30 IN 30 - DETROIT RED WINGS (25th place)
For as long as we've enjoyed Little Caesars Hot N' Ready's after a downing a few beers, the Red Wings have been a part of playoff hockey. Unfortunately, with the rest of the league catching up to them in European scouting they haven't been able to sign the unknown gems who always managed to put this team over the top. Missing the playoffs must feel weird for long-time fans, and the obvious lag time between their veterans moving on from the game and youngsters ready to take on bigger roles has left the team in a less than desirable state to rebound from this result. With the expansion draft set to leave them worse for wear, what can Kenny Holland do to mitigate the damage?
Protection list structure
- Nielson (*NMC)
- Nielson (*NMC)
Notwithstanding the allegiance Red Wings fans may have to Nicklas Kronwall, leaving him exposed in order to keep the youth within the roster intact - via the 7-3-1 model - could be the smart move, although an unlikely one. Whereas forcing more defensemen within the alternative 8-1 structure would leave a promising young forward under a controllable contract vulnerable. Decision, decisions.
Our choice will be the 7-3-1 structure above, with risk tied to loosing either an overpaid 3rd line checker or an inexperienced, although still developing, defenceman such as Xavier Ouellet. The wild card pick for the Golden Knights could be in goal with Jimmy Howard, but his age and cap hit are problematic without additional draft picks from the Red Wings to sway the selection.
WHICH FORWARD TO PROTECT - ABDELKADER OR HELM?
The decision between Abdelkader and Helm isn't particularly dramatic. They are, on the numbers, fairly acceptable 3rd line contributors to a team. Bumps in production are seen occasionally over the course of their careers, but generally these totals - especially offensive ones - tend to trend back to average.
Last season in isolation appears to favour Darren Helm. His production generally matched that of his median rate, notwithstanding the overall decrease in key statistical measures across the board for the Red Wings. His shooting percentage while on the ice managed to rise, minimizing the fall in goal differential (GF%) expected from a player who has seen his Corsi numbers drop.
Alternatively, we witnessed Justin Abdelkader have a significantly worse season than his 2015-16 campaign. Major falls in both point production and goal derived statistics are evident. Impressively his shot based totals, in line with what we consider correlated to puck possession, remain stable after zone adjustment. However, the drop in shooting percentage speaks to the quality of these shots and potential inability to get within higher probability scoring zones.
At a $4.25M cap hit for 6 more years, Abdelkader's contract is an obvious negative. The Red Wings have been in cap trouble for years and this move was one of desperation without requisite foresight to the future. By signing a long term deal they inevitably kept his per year rate below what the player and his agent demanded, but without 20 goal production or an alternative ability to drive offence, his contract comes in above player value. Similarly, Helm holds an extended contract at a $3.85M hit for 4 more years. Another overpriced role player, who unlike his teammate has never seen a spike in offensive output.
On proven ability alone I'm in favour of protecting Abdelkader. The difference in salary is minimal for a player that can contribute on either the 2nd or 3rd forward line. Although I favour the shorter term of Helm's contract, I believe leaving him exposed carries with it a lesser probability of selection. Vegas will have an incredible collection of 3rd line level forwards to choose from within the expansion process. Chances are they will lean towards cheaper, younger options at this position in order to maintain cap room for their free agency quests.
Will vegas select a defencemen instead?
More likely than not, Vegas will come into their Detroit selection with sights sets on picking Xavier Ouellet. He is young, cheap, and has room to grow with additional ice time. However, Detroit will assuredly be looking at every alternative to throw a wrench in this plan. Options include: (a) protecting him over Niklas Kronwall; (b) protecting him over Mike Green; (c) going with the 8-1 structure and undoubtedly losing a forward such as Tomas Tatar instead.
Kronwall is an impact player, but realistically only has a few seasons left in him - unless he's looking to pull a Jagr. Green is an offensive force from the back-end, but requires a solid D-partner to take care of him in his own zone. He's also entering the final year of his 3 year pact, allowing him to jump ship from a team like the Golden Knights after next season. Although, if Mikey is merely looking to cash in on what might be his last significant contract, Vegas would have the money to offer him a lucrative extension. And finally, the 8-1 strategy is just foolish, loosing a controllable asset such as Tatar for nothing would be a significant loss for this team.
Ignoring these alternative options, Ouellet looks to be the choice amongst the remaining defensemen. His GF% and Corsi numbers are at or above the 50% mark and his on-ice Sv% is the highest amongst the group. Nick Jensen is another cheap alternative but his goal differential and on ice save percentage are much too low in comparison. Meanwhile, Jonathan Ericsson is a physical defender with NHL experience but paid well above market rate. Selecting him without additional compensation is unlikely.
maybe detroit sweetens the deal
The Red Wings salary cap woes scream "make a deal". This team needs to unload at least one of their bigger contracts this summer or they'll struggle to re-sign promising young players on the roster. Dealing Jimmy Howard has to be the number one priority. After a disappointing 2015-16 season, his play has recovered to starter form rather quickly - 2.10 GAA and .927 Sv%. He also carries with him experience on the big stage, donning the US national team jersey on multiple occasions and battling his way into the playoffs 7 times already. I understand his contract isn't the most appealing option available for tenders, but he would give the Golden Knights an experienced starter and allow them to take a shot on a younger commodity elsewhere who likely hasn't dealt with the daily grind of being a team's #1. With only two years left on his deal, I think Holland could potentially sweeten the deal with a collection of draft picks and sway George McPhee's selection.
If Howard isn't a fit, additional compensation could go towards the Golden Knights selecting one of Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, or Jonathan Ericsson.
Xavier Ouellet is the logical pick here, but I have a hunch a deal is in the works to keep him in a Wings uniform. Look for one of the contracts mentioned above to be moved with a few sprinkles added on top from Ken Holland.
The Red Wings could be in for another rough year. Without the much needed cap space to sign (or even re-sign) free agents, the team will be reliant on players from Grand Rapids (AHL) to come in and contribute next season. Tanking isn't within the culture of this franchise so don't expect to see a full 're-build', instead look for management to shed some salary and rely on their exceptional player evaluation skills.
Next up: Dallas Stars