The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the second straight season and, from the looks of their roster, they have some work to do in order to turn this thing around.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Red Wings team that has some hard decisions to make about their long-term plan.
Considering the lack of star power on the roster right now, there is a very reasonable argument to make that Detroit should plan to tank, in order to improve their chances to acquire high-end talent around which they can rebuild.
That doesn’t require dramatically sinking the team’s hopes; really it’s not much more than allowing nature to take its course with this roster. The Red Wings have seven picks in the first three rounds this year, and if they’re in the lottery next year, then that would offer a shot at another high-end player.
While this might be a reasonable approach for a team with a new management team, looking at a five-year plan, I have my doubts that the current Red Wings management is prepared to do that.
As an aside, when I do these Off-Season Game Plans, I try to come up with a plan that seems reasonable and consistent for the current management and that means their established tendencies should be part of the consideration. Thus, even if I might think that the long-term plan for the Red Wings should be focused on a long-term rebuild, I’m skeptical that Red Wings GM Ken Holland would venture down that path.
So, if the Red Wings aren’t necessarily going to strip this thing down to the studs, maybe they will accelerate their rebuilding plan by using some of their draft pick currency to acquire premier talent. This isn’t a roster that just needs some tweaking, but if the Wings can acquire high-end talent that could be a cornerstone piece then that might be worth it.
Ken Holland/Jeff Blashill
Dylan Larkin – The 21-year-old centre nearly doubled his point total from the previous season, leading the Red Wings with 63 points.
Anthony Mantha – It feels like he’s scratching the surface, and finished the season with one goals in his last 16 games, but the 6-foot-5 winger also had a team-leading 24 goals and had the puck moving the right way when he was on the ice.
Henrik Zetterberg – The 37-year-old played in every game, scored 56 points, had stellar possession stats and the Wings outscored the opposition with him on the ice at evens. He doesn’t need to be vintage Zetterberg to still be one of Detroit’s best players.
Trevor Daley – Last summer’s free agent acquisition did get pushed into tough minutes, but he also was buried in the defensive zone, giving up quality scoring chances in the process.
Tomas Tatar – The 27-year-old winger did have his fourth straight 20-goal season but, before getting traded to Vegas, had managed a paltry 28 points in 62 games.
Luke Glendening – Detroit’s checking centre faces tough usage, but he was stomped last season. As usual, he was on the wrong end of shot differentials and the Red Wings were outscored 33-16 at 5-on-5 with him on the ice.
FREE AGENT FORWARDS
Elder statesman Henrik Zetterberg has played every game for each of the past three seasons, but it’s reportedly quite a struggle for him to go through the grind night after night. Naturally, he’s not the player that he used to be, but Zetterberg is still effective, capable of playing a solid two-way game. His salary dips to $3.35-million next season, before going down to $1-million for each of the following two years, so the end of the line is likely near, but he could still be part of the plans for next season.
28-year-old Gustav Nyquist recorded his fifth straight 40-point season, but his total of 40 points was his lowest in the past five years. He’s a shifty winger who can put the puck in the net, a three-time 20-goal scorer, and did have his name pop up in trade rumours last season. Maybe that gets re-visited in the summer or, if Nyquist starts the year in Detroit, before the trade deadline.
Veteran winger Justin Abdelkader plays a hard-nosed game, and has tended to play a complementary role on Detroit’s scoring lines. There’s plenty to like about a blue-collar player like Abdelkader, but the fact that his contract has five more years (at a $4.25-million cap hit) remaining is not one of them. He’s 31 and that’s already a shaky return on investment.
Detroit’s decision to sign Frans Nielsen as a free agent in the summer of 2016 was suspect – the roster wasn’t that of a playoff team, and Nielsen wasn’t likely to change that. He’s still a sound checking centre, but his offensive production has dipped (last season’s 0.42 points per game was a career-low for a full season) and he’s still under contract for four more seasons, at a $5.25-million cap hit.
