As we motor towards the 2013-14 NHL season, the Detroit Red Wings’ first in the Eastern Conference (or whatever it’ll be called), it’s no secret that there are more bodies than there are roster spots. At this very moment, the Wings have 23 players signed to NHL contracts, and that number will increase to 25 when Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson are inked following restricted free agent deals.
That’s two too many. Someone (or someones) is going to have to go, whether that’s via trade, waivers, or — potentially, but unlikely — “regular” buyout (since SOMETHING will still count against the cap in that case, and there’s not a ton of room on that front, either).
To explore the merits of each player’s likelihood to stick around, perhaps it’ll be easier if broken down into lines. Make no mistake, I’m not guessing who each player will be playing with — that’s a fool’s errand. But a lot of what to expect is already evident. Ken Holland said this week that there will likely not be any moves until training camp, so don’t expect anything to be imminent.
THE TOP SIX
When free agency opened, general manager Ken Holland was clear that their top priority was a second line center. It doesn’t take a Mensa member to realize that they’d hoped to keep their premiere forwards — Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg — together, and needed someone to anchor the other top line. Enter Stephen Weiss, who is on a five-year deal for a shade less than Valtteri Filppula received in Tampa.
While Justin Abdelkader isn’t your father’s traditional top-six winger, he played well with the two dynamic skillmen and may very well have earned his spot “pulling the piano” again this season. Daniel Alfredsson wasn’t signed to play third or fourth line minutes, so count him in, too. Johan Franzen, the on-again-off-again scorer, is a lock for the second line, as well.
ZETTERBERG :: DATSYUK :: ABDELKADER
FRANZEN :: WEISS :: ALFREDSSON
THE THIRD LINE
Things start to get a little tricky right around here because the Wings have no shortage of third/fourth line-type guys. With Darren Helm’s injury issues last season (more on that later), it leaves a pretty gigantic question mark right in the center of the lineup. But let’s assume (and pray) that his recovery is going as well as they say it is and pencil him in for his normal spot.
Gustav Nyquist, once he’s signed, has more than earned his role on this team and his play on the third line in the playoffs was inspired. While he may be a better fit for a top six role eventually, the Wings have shown he’s more valuable than nearly any other winger on this line. The other winger, however, is left wide open with the departure of Damien Brunner (assuming, of course). If Dan Cleary is indeed re-signed, he’ll be a nice fit for this location, but then even more bodies will have to be moved out. Using just the players already under contract (or RFAs who will be), it’s fair to assume the following:
NYQUIST :: HELM :: Free Space #1
THE FOURTH LINE
Drew Miller was re-signed to a long-term deal, and he’s proven to be a kick-ass penalty killer. He’s body #1 on this line.
Joakim Andersson, who played the third line center position so well in the playoffs, is a lock for a spot on this team, it’s just a matter of where. It’s fair to assume that this is his spot unless he bumps up a line in case of Darren Helm injury.
Like the line above this one, there’s a free spot open for the taking.
MILLER :: ANDERSSON :: Free Space #2
Four lines with three guys each makes 12. The Wings will carry 14 forwards into the season (in addition to the 7 defensemen and 2 goaltenders). In addition to the two “free spaces” shown above, we’re left with four holes on the active roster and the following guys to fill them:
1. Mikael Samuelsson
2. Todd Bertuzzi
3. Tomas Tatar
4. Patrick Eaves
5. Cory Emmerton
6. Jordin Tootoo
Two of those guys will be gone. Which two? Let’s explore.
WORKING IN MIKAEL SAMUELSSON’S FAVOR
A) It sounds ridiculous, but his atrocious contract is the main reason that he’ll be on the opening day roster. Forget for a second that he’s being paid $3M to do… something… and recall that he was given a no-trade clause, making him difficult — but not impossible — to move. Any trade would need his stamp of approval, and he’s unlikely to give it to go to, say, Carolina. Plus, this is the second-year of a multi-year deal signed after his 35th birthday, meaning all money will count against the cap, even if he’s waived or demoted. The only relief will come via trade (which, again, he has to agree to), long-term injured reserve (which is an option because he spent most of last season on it), or buyout (but, the amnesty window has closed, meaning a significant chunk of that will be counted against the cap).
B) Mike Babcock loves this dude, for some reason. He’s large, which probably has something to do with it, and takes plenty of shots, even if they ever-s0-rarely hit the net.
C) Of all the guys listed above, he’s one of the few that can slot up into a top six role in case of an injury or penalty or whatever. There are guys I’d rather see get the nod (Nyquist, Tatar, even Bertuzzi), but there’s no doubt he’s got the experience to make such a bounce.
WORKING AGAINST MIKEAL SAMUELSSON
A) I skirted around it a bit earlier, but let’s just lay it out there: he’s pretty goddamn useless on this team. He brings nothing to the table that isn’t already available in spades.
B) His salary IS the highest among the guys potentially on the move. And while that contract will be tough to move, perhaps he’s more open to a trade when he realizes that he’ll be buried in the lineup or the press box… or scratched so long that he’s eligible for conditioning stints, opening up the possibility that he plays more for the Griffins than the Red Wings.
C) With the youth movement taking place in Motown, there’s no a ton of room on the ice for a 36-year-old dude that barely sniffed game action a year ago.
WORKING IN TODD BERTUZZI’S FAVOR
A) He’s a great team guy and they opted NOT to buy him out, leading you to believe that they’ve got a place for him if he’s healthy enough to take it.
