The Detroit Red Wings’ Offseason Whiff(s)

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The Monthly Traub is out and in full force right now. There’s just not much to write about at the moment, and I’ve been spending a lot of time writing over at Diehard Sport. Make sure you’re checking out for the latest stuff and follow us on Facebook and Twitter to make your life a whole lot better. This post turned into a bit of a disorganized rant/mess, so bear with me.

The Detroit Red Wings went into this offseason and I was highly optimistic. A lot of cap room, a bunch of terrible players coming off the payroll and supposedly not coming back. That last Freep link was killed for a reason, not sure why, but they wanted to remove any sort of information that said that they were letting all of their UFA’s walk. Anyways, I figured there was no way they would bring Kyle Quincey and Daniel Cleary back and they certainly wouldn’t give the two of them a raise to bring them back. Whoops. The Kyle Quincey signing I hate, but I can at least understand. They whiffed on their big free agent targets and panicked and went with someone they knew. The pay raise and two-year deal is what really makes me mad. When Kyle Quincey is making more money than Kevin Shattenkirk, Slava Voynov, Victor Hedman and Niklas Hjalmarsson, something is wrong. Hockey and quality of play is certainly not based purely on statistics, there is far more that goes into it, but this stat line (82 games played, 13 points, -4, 88 PIMs) is not worth anything close to $4.25 million a year. Why not give a guy like Ryan Sproul, Xavier Ouellet or Alexey Marchenko a shot? You know what Quincey has to offer, and he’s not exactly going to take the defensive corps and put it over the top and turn the Red Wings into a serious Cup contender again. On a bit of a different note, if you’re a restricted free agent like Danny DeKeyser is, how do you not demand more money than what Quincey is getting? You’re clearly better than him and have a brighter future, why should you make half as much?

Everyone who has read anything I’ve written or follows me on Twitter knows that I wanted Matt Niskanen very badly. Very badly is probably an understatement. And the fact that he didn’t want to come to Detroit makes you wonder. The fact that Dan Boyle took less money to go to New York is no surprise, he wanted to play with his buddy Martin St. Louis. I’m very glad that the Red Wings didn’t offer Anton Stralman what he signed with Tampa Bay for or throw the house at Brooks Orpik like Washington did. But I have to wonder why Christian Ehrhoff wasn’t pursued more heavily or why there was a supposed communication error between the two sides. Red Wings’ beat writers say that Ehrhoff wanted a five-year deal from the Wings, but took a one-year deal from the Penguins. A pet peeve of mine is the supposed obsession with adding a right-handed defenseman and passing on a more skilled left-handed defenseman because he is a lefty. I understand you may want some balance of righty-lefty along the way, but fewer things are more overrated than this. If you’re in the show, you should be able to play either side, no questions asked. It boggles my mind and drives me crazy that handedness was this important and that the beat writers kept hammering home this point every chance they had. Having righty and lefty balance is a luxury, not a necessity, especially when you’re looking to improve your squad as much as possible.

It is strange that marquee free agents suddenly don’t want to come to Detroit anymore, especially when they can make competitive contract offers. Some people think it’s because Mike Babcock is a hardass and Babcock suggested that it’s because of Babcock’s uncertain future with the team, which is definitely possible. Whatever it is, something isn’t working. Personally, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to play for Babcock, don’t you want to get better and win games? Why not play for the best coach in the league?

(Here’s the Red Wings next coach, he’ll be the bench boss within three years. My guess is Babcock signs a one-year extension, coaches with the Red Wings until his daughter graduates from U of M and then moves back to Canada)

I get it, you can’t sign every single free agent. It’s not 2002 when the Red Wings are one of five teams with an unlimited budget and they can just hoard guys. There is a salary cap and a salary floor and bad teams overpay to get to the floor (see Calgary signing Deryk Engelland). There is far more parity in the NHL than there was a decade ago. There are also extraneous desires that guys have that can’t always be matched. Thomas Vanek took practically 1/3 of what he was offered by the New York Islanders and Buffalo Sabres to go to Minnesota where he played college and is essentially a second home for him. Here’s the key part of this whole post/rant and my disappointment with this offseason: I don’t blame Ken Holland for making competitive offers and missing on marquee guys. From what it seems like, he did what he could and that’s all you can ask for out of your general manager. What I do blame him for is signing guys like Kyle Quincey and Daniel Cleary when you miss on your targets.