The third albatross contract among Red Wings forwards belongs to Darren Helm, a 31-year-old checker who has never scored more than 33 points in a season yet still has three more years (at $3.85-million) left on his deal.
The challenge facing the Red Wings is whether they can find a way to at least get valuable contributions because those contracts take up significant space under the salary cap and those contracts all have various types of no-trade protection.
There aren’t a lot of players that are used in the manner that the Red Wings use Luke Glendening. The 29-year-old is a face-off ace (he won 58.0% last season) and starts most of his shifts in the defensive zone, but he’s consistently been on the wrong end of shot differentials, by a significant margin – he has a -8.1 CFRel% for his career – and he’s still under contract for three more seasons. Like Abdelkader and Helm, Glendening is a gritty home-grown checking forward who has been over-compensated, though not to the same degree.
28-year-old Luke Witkowski was a defenceman at Western Michigan University and throughout much of his time in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Moving to Detroit last season, he was a part-time player, but primarily played right wing in a limited role, averaging less than seven minutes of ice time per game and leading the team with six fights.
21-year-old Dylan Larkin is a building block for the Red Wings’ future. The speedy forward moved to centre ice full-time in his third season and scored a career-high 63 points; his 52 even-strength points was tied for 23rd in the league. He’s due for a new contract as a restricted free agent this summer.
Towering and talented winger Anthony Mantha had a career-high 24 goals and 48 points last season but, if he puts it all together, he has the ability to do more. The challenge for the Red Wings is putting him in the position to best use his rare combination of size and scoring touch.
A very skilled player, 23-year-old Andreas Athanasiou scores highlight-reel goals because he has impressive speed and skill, but his all-around game remains a work in progress. He’s scored 34 goals over the past two seasons, 32 of them at even strength. It would be easy enough to see Athanasiou become a regular 20-goal scorer and that surely has some value.
24-year-old winger Martin Frk finally made the league last season and while he didn’t play a lot, he did show off an impressive shot. The challenge, to this point, is getting the rest of his game up to speed because he hasn’t yet been able to earn a consistent role.
A wrist injury prevented Tyler Bertuzzi from starting the season with the Red Wings, but once he joined the lineup, he did show some potential. His shot differentials were still on the wrong side of the ledger, but he did score 22 of his 24 points at even strength.
The Red Wings will have some openings for prospects. Michael Rasmussen and Evgeny Svechnikov are the top two candidates. Even if Detroit doesn’t have major expectations for next season, they can dip into free agency or the trade market to add established NHL depth.
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMAN
Veteran defenceman Niklas Kronwall has been maligned in recent seasons, with negative relative shot differentials, but he was quietly effective in 2017-2018. He’s headed for the last year of his current contract, and while his cap hit may be higher than ideal, if Kronwall could duplicate his last season, that would be okay.
A two-time Stanley Cup winner with Pittsburgh, Trevor Daley played a big role for the Red Wings last season – his average time on ice of 20:42 per game was his highest since 2014-2015 – and that’s not ideal because he tends to be on the wrong side of shot counts. He will be 35 early next season and is probably better suited to a complementary role, if possible.
Unheralded blueliner Nick Jensen, who was a fifth-round pick in 2009, played in 81 games and provided strong defensive play for the Red Wings, giving him positive shot differentials, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. He didn’t reach the NHL until he was 26-years-old, but Jensen has been a solid player, and it may be time to give him more responsibility.
The Red Wings locked into Jonathan Ericsson what seems like forever ago, as he has two years left on his current six-year deal. He starts more in the defensive zone, and his shot differentials aren’t great, but the quality of shots against doesn’t paint a pretty picture either.
Danny DeKeyser saw his possession numbers improve last season, especially when he was paired with Jensen, a much-needed positive sign for a player who still has four years left on his contract. Given the Red Wings' investment, it would be favourable if DeKeyser could handle a top-four role without getting outshot in dramatic fashion, as he was in the previous two seasons.
