The Detroit Red Wings finally missed the playoffs last season, for the first time since 1989-1990, and that should be a wake-up call, because it’s a team in need of undergoing some serious renovations.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Red Wings roster that has some talent, but now has to actively try to get younger because the core of older players isn’t good enough to maintain what they had been doing for more than a generation.
This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process, either, because Detroit has committed some long-term contracts to players who aren’t very productive, so it’s going to take time to get out from under all of those commitments.
But, the approach is what matters. If the Wings can start the process of shedding some of their pricier deals and replenish the prospect pool, then they can start looking to the future with some sense of optimism.
The challenge in doing that is that it will require moving out players that the organization has been committed to for a long time and while that loyalty has been a strength in the past, it’s part of why the Red Wings are in the position that they find themselves now.
Henrik Zetterberg – The 36-year-old centre had 68 points, his most since 2011-2012, and had strong possession numbers on a weak team.
Tomas Tatar – Had his third straight 20-goal season and remains a consistent offensive threat.
Jimmy Howard – The veteran had the best save percentage (.927) of his career, and while he didn’t play a lot, that might be enough to attract attention from teams needing goaltending help.
Riley Sheahan – It wasn’t all his fault, because he did get dumped down to the fourth line at times, but Sheahan had no goals in 79 games before scoring twice in the regular-season finale.
Justin Abdelkader – After scoring 42 goals in the previous two seasons, the hard-nosed winger managed just seven goals last season, which isn’t great in the first year of his seven-year contract.
Danny DeKeyser – Maybe DeKeyser wasn’t the worst of Detroit’s damaged defence, but after his big contract extension, he was expected to take on big responsibility the early indications are that he may not be up to the task.
Ken Holland/Jeff Blashill
FREE AGENT FORWARDS
There may not be a more compelling player on the roster than Henrik Zetterberg, a 36-year-old who remains their best player and was a star on their 2008 Stanley Cup championship team. He’s coming off a strong season, yet there is an argument to be made to deal Zetterberg, because it’s hard to expect him to continue this greatness for four more seasons and, even if he does, that may not be enough to keep the Red Wings competitive.
Whether there’s a legit argument to be made or not, it would still be a surprise for Detroit to cut ties with a player who has played 1,000 games for the organization. It’s like moving Zetterberg would be a public admission that a serious rebuild is necessary and that may be a tough pill for the Red Wings to swallow.
Gustav Nyquist probably set unrealistic expectations when he scored 28 goals, on 18.3% shooting, in 57 games in 2013-2014. The opposite end of the spectrum is last season in Detroit, when he scored just 12 goals in 76 games, while shooting 7.3%. The real Nyquist is probably somewhere in between and he can be a productive top-six winger.
That the Red Wings signed Frans Nielsen last summer was an indication that they weren’t ready to accept that they are on a downward path, and they needed someone to fill in for the prematurely-departed Pavel Datsyuk. He’s a solid player, but what good is it for the Red Wings to have a decent second-line centre who is 33-years-old and making $5.25-million for the next five seasons?
While the Red Wings seem to be falling in and out of love with Anthony Mantha – a talented goal-scorer whose game away from the puck needs work (eevn though his possession stats shine) – it’s hard to envision them rebuilding efficiently without significant contributions from the 6-foot-5, 22-year-old winger, so he’ll need to play a bigger role moving forward.
After a brilliant rookie season, Dylan Larkin took a step back in his sophomore campaign. His production and ice time were down, which is unusual for a skilled 20-year-old winger, but he ran into some bad percentages (his PDO dropping from 102.2 as a rookie to 95.9 last year). A speedy and skilled offensive threat, Larkin is another major part of Detroit’s rebuilding effort and should get ample opportunity to get his game back on track next season.
He’s a gritty, blue-collar winger, but Justin Abdelkader’s situation in Detroit is an example of what happens when loyalty goes awry. The Red Wings obviously appreciate Abdelkader’s contributions since arriving in the league to stay in 2009-2010, and he had 86 points over the previous two seasons, but he was getting propped up by more skilled teammates and that didn’t happen last year, when he finished with just seven goals. Now, he also ran into bad percentages last season, but the Wings have the 30-year-old winger signed for six more seasons, so they desperately need his production to come back at least a little.
If Abdelkader is Exhibit A for loyalty leading to bad contracts, Darren Helm is Exhibit B. A speedy checking forward who has never put up more than 33 points in a season, Helm had just 17 points in 50 games last season and the 30-year-old is under contract for four more seasons. The Red Wings might gain some financial flexibility if they could find a team to take Abdelkader or Helm, but those contracts won’t be easy to move.