Daniel Cleary signed a one-year $1.5 million deal with a $1 million bonus if he plays ten games (that would count against the following year’s cap). I understand that the Red Wings are loyal to players and there was apparently a verbal agreement between the two sides that Cleary would be taken care of if he didn’t sign with the Philadelphia Flyers last summer, but why was that agreement even made? Loyalty is very important. But, it’s at the point where the Red Wings are being loyal to a fault and playing too many veterans for too long. Guys like Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Thomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist proved that they are more than ready to play in the NHL and without them, the Wings don’t make the playoffs. Cleary may not have been healthy the whole year, but he put up 8 points in 52 games and was a healthy scratch for some of the younger guys. Jurco had 8 goals last year in far fewer games than Cleary. So why send Jurco back to the minors? Why not let Jurco learn more and play at a higher level? Maybe it’s just me because I’ve been a Jurco fan since before he was drafted (thanks to epic YouTube highlights), but with his size and skill level, he brings more to the table than Cleary’s grittiness. And if you want a vet, why not bring in a guy like Dany Heatley to help the much-maligned offense? Sure Heatley is a far cry from when he potted 50 ginos, but he took a one-year, $1 million deal with Anaheim. If Cleary plays ten games, he will get $2.5 million. Do you really think that Cleary is worth $1.5 mill more than Heatley? And if you do, why?

Here’s another sort of tangent…one of my bigger pet peeves is when people think that toughness is more important than skill. There was a thread on the Detroit Red Wings Reddit and people were saying that the Red Wings lost to Boston because they didn’t have enough toughness or tough players. One person had the gall/lack of intelligence to surmise that the Red Wings won the Cup in 2008 because they had players like Kirk Maltby, Kris Draper and Dallas Drake, but lost in 2009 because they didn’t have those players and added Marian Hossa instead. The only logical response to that is, are you f*cking high? You need skilled players to score goals. Yes, you need some grit now and then, but only because there’s a salary cap. Toughness doesn’t win Stanley Cups. Look at the Blackhawks or Kings rosters and tell me that their tough guys are the reason they won the Cup. People will be quick to point to the Boston Bruins team that won it, but guess what? Their gritty players could contribute offensively too. Guys like Drew Miller don’t make or break you winning the Cup and neither will a guy like Cleary. There’s no cookie cutter way to make an NHL Stanley Cup winner, and toughness can/does help, but to imply that toughness is more important than skill is asinine. You wanna know why the Red Wings lost to the Bruins? They scored six goals in five games and had a 62.5% penalty kill. But don’t worry, some more guys throwing hits and blocking shots will definitely raise that 1.20 goals per game average. And if you think that hits and blocked shots are an important statistic in the game of hockey, please stop reading this blog immediately. You know what hits and blocked shots mean? That your team doesn’t have the puck. You don’t score goals or win without the puck.

Jimmy Howard

Moving on for now…another fault the Red Wings seem to have at the moment is their trading. The Calle Jarnkrok trade turned into a massive mistake, especially when they didn’t even bother to re-sign David Legwand. There were rumors that Jarnkrok wanted to go back to Sweden if he wasn’t going to play in the NHL, but why not give him a shot? Jankrok was arguably the best center the Red Wings had in the minors after Sheahan, and the fact that the Red Wings drafted six centers with seven draft picks this summer shows that they wanted to replenish the now bare cupboard. Nine points in 12 games with a +7 rating seems damn good to me (that was Jarnkrok’s stat line with Nashville). It seems to me that if they really didn’t want Jarnkrok that they could have packaged him together this summer with some players and gone and got a defenseman instead of signing Kyle Quincey. Maybe they tried that and it’s just not public knowledge, who knows.

Veterans are important to have, but it’s important to have young players in the mix too. One thing I will say is that the Red Wings are second-to-none in drafting talent. That is one thing that has not left the organization yet. Getting a guy like Anthony Mantha at 20th in the 1st round, or Petr Mrazek in the 5th round just proves that. I know the Red Wings will look to make a trade for a defenseman at some point, and hopefully they leave these two guys as untouchables. I’m not convinced that the Red Wings view Mrazek as untouchable, and that’s a problem for me. A Howard-Mrazek tandem would have been phenomenal this year, another reason why I don’t understand re-signing Jonas Gustavsson. Sure, Mrazek will get more time in the AHL this year, but his play last year signaled that he is ready to play at least 25 games in the NHL. And 25 NHL games is far greater experience wise than 60 AHL games, not to mention the practice time with the better players. Regardless of that, as long as Gustavsson is gone after this year and the Howard-Mrazek tandem starts in 2015-2016, things will be all good.

