Is it alright if I call you Ken? Well, I'm going to do it anyway. Ken, it occurs to me that you've had a difficult past couple of weeks, so I've spent some time thinking about just why that is. After the first day of free agency wound down, you said, "We made pitches to a number of defensemen. For a variety of reasons, they opted to go elsewhere. I don't know why they're not coming here." Today is apparently your lucky day, because I'm going to explain why it is that the Red Wings aren't a premiere organization in the eyes of free agents.
Over-ripen. You like that word. It seems to define your philosophy on prospect management. It's slowly killing your franchise.
We all remember early in this past season when you said in an interview that the NHL "is a men's league. [..] Kids aren't the answer." Not only are you wrong about that, your perception of what "kids" are is pretty skewed. Your "men's league" quote was in part a reference to Gustav Nyquist, drafted in 2008, who is 24. In the same draft class as Nyquist are names like Stamkos, Doughty, Karlsson, Pietrangelo, Stepan, Carlson, Voinov, and Myers. Yes, that Tyler Myers. The one whose name has been appearing frequently in trade rumors with Detroit since early July. Now, you may protest that Nyquist was a fourth-round pick while most of those were first-rounders. That's a fair point.
How about we look at the draft from 2007? You had a first round pick in that draft who's now in the NHL. Played over a hundred games, too! Guy by the name of Brendan Smith. He's still finding his way in the NHL, but it takes a while for everybody, right? Well, I don't really think so. Guys drafted after Smith in that draft include PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Alec Martinez, Jamie Benn, Jake Muzzin, Carl Hagelin, Carl Gunnarsson, and Justin Braun.
Wait a second. Doughty, Voinov, Martinez, Muzzin. They play for the Kings. Just won the Cup last month. Did you know that their top 4 scoring defensemen were 26 or under? Anze Kopitar is only 26, too. The Kings even had 4 other forwards that were 24 or under play most of their playoff games: Tyler Toffoli, Dwight King, Tanner Pearson, and Kyle Clifford. That's 9 of 19 regulars during their playoff run that were younger than Jakub Kindl.
For the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks, they had 10 of 19 regulars on their playoff roster age 26 or younger. They won a Stanley Cup. The 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings? 10 of 19 age 26 or under. Won a Cup. The 2010-11 Boston Bruins? 7 of 19 age 26 or under (8 of 20 if you include Tyler Seguin playing in 13 of 25 games). Won a Cup. The 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks? 13 of 20 playoff regulars were age 26 or under. Guess what they did that year. Won a Cup! Ok, I'll stop.
We're talking about literally half the active rosters of the last 5 Stanley Cup winners that were 26 or younger. Now, you may say that your roster is full of young players, so obviously I'm mistaken about what you're doing. Here's the thing: you have young players on your roster, but you're trying your hardest to block their path to the NHL with mediocre veterans. You re-signed Quincey and Cleary, which means you have 13 forwards and 6 defensemen under contract right now who are projected to be on the NHL roster. It'll be 14 and 7 when Tatar and DeKeyser sign. Why do I bring this up? Because signing Cleary means Jurco, the only waiver exempt player of those 21, is a lock to start the season in Grand Rapids, even though he put up 15 points in 36 games at age 21. It would have taken Cleary 97 games to rack up 15 points at his scoring pace last year.
It's not just Jurco, either. Your 2013 first round draft pick, Anthony Mantha, looks like he's ready to challenge for a spot on the NHL roster. Well, he would be challenging for a spot if there were a spot available. But, as we just discussed, you'll already have 13 other forwards on the roster who aren't exempt from waivers. You already have 9 forwards signed for 2015-16 who aren't waiver exempt, with Nyquist, Andersson, Jurco, and Tatar possibly restricted free agents after this season. You just signed Tomas Nosek, possibly with the intent to play him. So, if we add those 9 under contract, Mantha, the 4 RFAs, and Nosek, that gives us...15 forwards for the 2015-16 season. That's too many. And it doesn't even take into account other prospects like Pulkkinen, Athanasiou, and Callahan.
Did you hear what your old front office-mate Jim Nill said last week? "I’m excited about our defense. We’ve got three or four young kids that are knocking on the door from the Calder Cup championship down in Texas. We think we’ve got lots of different options. We know they’re all going to get better. We think we’re going to be just fine." You, on the other hand, have 5 defensemen signed for the next two years (but no right-handed shots) and will have 7 under contract for 2014-15 once DeKeyser signs. When exactly will Backman, Jensen, Ouellet, Marchenko, and Sproul get experience at the NHL level? And for that matter, why re-sign Quincey, who is neither a top-4 defenseman nor a right-handed shot, when you have 4 or 5 high-level defensive prospects nearly ready to make the jump to the NHL? You even have a couple right-hand shots in Grand Rapids!
You may talk about how much you like your prospect pool, but you show absolutely no signs of willingly allowing them to play for your team.
Oh, right. I was supposed to be telling you why free agents don't want to sign in Detroit. If you haven't figured it out already, it's because you've mismanaged the roster to such a degree that you've made it impossible for any prospects to graduate to the NHL without several prolonged injuries. And then, even when they've proved they belong in the men's league, in cases like Nyquist and Jurco, you sign Dan flipping Cleary to force them back down to Grand Rapids.
Why would anyone want to join a team that can't get incorporate their young talent because the active roster is a complete logjam? The team's window to win with Datsyuk and Zetterberg is closing and it seems like there's no plan in place to allow your kids to jump into the lineup and gain the experience necessary to succeed at the NHL level. What happens when a handful of your D prospects aren't exempt from waivers to start the 2016-17 season? They won't have had the opportunity to spend time in the NHL before either committing to them or letting them go. And as we've seen with Smith, Kindl, and Ericsson, it can take a while for a defenseman to get comfortable playing in the NHL.
In short, you don't let the talent decide who makes the team; you play favorites. And that's a problem.
Anyway, I've rambled on with this vaguely stream-of-consciousness letter long enough. And you probably stopped listening when I started talking Tyler Myers to make some phone calls about a trade.
Hugs and Kisses,