I’m sensing a theme here. Luke Glendening is a hard-working checking centre, who routinely gets crushed in terms of shot differentials, and his four-year contract extension kicks in next season. It’s not for big money, but are the results generated by Glendening substantially better than what a replacement-level player could contribute (presumably without the long-term commitment)?
It was a miserable season for Riley Sheahan – there’s no other way to spin two goals in 80 games – but the 25-year-old had been a solid contributor in previous seasons, so the Wings should probably give him a shot at redemption next season, but it wouldn’t come as a shock if other teams came looking at Sheahan as a buy-low option or possible expansion pick this summer.
He’s missed one game and scored 75 goals over the past three seasons, but Tomas Tatar doesn’t come with great fanfare. That’s okay, but the 26-year-old is one of the team’s legitimate scoring threats and puck possession aces; along with Nyquist (and Zetterberg), Tatar will be in a leadership role to help ease the transition for Detroit’s next generation of forwards.
A brilliant offensive talent, who ranks second in goals/60 over the past two seasons, Andreas Athanasiou needs to improve his game without the puck, which makes him a poor fit for the lower part of Detroit’s depth chart, but the 22-year-old needs to play to see if he can maintain his production while rounding out his game.
At this point of a rebuilding effort, there isn’t much point in the Red Wings going after major free agents that would be older and likely block their prospects, so the plan may be just to add some depth and leave open the possibility for prospects like Evgeny Svechnikov and Tyler Bertuzzi to push for playing time.
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMAN
After a couple of seasons playing a third-pair and power play role, Mike Green was thrust back into a prominent role with the Red Wings last season. It may not have been entirely by design, but there weren’t great alternatives. Maybe with the right partner that would still be okay for Green, but it didn’t work particularly well with Danny DeKeyser (among others) so he’s probably better suited to sliding down the depth chart.
The other issue is that Green turns 32 in October and is heading into the last year of his contract, so he could be an attractive trade commodity. Maybe a team that comes up short on a bid for Kevin Shattenkirk would consider Green a much cheaper option for a right-handed power-play quarterback who can move the puck. If that kind of deal would bring quality assets in return, the Red Wings would have to consider it.
The years have taken a toll on 36-year-old Niklas Kronwall, who saw his ice time slide under 20 minutes per game for the first time since 2003-2004, when he played 13:51 in 20 games with the Wings in his first taste of NHL action. He had been averaging 23:21 per game in the previous six seasons, but his effectiveness had been slipping, so reducing Kronwall’s role made sense and he was okay in that lesser role. He’s still under contract for two more years, and probably isn’t easy to move, so the Wings will probably try to find a spot for Kronwall, at least if he can perform like he did last season.
Nick Jensen finally made it to the NHL last season, and the 26-year-old performed well enough to earn more playing time down the stretch and get a two-year contract extension. It will be interesting to see if the right-shot blueliner can carry that into next season and handle a more substantial role.
Even though Danny DeKeyser played a career-high 21:57 per game last season, he managed a career-low 12 points and remained on the wrong side of the puck possession ledger. The Red Wings are committed to DeKeyser, to the tune of $5-million per season for the next five seasons, so he’s probably part of the blueline moving forward, but the Wings need to find a suitable partner for DeKeyser, someone that can help move the puck in the right direction with greater frequency.
Still signed for three more seasons, and coming off an injury-shortened campaign, 33-year-old Jonathan Ericsson is probably best suited to a depth role at this point. He’s yet another example of a player receiving a long-term commitment that exceeded his contributions.
The Red Wings were very patient in their development of Ryan Sproul, but when the 24-year-old finally got a shot in the NHL last season, the results were less than ideal. It’s now on Sproul to pull it together and play a sound enough game that he can take advantage of his skills, or else he’s going to be stuck on the roster fringe, either in Detroit or elsewhere.
After appearing in Detroit for short stints in the previous three seasons, Xavier Ouellet was a full-timer for the Red Wings last season and showed enough to be hopeful that he can develop into a steady defensive presence. At the very least he’s inexpensive and at least as reliable as some of Detroit’s pricier options.
Looking at what Detroit might do on the blueline next season, this doesn’t look like a team that should be committing long-term money to older defencemen, so they shouldn’t be going after the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk or Karl Alzner. On the contrary, Detroit should look to move out a veteran, like Green, if they can get a quality return.
