think – almost from lack of better options – that we’ll see Justin Abdelkader get the A.

Of course, that could change if the mythical “trade for a top defenseman” ever emerges.  We’ll see.