Clearing the Logjam

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

THE RESERVES
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.

Locks:
1. Datsyuk
2. Zetterberg
3. Weiss
4. Alfredsson
5. Franzen
6. Abdelkader
7. Helm (assuming good health)
8. Miller
9. Andersson
10. Nyquist

The Rest (alphabetical order):
11. Bertuzzi
12. Eaves
13. Emmerton
14. Samuelsson
15. Tatar
16. Tootoo

So… which four stay, and which two go?

8 thoughts on “Clearing the Logjam”

  1. Tatar has to stay and eaves too. I’d like to hang onto Tootoo and emmerton. Bertuzzi and Sammy can go

  2. Since I don’t think there’s a way that, after Andersson and Nyquist sign, there’s going to be a specific need to dump guys based solely on cap hit, I’m only going to consider players on their merits and their usefulness. While it would be nice overall to flat out be rid of Samuelsson’s $3m hit just because the number offends me, I wouldn’t call that a strong piece of consideration.

    That said, I think Bertuzzi is the most-flexible piece the Wings have and that makes him the safest. If he’s healthy, he can be on a top line. If there’s no room for him there, he’s shown willingness to play well on lower lines and chemistry with Helm. I also don’t expect him to make a big stink about being not healthy enough to play.

    Tatar is the most-skilled and would be the hardest to part with for me, because I’d rather have a skill guy like Tatar on the fourth line than a pest/fighter. If we’re looking for guys to provide energy, there’s not much like actually creating scoring chances to do that.

    Eaves and Emmerton are in direct competition here for me. Both of them PK well. Eaves is a better scorer, but Emmerton is a center. I’d make peace with parting with either one of them, really. I think if the value in return for their departure were equal (which it wouldn’t be… but the difference probably won’t be important), I’d keep Eaves. I think Eaves drives possession better than Emmerton does. The emergency fourth line center consideration is there, but in short cases of being without Helm, I probably let Miller slot awkwardly there. I probably accomplish this by letting Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Weiss take those 4th line faceoffs with Miller on the wing and then changing as soon as possible to get a replacement winger out there, leaving Miller to play the rest of the shift at the center position.

    This also leaves Tootoo in competition with Samuelsson. Both are supposed to be more difficult to play against right-handed shooters. Tootoo is more of a pest while Samuelsson is ALMOST a big forward. Honestly, I would use either in the emergency top six role if I absolutely had to. Tootoo’s 30-point season in Nashville might have been a fluke, but I think it tasked as the piano-mover, Tootoo can be temporarily effective doing that. I also think the Wings essentially have a plan going forward to use a guy like Tootoo as a regular season specialist whose usefulness disappears in the playoffs. He doesn’t so much keep flies off as he’s just kind of a punishment magnet. All in all, I’d try to get rid of Samuelsson, but I’d live with getting rid of Tootoo instead. One way or another, I’d have the one of these two which we keep as a healthy scratch almost all the time.

  3. I think Samuelsson is either outright gone or off to LTIR. I think Bertuzzi sticks around in camp until something happens with his nephew Tyler, and then is off to LTIR or hangs the skates up as a Red Wing. Either Tatar or Emmerton will get dangled as potential trade fodder, and possibly Jordin Tootoo.

    Not mentioned in the mix: Danny Cleary. Yes, he’s not the player he once was, but he found a way to contribute in the playoffs despite a broken finger and separated shoulder- and he’s one of the character guys/reclamation projects Babcock really likes. He’s also got some of the size of a Bertuzzi, and has demonstrated that he’ll play on either wing, on any line, and any situation the team asks- even when he probably shouldn’t be in the lineup at all.

    I don’t think that Helm returning in short order is a given. In fact, I think it’s something of a long shot at best at this point that we’ll see him before the season starts, which could make space for a fifth guy to stick around of the laundry list of possibles.

  4. It would be beyond frustrating to see Tatar get moved, but it is easy to see happening as he is the most valuable piece the Wings have. The Wings tout their long development process as making their players as good as they are when they reach the league but Tatar and Nyquist are really the first two in a while who will be brought up that can make an immediate scoring impact. To go through that long development process just to let him go after also letting Brunner walk just doesn’t make sense to me. Hopefully his attitude will be somewhat tempered by the fact that while he was not brought up during the playoffs, he was given a chance to offensively lead the Griffins to a championship.

    The two I would like to see gone are Tootoo and Samuelsson. Tootoo has just never struck me as a piece the Wings needed. Maybe that changes going into the East but the Wings have had to deal with douche bag teams before ie. Anaheim and have had success. I think we need the Helm/Emmerton/Eaves type guys who can wear on the other teams players through speedy tenacious play more than we actually need the physically confrontational players. Tootoo might be tenacious but most of his gloves dropping escapades this year seemed to be set matches that served little to no purpose. I don’t really recall him ever actually stepping in to fight someone in the defense of one of his teammates.

    Samuelsson is just worthless at this point. Older, injury prone, with a large contract for what he has brought to the table recently. I have little doubt he would have been bought out if he wasn’t “injured”. Sadly these two guys are the hardest to move. So I’m doubtful I’ll get my wish, but one can hope.

    I think Emmerton, Eaves, Bertuzzi all serve a purpose on the team. Bert is just a good team mate who as you’ve pointed is willing to help out wherever he can on the team. Though sadly his time a a shootout specialist might be on the decline with the ending legality of the spin-o-rama. Emmerton being the the emergency back up center who has started to play a very Helm like game. Eaves being are great teammate and has speed PK ability and flashes of skill and scoring prowess make him valuable to the team going forward.

    What I think is likely to happen since they are waiting until training camp is that they’ll see how Helm has progressed and trade Emmerton if he’s doing better. I think Tootoo is the other one to be moved as he does have some value and the lack of a NTC.

  5. Some thoughts on Tatar:

    #1 – After winning the Calder Cup, Tatar was interviewed (I believe on the flight back, but for the life of me, I cannot find it) and I recall Tatar saying that Holland had called him after the win and basically told him he had a roster spot on the Red Wings next year.

    Now obviously, business is business, and nothing says that Tatar couldn’t be moved, but it would seem weird for Holland to give the thumbs up and then trade the guy.

    #2 – You mentioned his attitude and strained relationship with the team. I don’t know if he was publicly negotiating when he made those comments in the off season. But certainly it had an effect. I thought it was curious that those comments happened and then he sorta got bumped up ahead of Goose on the depth chart for awhile.

    Having said that, we could be in a kind of situation like Fedorov or Ian White – if he’s showing this kind of displeasure, then when it comes time to re-sign him next year as an RFA, he may hold out for big money and wait for an offer sheet to force our hand. Or maybe the Wings let him sit and stew like they did with White.

    #3: If they are going to trade Tatar, now may be the time to do it. Calder Cup winning, playoff MVP, one year to go before he becomes an RFA. Could unload him on another team for a big name or a big draft pick. His stock could rise higher if he blows up the NHL, or it could plummet if he struggles. If you’re going to move him, move him now.

    #4 – Damien Brunner may actually sort influence what happens with Tatar. Tatar and Brunner serve the same kind of role on the team, and he’s heading off somewhere else. Tatar may very well look at Brunner and say, “Shit, I can do that!”

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