There are a couple of avenues that the Red Wings could go on the trade market if they are looking to immediately upgrade the blueline. They could take on a veteran from a team looking to shed salary (Kevin Klein, Carl Gunnarsson, Justin Braun), or they could take a swing at a top young blueliner who might be available due to expansion protected list issues (Matthew Dumba, Olli Maatta, Jon Merrill or, dare to dream, Jacob Trouba). The challenge for the Wings in making a deal for a top young defenceman is that they probably want to hang on to their first-round picks, but they do have some assets to offer.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP|
After Petr Mrazek posted a .921 save percentage in 54 games in 2015-2016, it looked like the Red Wings were set in goal, but then Mrazek struggled last season, and that leaves the position in a state of uncertainty which would, admittedly, be a bigger issue if they had immediate plans of contending.
Jimmy Howard played well last season, and he could very well take back the No. 1 job if Mrazek doesn’t get his game right, but the play for Detroit might be to find a team willing to take on the last two years of Howard’s contract. After all, a rebuilding team hardly needs to commit more than $9-million in cap space to its goaltenders.
If the Wings manage to find a taker for Howard (Calgary? Vegas?) then they could give Jared Coreau a shot in the backup role. Coreau wasn’t very good in 14 games for Detroit last season, but if Howard is moved for assets, Coreau is fine to try for a season of development.
Jared Coreau – When I wrote my initial plan for Vegas, Coreau was my pick, and he would be competing for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. That’s not the most appealing option, but he’s inexpensive.
Xavier Ouellet – How the Wings set their protected list will be interesting. Would they leave someone like Kronwall or DeKeyser unprotected? If so, Ouellet is just waiting to be taken as a cheap option to play on Vegas’ third pair.
Nick Jensen – Signed for two seasons on a relatively bargain deal, Jensen may be bait for Vegas to avoid other Red Wings in the expansion draft.
RED WINGS TOP PROSPECTS
|Evgeny Svechnikov||LW||74||20||31||51||0||Cape Breton (QMJHL)|
|Joe Hicketts||D||73||7||27||34||+15||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Dennis Cholowski||D||36||1||11||12||-9||St. Cloud St. (NCHC)|
|Vili Saarijarvi||D||34||11||20||31||+20||Flint (OHL)|
|Tyler Bertuzzi||LW||48||12||25||37||+15||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Filip Hronek||D||59||14||47||61||+15||Saginaw (OHL)|
|Robbie Russo||D||58||7||25||32||+15||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Givani Smith||C||64||26||18||44||-9||Guelph (OHL)|
|Tomas Nosek||C||51||15||26||41||+4||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Dominic Turgeon||C||71||6||12||18||+7||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Dan Renouf||D||67||3||13||16||+12||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Martin Frk||RW||65||27||23||50||-4||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Axel Holmstrom||LW||16||1||1||2||-5||Skelleftea (SHL)|
|Jared Coreau||G||33||.917||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Jordan Sambrook||D||61||15||25||40||+38||Erie (OHL)|
While the Red Wings are no longer an organization stocked full of amazing prospects, they do have some help on the way, although it appears that most, especially on defence, are more than a year away from making an impact. A real question to ask is whether or not the Red Wings need to accelerate their development plan so that someone like Svechnikov arrives in the NHL sooner and doesn’t get stuck on the fringe of the roster like some other Red Wings prospects (Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen, Andrej Nestrasil) in recent seasons.
9th – Timothy Liljegren, Owen Tippett, Elias Pettersson
The Red Wings have approximately $67.1M committed to the 2017-2018 salary cap for 16 players.
Depth forwards, two top-pair defencemen
WHAT I SAID THE RED WINGS NEEDED LAST YEAR
Three top-six forwards, one top-pair defenceman
Frans Nielsen, Thomas Vanek, Xavier Ouellet
Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan, Mike Green, Jimmy Howard
MY PROJECTED 2017-2018 RED WINGS DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Tomas Tatar||Henrik Zetterberg||Anthony Mantha|
|Dylan Larkin||Frans Nielsen||Gustav Nyquist|
|Andreas Athanasiou||Riley Sheahan||Justin Abdelkader|
|Darren Helm||Luke Glendening||Tommy Wingels *|
|Evgeny Svechnikov||Tomas Nosek||Martin Frk|
|Tyler Bertuzzi||Dominic Turgeon||Shane Harper *|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Danny DeKeyser||Kevin Klein *||Petr Mrazek|
|Niklas Kronwall||Mike Green||Jared Coreau|
|Jonathan Ericsson||Nick Jensen||Matej Machovsky|
|Joe Hicketts||Robbie Russo|
|Dan Renouf||Ryan Sproul|
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com