Switching gears a bit, the time for the Red Wings to win is now. Pavel Datsyuk only has three years left on his deal and then he’s going back to play in the KHL. Henrik Zetterberg’s health gets worse and worse every year and I’m not sure he’s gong to play as long as we would like him to (on a side note, the salary cap recapture penalties for early retirement on Johan Franzen’s and Z’s contracts are going to murder their cap room in the future. No way either of them plays until 2020). The way I see it, these offseason moves merely reflect the idea that the Red Wings are okay with making it to the playoffs and just keeping the streak alive. That definitely isn’t their mindset, but that’s what the signings imply. I get that they were not fully healthy last year and they could have been far better, even in the playoffs. But, if you think this roster has what it takes to beat the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings in a seven game series, then you’re out of your mind.

So what’s next? Well, a trade for a guy like Tyler Myers or Mike Green seems most obvious. Apparently the Sabres wanted three pieces from the Red Wings, two of which were Anthony Mantha and a 1st round pick, which, LOL. For Myers I’d be willing to offer Justin Abdelkader, Jakub Kindl and probably a 1st rounder. I’m hesitant to give up a 1st rounder in 2015 because it’s a deep draft, and I don’t think Tyler Myers is worth much more than that offer. Some may disagree, but he’s a head case who has progressively gotten worse each year since winning the Calder (yes, Buffalo has gotten worse, but he’s shown no signs of improvement or consistency), not to mention he’s got a huge cap hit.

When it comes to Mike Green, it’s tough to say, because he only has one more year left on his deal. I’d probably end up offering Tomas Tatar and Jakub Kindl for Mike Green, though that may not be enough in the Caps eyes. Personally, for a guy that only has one-year left on his deal and could leave as a UFA next summer, I think that is a pretty fair deal. It would also give the Red Wings the offensive-minded, top four right-handed defenseman they so covet. I’m not a big Mike Green fan, since he tools around like a 4th forward, but he would be a hell of an asset on the powerplay.

When you get down to it, anyone outside of Abdelkader, Tatar, Kindl, Joakim Andersson, Johan Franzen, Cleary and Quincey are untouchable in my opinion. At least for those two guys. As I said in an earlier post, I would love to see the Red Wings pursue Keith Yandle, but I think that Holland is gun-shy about making a trade before he sees what kind of team he has at the start of the year. Which is understandable and quite alright, you can always make a trade in season. I just have a gut feeling that this team has some moves to make before they can be considered a serious Cup contender again. Not unless some guys (Jimmy Howard, in particular) are going to turn in career years and essentially put the team on their back.

It’ll be nice to have Stephen Weiss back for next year, but if they sign Daniel Alfredsson, which they will, they will have to make some moves to fit everyone in. Hopefully that means a Joakim Andersson trade, but it will most likely means a Tomas Jurco to Grand Rapids move. As well as Anthony Mantha starting in Grand Rapids, though that was a pipe dream thinking he would be on the roster to start the year. Jurco and Mantha would then be the first two players called up for injuries, which is a pretty nice bullpen to have.

For the record, I still stand by Ken Holland and Mike Babcock. These two moves have just made me seriously question what the plan is. The first inkling of doubt I had was back in the summer of 2012 when he missed on Ryan Suter and Zach Parise and signed Mikael Samuelsson, Jordan Tootoo and whatever other garbage. But last year the Red Wings added Weiss and Alfredsson and had a very sturdy offseason and it was encouraging. Suter and Parise were two guys that wanted to play together and were familiar with the Minnesota area, so the Red Wings were behind the eight ball. This year has rekindled that doubt though, particularly the Dan Cleary signing. It’s especially discouraging when you see Jim Nill making power moves with the Dallas Stars by adding Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky and Anders Lindback the past two seasons. Being aggressive is not a bad thing, and being afraid to make mistakes and hesitating is where more problems can arise. Hopefully I’m wrong and this team can make some power moves or at least play phenomenally, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

It’s not all bad, there are still some positives about the Red Wings and a few things to keep in mind to stay hopeful.

If I had to guess, here’s what the roster will likely look like to start the year (salaries for Tatar, DeKeyser and Alfredsson were just entered to fit under the cap, not sure what they’ll get):

Wings Roster

And here’s what I wish it would look like based on the players they have signed/will likely sign:

Wings Roster

Key differences…Cleary and Glendening stay in the press box, while Jurco plays and Andersson either goes to Grand Rapids or gets traded.

By the way, thank god the Red Wings aren’t in the Western Conference anymore because it has completely loaded up….again. Anyone who thinks that the Eastern Conference is tougher than the West is out of their mind.

I’m sure posts like these really encourage NHL teams to hire me. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Some offseason reads:

Detroit Red Wings 2014-2015 Schedule
Interesting Media Report
Accountability In An NHL Organization

Photo via: Seatgeek
Photo via: Zimbio

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One Response to The Detroit Red Wings’ Offseason Whiff(s)

  1. Pingback: Detroit Red Wings Offseason Recap: Post-July 1st Update | The Daily Traub

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