B) He’s gigantic, and that’ll help in the more physical East.
C) Generally, players who have committed to the Red Wings for the kind of time that Bertuzzi has are treated with the same kind of commitment from the organization. Though he spent much of last season on LTIR, he has played parts of five seasons with Detroit and continues to re-sign deals because it’s clear he likes being a Red Wing. And, like Samuelsson, he’s on a 35+ deal and has a modified no-trade clause.
WORKING AGAINST TODD BERTUZZI
A) For a lot of the same reasons listed with Samuelsson, Bertuzzi is a dying breed on this incarnation of the Detroit Red Wings. He’s older (38) than anyone else on the list, and may not be able to keep up with the speed of the game any longer.
B) While he missed most of the season, the team didn’t seem to suffer from his absence.
C) Seventeen years in the NHL is a ton. And his injury history is painful to read, so imagine living it. He can’t retire, per se, because it can count against the cap… but he can “be hurt” the whole season to free up roster space and cap space.
WORKING IN TOMAS TATAR’S FAVOR
A) He’s a young stud, and showed that he can play at the NHL level whenever he was called upon to do so.
B) He’s hitting the Wings at the right time — 22-years-old when the Wings are finally admitting it’s time to get younger.
C) He can play anywhere… he’s an eventual top sixer (somewhere, if not Detroit), but will slot nicely on the three’s or, as is the Wings Way, the four’s.
WORKING AGAINST TOMAS TATAR
A) He’s already unhappy with the organization. If you recall last year, he expressed his displeasure with the opportunity that he’d received to play in the NHL up to that point. After four years of an entry-level contract, he’s played 25 games — which is quite a bit fewer than he would have played on any other team. Also, he was not one of the call-ups made available for the playoffs, with the team opting instead to go with Nyquist, DeKeyser, Andersson, and Lashoff.
B) The numbers! His #21 was given to Luke Glendening for prospects camp (which, obviously, doesn’t mean a whole lot), and even though he requested #90, it was given to Stephen Weiss. Seems pretty clear they don’t give a shit what Tomas Tatar wants on his back.
C) He’s probably the most valuable trade chip of the six guys listed as potential goners. He’s the youngest, has the most upside, is extremely cheap (and will be a RFA instead of a UFA), and is a proven scorer at every level. There would be no shortage of takers on the market.
WORKING IN PATRICK EAVES’ FAVOR
A) He’s a hell of a penalty killer, and a great guy in the locker room by all accounts.
B) He’s the quintessential Red Wing: cast out by another team too early and given a renaissance in the Motor City.
C) He won’t make a fuss if he’s playing on the third line, the fourth line, or just practicing with the team. Extremely low maintenance.
WORKING AGAINST PATRICK EAVES
A) He doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table that Drew Miller doesn’t already do. And with Miller’s new deal, it’s clear that the Wings are handing the reins of the PK over to #20.
B) Eaves’ injury history is problematic — even if it is inspirational to see him return after almost a year away from the game.
C) Even though he’s relatively cheap, paying a guy $1.2M to sit in the press box (when he’s healthy) might make some folks cringe.
WORKING IN CORY EMMERTON’S FAVOR
A) The biggest plus in Emmerton’s corner is the questionable back of Darren Helm. The team would be wise to hang onto Emmerton until they know what’s going on with Helm — who will have played only 1 game in 18 months when the next season begins. If Helm can’t go, Andersson bumps up to his spot… but there needs to be a fourth line center, and Emmerton would be it.
B) If you’re hanging onto two extra forwards, it’s never a bad idea that one of them is a center anyway.
C) Look at how cheap he is! His cap hit is actually below the league minimum. Jettisoning him won’t really help the team’s cap situation.
WORKING AGAINST CORY EMMERTON
A) Like Tatar, he’s young and very cheap. That’s an attractive combination to teams looking for help.
B) Plus, he was a monster on the penalty kill late in the season… he’d be a heck of a find for a team looking to improve in that area. Special teams guys don’t grow on trees.
C) He’s not irreplaceable, as much as I like him. There are plenty of centers coming through the pipe, including Riley Sheahan, who only has one more year of waiver exemption.
WORKING IN JORDIN TOOTOO’S FAVOR
A) He’s a tenacious little shit, which will be helpful in the Eastern Conference, which is full of flies.
B) He has two more years on his three-year deal, and the Wings clearly had a plan for him when signing him to that length.
C) Even though that part of the game is disappearing, the Wings don’t have anyone else who’s willing and able to drop the gloves. And there will be more gloves on the ice next season than in years past, I assume. His element is not immediately replaceable.
WORKING AGAINST JORDIN TOOTOO
A) It’s clear that he’s a spare part when all other parts are healthy (or, even, not), playing a single game in the playoffs. It’s possible that the reciprocated love had worn off as the season went along.
B) He does NOT have a no-trade clause, so it’s a fair bet that he’d be movable to SOMEWHERE, given his history of agitating and an easier-to-swallow-than-most salary of $1.9M.
C) While his playing style may be valuable in general… it’s never been that important to the Red Wings. Of course, they signed him to this deal, maybe it’s a business they wanted to get into, or were preparing for this realignment, but other teams have always valued pugilism more than the Red Wings have.
7. Helm (assuming good health)
The Rest (alphabetical order):
So… which four stay, and which two go?