Thoughts on Day One of Free Agency

Sigh.  Okay, I guess we’re doing this.

Day One of the 2017 Free Agent Season is in the books (or at least as far as the Red Wings are considered).  Detroit general manager Ken Holland called it “a great day for the Red Wings.”  Lets take a look at what the team did and didn’t do.

Trevor Daley

The big – and most-expected – signing for Detroit was veteran defenseman Trevor Daley.  It’s a three-year deal for $9.5 million with a no-trade clause that scales back in the third year.

I don’t love it.  I wish the Wings were just going with the kids for a bit and seeing where it takes them.  That said, I don’t hate it, either.  By all accounts, Daley will be a great mentor for some of those kids and, assuming Mike Green is dealt at the deadline next year, the lost roster spot will only be for half a season.  The contract is much better than I was expecting.

It says something when a resounding “meh” is the most you can say for the best signing of the day.

Luke Witkowski

The other deal the Wings closed immediately upon the opening of free agency was to bring in Tampa Bay defenseman Luke Witkowski.

This is the guy who broke Anthony Mantha‘s hand in a stupid fight near the end of the season.  I see no reason to bring a guy like him in.

The deal is for $750,000, which can be completely buried in the AHL.  But we said that about Steve Ott‘s deal at this time last summer and he saw zero minutes in Grand Rapids so don’t count on it.

If the Wings were looking for a big, tough, young defenseman, they had Dylan McIlrath in Grand Rapids already.  If they wanted that from a forward, where they supposedly are ready to shift Witkowski, then they had Tyler Bertuzzi.  This signing was completely unnecessary.

I feel like this is also part of a “grass is greener” issue with the Wings’ front office.  Too many times of late they’ve brought in someone else’s marginal player rather than give their own marginal player a shot.  Which is funny because if someone lasts long enough to become a veteran in the Detroit system, Holland will bring them back repeatedly.  See Darren Helm, Daniel Cleary, Kyle Quincey.

Tom McCollum

Speaking of bringing someone back, the Wings traded for goalie Tom McCollum, one year after letting him walk from the Griffins as a free agent.  I guess this makes McCollum and Matej Machovsky the tandem in Grand Rapids after the Wings find a way to unload Petr Mrazek.

Turner Elson

In another Grand Rapids move, the Wings signed Turner Elson out of the Colorado organization.  He’s a center, so I suppose he somewhat makes up for the loss of Tomas Nosek to the Vegas Golden Knights via expansion.  Or he makes up for any of the other minor leaguers getting shuffled around this summer…

Kyle Criscuolo

… such as the Griffins losing Kyle Criscuolo to the Sabres.  It’s always tough to see big pieces of a championship team depart.  He had an AHL-only deal with Grand Rapids and now he gets a two-way deal with Buffalo so he’s moving up in the world.

Mitch Callahan

Moving up or moving home is Mitch Callahan.  He signed with the Edmonton Oilers and will either get the shot with them that he never really got in Detroit or will get to play closer to home, as the Oilers’ AHL affiliate is the Bakersfield Condors, who play just a couple hours from Callahan’s hometown of Wittier, CA.

Eddie Pasquale

Joining Callahan in the Edmonton organization is goalie Eddie Pasquale, who spent only a season with the Griffins.  As mentioned above, the Griffins seem to have their tandem set, but that’s a lot of turnover at goaltender through the organization.

Matt Caito

The Griffins also lost Matt Caito to the Iowa Wild.  Caito spent most of the season with ECHL Toledo so I don’t think we can call this a big loss.


So the Wings got the defenseman they wanted but who might not be able to help them much at a price that was acceptable.  They added a guy they definitely didn’t need, and they swapped some players around at the AHL level.

Are they better than they were yesterday?  Probably.  Are they good enough to make the playoffs?  Probably not.  And the Griffins are probably worse than they were when they won the Calder Cup.

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 Lose Nosek to Golden Knights

The Detroit Red Wings lost center Tomas Nosek to the Vegas Golden Knights via the expansion draft, the National Hockey League revealed on Wednesday night.

The Golden Knights selected one player from each of the other NHL teams to build out their initial roster.  Their list was due to the NHL at 10:00 AM but was not announced until the NHL Awards show in the evening, leading to a day of leaks and rumors about the team’s picks.

Nosek’s name began circulating as the likely selection early in the afternoon.  With names such as Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, and Petr Mrazek available from Detroit, the move comes as something of a surprise.

Nosek scored ten goals and added 12 assists in 19 playoff games to lead the Grand Rapids Griffins on their run to the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup Championship.  He scored a goal in eleven appearances with the Red Wings during the 2016-17 season and was expected to join the club full-time next year.

