Detroit Red Wings Salary Cap Situation: Jordin Tootoo's Value

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This week's look at players who are most-likely to find themselves gone before the start of the season wraps up today. We've looked at destinations for the potential moves of Cory Emmerton, Mikael Samuelsson, and Patrick Eaves. This time, we've got Jordin Tootoo to go over.

Jordin Tootoo is the 30-year old former agitator-extraordinaire of the Nashville Predators who signed a three-year deal in Detroit last offseason for an average cap hit of $1.9M. He played 42 regular season games, putting up 8 points. His possession numbers were very poor. He was given quite easy zone and competition assignments and was handily beaten by opponents. Despite his reputation and quite high penalty rate, Tootoo actually drew more calls than he took.

Tootoo is a prototypical pest/grinder. His last season in Nashville showed what might be a good scoring touch, but if he still had it last season, he certainly wasn't showing it from Detroit's fourth line. His cap hit would be nice to have off the books as the Wings plan to sign their last RFA Gustav Nyquist and need to remove two players from their roster to be compliant. Here are some reasons the Wings may want to keep Tootoo around.

He's the Team's Only Real "Enforcer"

Of the Wings' 14 fights last season, Tootoo was involved in eight of those. Smith, Lashoff, Ericsson, and Abdelkader also got into the mix, but all of those guys are generally more important to have available over a five-minute stretch than the satisfaction of having watched them bust up a dude's nut-huffer makes it worth for them to drop the gloves. If some guy needs to get a taste of knuckular diplomacy, Jordin Tootoo is the best guy on the Wings to man the embassy.

...But

Look, there are two camps in hockey these days: those who think enforcers actually have a place in the NHL and those who think they're just kind of in the way. I like Jordin Tootoo, I really do, but I'm in the second camp there. I don't want to ban fighting and I think it has a place when allowed to develop naturally but I don't want a dedicated fighter who can't also outplay his opposition and I don't want a dedicated fighter who goes out looking to get into fights. Saying it simpler, I kind of don't want a designated fighter.

The "Tough" Eastern Conference/Regular Season Toughness

Tootoo's game isn't entirely about fighting. When he's out there, he makes other teams pay attention because he aggressively hits and forechecks. Apparently the East is way tougher than the West, so the Wings need a guy who can try to turn momentum against physical teams.

Also, Mike Babcock hinted this June at the difference between the regular season and playoffs essentially saying that a guy like Tootoo is valuable to have during the regular season when the game is played differently (and is more of a grind). I can at least anecdotally say that I feel Tootoo's tough physical game helped the Wings turn around an early April game against Colorado where the Avalanche came out with an extremely physical gameplan and Tootoo helped respond (The Wings won 3-2 although Tootoo didn't factor meaningfully on the scoresheet).

...But

Tootoo wouldn't have so many hits to lay in any given game if he were better at holding onto the puck and anecdotal evidence is fun within a narrative, but ultimately fairly useless in a real analysis. Also, I'm not sold on the "Tough East" theory. The East has been the lesser conference for a while here. If we're going to stretch Tootoo's style of play to the kind of stuff necessary to win a single game, can't we also stretch a correlation between the inferior conference and the idea that they play the "tougher" style?

Yes we can.

- - -

Will Tootoo stick around? I don't think so. Of all the players we've covered so far, Tootoo is the only one who the mysterious "source" has said the Wings were actively talking to other teams about. He brings a unique skill to the Wings, but it's not a terribly useful one in my estimation.

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