24-year-old Xavier Ouellet hasn’t been able to establish himself as anything more than a fringe NHLer to this point in his career. His results have been okay, though, so if the Wings aren’t sold on him, another team might see some potential value.
Detroit does have some quality blueline prospects on the way. Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek, 2016 first and second-rounders, respectively, are at the head of the class and may be ready to challenge for spots at some point next season.
If the Red Wings want to use some of the draft picks that they have accumulated, they could get into the market for an upgrade on the blueline. In Arizona’s Off-Season Game Plan, I had the Red Wings dealing for Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but any move to add a star of that calibre would run contrary to any possible tanking plans. Additionally, while the Red Wings should be able to pay Ekman-Larsson market rate on his new contract, if he's anxious to play for a contender, Detroit might have some work to do to sell him on that possibility.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2018-19 CAP|
FREE AGENT GOALTENDER
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP||STATUS|
Jimmy Howard started well last season, but his numbers steadily declined throughout the year. The 34-year-old has one year left on his contract, and might as well finish it out as the Red Wings’ starter, but it would make a lot of sense for the team to seek out a long-term option.
In the meantime, there will be some backup goaltenders available on the trade market at a relatively inexpensive price. Al Montoya, Anders Nilsson, Curtis McElhinney and Michal Neuvirth are among the backups that could be acquired via trade, while Jonathan Bernier, Carter Hutton, Chad Johnson and, potentially (if he doesn’t receive a qualifying offer) Robin Lehner could be of interest to the Red Wings.
|Michael Rasmussen||C||47||31||28||59||+17||Tri-City (WHL)|
|Dennis Cholowski||D||69||14||52||66||+29||Portland (WHL)|
|Evgeny Svechnikov||RW||57||7||16||23||-4||Cape Breton (QMJHL)|
|Filip Hronek||D||67||11||28||39||+24||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Gustav Lindstrom||D||39||6||8||14||+2||Almtuma (SWE)|
|Joe Hicketts||D||67||3||9||12||-10||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Vili Saarijarvi||D||42||0||11||11||-1||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Filip Larsson||G||30||.941||Tri-City (USHL)|
|Givani Smith||C||46||17||13||30||+1||Kitchener (OHL)|
|Jordan Sambrook||D||67||10||29||39||+43||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)|
|Kasper Kotkansalo||D||40||2||4||6||+12||Boston University (HE)|
|Dominic Turgeon||C||69||14||18||32||+13||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Libor Sulak||D||42||9||23||32||+5||Pelicans (SML)|
|Dan Renouf||D||73||2||10||12||+4||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
|Axel Holmstrom||LW||66||7||19||26||-11||Grand Rapids (AHL)|
6th – Evan Bouchard, Quinton Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Oliver Wahlstrom
28th – K’Andre Miller, Jacob Olofsson, Filip Hallander
The Red Wings have approximately $56.9M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 14 players.
Three forwards, two top-pair defencemen, backup goaltender
WHAT I SAID THE RED WINGS NEEDED LAST YEAR
Depth forwards, two top-pair defencemen
Martin Frk, David Booth, Luke Witkowski, Trevor Daley
Gustav Nyquist, Luke Glendening, Andreas Athanasiou, Martin Frk, Jonathan Ericsson, Xavier Ouellet
PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Justin Abdelkader||Dylan Larkin||Anthony Mantha|
|Tyler Bertuzzi||Henrik Zetterberg||Gustav Nyquist|
|Michael Rasmussen||Frans Nielsen||Darren Helm|
|Remi Elie*||Luke Glendening||Martin Frk|
|Evgeny Svechnikov||Nic Dowd*||Luke Witkowski|
|David Pope||Dominic Turgeon||Matt Puempel|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson*||Trevor Daley||Jimmy Howard|
|Danny DeKeyser||Nick Jensen||Al Montoya*|
|Niklas Kronwall||Jonathan Ericsson||Matej Machovsky|
|Dennis Cholowski||Libor Sulak|
|Joe Hicketts||Vili Saarijarvi|
Scott Cullen can be reached at email@example.com