The move makes plenty of sense for the Golden Knights.  As I stated yesterday, Nosek would have been the obvious, cheaper replacement for several of the players Vegas could have selected off of the Red Wings’ NHL roster.  With that in mind, why would general manager George McPhee take one of the more expensive players, such as Sheahan, when he can cut straight to the player who would have been his replacement?

With Nosek selected, Detroit has failed to unload any of their troublesome contracts or troublesome players.  Notably, GM Ken Holland will now have to try to find a taker for Mrazek – whose attitude has been called into question since it was revealed that he was not on the team’s protected list – and his $4 million contract, or keep him and hope that his brief availability serves as a wake-up call.

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 Call Up Tomas Nosek from Griffins

The Detroit Red Wings used an emergency call-up to recall Tomas Nosek from the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In advance of the Wings’ Saturday matchup with the Colorado Avalanche, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press revealed that Mitch Callahan is injured and another forward may be unable to play, necessitating the emergency call-up of Nosek.  Should that forward be able to play, Nosek will rejoin the Griffins for their game in Chicago tonight.

I’m curious whether the mystery forward is Luke Glendening, who sat out Thursday’s win over the Arizona Coyotes.  Glendening seemed like an odd choice for a healthy scratch at the time and, unlike when Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch, there was virtually no press on it.

If the Wings need another grinding forward, I’d rather see it be Tyler Bertuzzi, but I’m not against Nosek getting a look.  Nosek is waiver-eligible next season so it’s good to figure out a bit more about him at the NHL level before then.

One thing I find interesting is that the Red Wings specifically noted this as an emergency recall, which they did not do when Brian Lashoff was called up on Thursday and then immediately sent down when whichever defenseman was questionable ended up being able to play.

Thoughts on the Red Wings’ Trade Deadline

I was feeling pretty good about the Red Wings’ efforts in the lead up to the NHL’s trade deadline this morning.  Then the Thomas Vanek trade happened.  Those who follow DH.N on Twitter know I am less than happy about that but I’ll look at each of the Wings’ moves piece-by-piece here.

Tomas Jurco
The Red Wings traded Tomas Jurco to the Chicago Blackhawks last Friday.  An upcoming restricted free agent, Jurco never really latched on with the Red Wings.  Detroit got a third-round pick in the deal, which is more than I would have expected.

I don’t think Jurco was ever used properly in Detroit so it hurts to see him go to Chicago, but if the Wings weren’t going to use him, at least they got some value for him.  This is a pretty solid deal.

Brendan Smith
The first of Detroit’s pending unrestricted free agents, the team tried to sign him to a contract extension but the trade offer from the New York Rangers was too much to turn down.  Smith netted the Red Wings a third-round pick in the upcoming 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a second-round pick in 2018.

This was Detroit’s best move of the week.  I probably would have been happy with a second or a third, to get both feels like larceny.  That said, like Jurco, perhaps Smith just needs a change of scenery.  It’s not that he was particularly bad this year in Detroit, but he’s weighed down by the expectations and the memory of bad performances.

Steve Ott
I never liked Ott’s signing, that’s no secret.  I don’t know why the Canadiens thought they needed him, either.  He wasn’t horrible in Detroit by any means, I just think his role could have been filled by one of the kids in Grand Rapids, namely Tyler Bertuzzi or Tomas Nosek.  Getting a sixth-round pick for Ott seems like a near-miracle.

Thomas Vanek
I’m going to need more space for this one.

Nick Jensen
Not a trade, the Red Wings locked up Jensen for two more years at around $800,000 each.  Jensen has stepped onto the Wings’ blue line and seemingly leapfrogged both Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet (and definitely Alexey Marchenko, now in Toronto).

I like this signing for multiple reasons.  One, it’s only two years, unlike the ridiculous four-year deal that Brian Lashoff got after serving in a similar capacity back during the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign.  Two, it can entirely be buried in the minors if Jensen ends up being a bust or if the Wings acquire a legitimate top defenseman at some point.

Mitch Callahan
With Ott off to Montreal, the Red Wings called up forward Mitch Callahan to take his place.  I’m okay with this but I’d rather have seen Bertuzzi get the nod, as I mentioned above (Nosek is currently injured and wouldn’t be called up).

Drew Miller
The trade that didn’t happen.  I don’t know if anyone was interested in Miller but he’s the one upcoming unrestricted free agent that Holland was unable to unload.  Part of me thinks that if you can unload Ott, you can unload Miller.  But maybe the Habs were the only team interested in a guy like that.

Thomas Vanek
Okay, let’s try this one again…

Vanek had to be dealt.  He’s been one of the Wings’ best players this season and is an unrestricted free agent this summer, so it was assumed that he had significant value.  At the end of the day, it sounds like there weren’t that many teams interested, though, and he only fetched a third-round draft pick (plus AHLer Dylan McIlrath, minus retaining some salary).  That the Wings got the best deal they could get is good.

It’s kind of hard to see that for multiple reasons, though.  There was a lot of buzz about Vanek in the lead up to the deadline and Minnesota made a massive deal for Martin Hanzal, a player deemed to be somewhat comparable to Vanek.  You don’t trade buzz, though.  The best player the Red Wings had to offer simply wasn’t enough to generate that much interest.

Winging it in Motown’s JJ from Kansas has been talking about getting caught up in the hype about Vanek.  Take a look at Detroit’s history as buyers, though, and it’s hard not to.

In 2015 the Wings gave up a solid prospect in Mattias Janmark, a questionable prospect in Mattias Backman, and a second round pick for Erik Cole and a third rounder.  In 2014 Detroit traded Calle Jarnkrok, Patrick Eaves, and a third round pick for David Legwand.

In my mind, 2017 Thomas Vanek is better than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand, so I would expect 2017 Thomas Vanek to bring in more than 2015 Erik Cole or 2014 David Legwand.  But that’s not what this year’s market supported.

So it’s disappointing that costs are high when the Wings are buyers but they’re low when they’re sellers.  It’s hard to swallow.  It feels like if the Wings should have to sell, they should get to sell for the same prices that all the teams that profited from them got to sell at.

Overall
All of that said, the Wings did the best that they could with what they had.  In sheer volume of picks, the last week has been a pretty impressive haul.

I’m not as excited about the upcoming draft as Ken Holland is, though.  Holland has spoken about having so many picks to work with, more than they’ve had since 2002.  This draft is shallow and none of those picks are particularly high.  As such, I don’t see this sell off as sparking a rebuild.  Barring some big changes this summer, I don’t think the assets gained in the last week are going to turn things around next year.

Pregame: Marchenko, Athanasiou, Howard Return as Wings Host Jackets

The Red Wings are getting some bodies back, as three players will return from injury tonight.

Goalie Jimmy Howard, defenseman Alexey Marchenko, and forward Andreas Athanasiou will all be in the lineup as Detroit starts a five-game homestand against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

With Howard – who will back-up Petr Mrazek tonight – and Athanasiou back, Jared Coreau and Tomas Nosek returned to the Grand Rapids Griffins.  Brian Lashoff remains with the Red Wings but will likely be a healthy scratch in place of Marchenko.

Game time is 7:30 PM on FSD+.


Stupid Stat of the Day: The Red Wings have never lost in regulation to the Blue Jackets in December at Joe Louis Arena.  The last meeting between the teams in December in Detroit was a 1-0 shootout win for Columbus.

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.

An Alternate Red Wings Roster

After publishing my post explaining why I’m not excited about the start of this season, I went outside and mowed my lawn, which gave me more time to think.  A dangerous thing.

I started mentally re-working the Red Wings’ roster, imagining a lineup featuring none of Detroit’s summer free agent signings or re-signings.  This is what I came up with:

Justin AbdelkaderDylan LarkinRiley Sheahan
Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergAnthony Mantha
Gustav NyquistAndreas AthanasiouTeemu Pulkkinen
Tomas NosekLuke GlendeningTyler Bertuzzi
Martin Frk

Those lines are based on the ones the team practiced with today, so they can be shuffled however you want.  The important thing is the 13 forwards.

Yeah, not having Frans Nielsen and needing to move Zetterberg back to center hurts, but look at the opportunity on that lineup.  That’s Mantha, Athanasiou, and Pulkkinen getting top-nine (none of this top-six, bottom-six nonsense) minutes.  That’s Glendening still centering a line of grinders, just as he is now.

Is it as likely to make the playoffs?  Well, I don’t think the current roster is going to make it, so zero percent chance is equal to zero percent chance.  That said, no, I can’t say I think this roster has as good of a chance.  I’m okay with that.

This roster also includes an effort to fix the Red Wings’ defense.  While the same blueliners make the team as did in reality (which is why I didn’t specifically note them), there is an additional defensive prospect in the system.

This roster has a low enough salary to absorb Pavel Datsyuk‘s cap hit, which means he’s never traded and the Red Wings draft Jakob Chychrun.

Chychrun made Arizona’s opening night roster but I have no expectation that he’d do the same in Detroit, given the Wings’ logjam.  That said, two years down the road you can expect there’d be room for him, the kind of player Detroit has been unable to sign as a free agent or trade for.

I know that I’m looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.  At the time Datsyuk’s contract was traded, no one could have known whether or not Steven Stamkos would hit the open market and the Red Wings felt that they had to be prepared for that.

That said, it’s hard not to look at what might have been and wonder.