[Ed Notes: This post originally appeared on The Production Line on November 29, 2013 and is reposted here with permission from Michael Petrella. The entirety of this post remains his intellectual property. You can follow @TPLHockey for more of his stuff]
If you follow @TPLHockey on Twitter, you’ve no doubt noticed that I’m one of the more outspoken critics of the way that this current Red Wings team has been assembled, and the arguable mismanagement of the roster — and the way that the younger players have been handled — the last few off-seasons. I’m not going to get into details of those matters here, because it’s in the past and — on the whole — this team is the cream of the league and has been for decades. While I don’t think the moves have been good ones, they’re over and done with and there’s no point in stomping feet and holding breath until we turn purple.
Instead, let’s look forward — what we can expect in the year(s) following.
In order to do so, we must first look at what’s guaranteed. The following players have one-way contracts with the Red Wings for the 2014-15 season (and in many cases, far beyond), barring the team using their second compliance buyout. Ignore the line matches.
DEFENSEMEN Kronwall :: Ericsson DeKeyser (RFA) :: Kindl Smith :: Lashoff 7: ____
GOALTENDERS Howard ____
So, as you can see — we’re three forwards (four if Tootoo is waived and demoted again, or bought out), one defenseman, and a backup goaltender away from a complete 23-man roster.
Is it unreasonable to expect that ALL of the free agents will not be re-signed? The answer, of course, is yes. Yes, it is. I’m sure that some of the following players will be given new deals… but remember, the more of them that are brought back, the fewer waiver-eligible players will be given a chance to make the Red Wings.
FORWARDS Daniel Alfredsson Todd Bertuzzi Dan Cleary Patrick Eaves Cory Emmerton (RFA, but may be granted outright UFA status) Mikael Samuelsson
DEFENSEMEN Kyle Quincey
GOALTENDERS Jonas Gustavsson
Is there anything glaring about this list? Taking it from the top, let’s check out the likelihoods of return tours of service.
Daniel Alfreddson – a very pleasant surprise on the season, but still a 40-something throwback to the old Red Wings Way. If the Wings continue their youth movement, he may not be brought back, but he’s certainly played well enough and has fit in perfectly. Perhaps he takes one of those forward slots.
Todd Bertuzzi – surprisingly durable the last few years, he’s a very valuable member of the current forward corps. That said, he’s a 38-year-old power forward with plenty of miles on that back, those legs, and that brain. If he decides to hang them up, it’ll be his decision, but if he wants to keep playing, he’ll very likely be a Red Wing again.
Dan Cleary – in what was the most over-analyzed signing in recent memory, Cleary’s one-year pact was supposed to be a bridge to a longer-term extension after turning down a multi-year deal from the Flyers. A favorite of Coach Mike Babcock, he has yet to prove he has a place on the current team and is honestly the most likely candidate to be the next one waived when players come back from injury. Given the disaster of a season he’s having, it’s hard to imagine that management would bring him back barring a 180-degree turnaround.
Patrick Eaves – fair to say that he’ll be given his walking papers, free to sign elsewhere where he’ll have a better chance of staying in the NHL. And he deserves that, frankly.
Cory Emmerton – technically a restricted free agent, I can’t imagine the Wings would send him a qualifying offer. Thus, he becomes an unrestricted free agent.
Mikael Samuelsson – Oof. Just say goodbye and get it over with already, Mr. Holland.
Kyle Quincey – it’s difficult to imagine that they wouldn’t re-sign him because not doing so would indicate that Ken Holland make a SECOND mistake with this very same player: first, letting him go via waivers, and second, trading a first round draft pick for a few seasons of him in his later 20′s. That said, if he’s re-signed, the defense will be identical to the current one.
Jonas Gustavsson – the final signing of the Summer of Regret (TM) is having himself a great season. If the Wings don’t think that Petr Mrazek is ready for prime-time (he is), don’t be surprised to see a Conklin-like return by Gustavsson for one more year. Given how last season went, he may be too far down the rabbit hole to redeem himself, but what do I know?
Now, the waiver situation. The following players will be out of waiver exemption and will have to pass through in order to be assigned to Grand Rapids.
Again, taking it from the top, there are a few things that we can deduce immediately.
Louis-Marc Aubry – never able to solidify himself as an AHLer and currently in the ECHL, it’s likely that the Wings do not send him a qualifying offer, making him a UFA. If he’s (somehow) re-signed, he doesn’t factor into the Red Wings’ NHL plans.
Mitch Callahan – he’s certainly making this decision interesting. He’s also a RFA and you can bet your ass he’s at the very least earned himself a new contract. He’s playing very, very well in Grand Rapids and seems like he knows this is his last shot with the Wings. He has never gotten a regular season call-up, so it’s hard to know what he’d bring to the NHL, but if I had the freedom to do so, I’d give him a ring the next time injuries pile up to see if he has something worth keeping around the big leagues.
Landon Ferraro – Another RFA, he’s as good as re-signed. Given where he was drafted (32nd overall… practically a first rounder… and by the Red Wings, no less), there’s absolutely no chance in hell he makes it through waivers. Like Callahan, it’d be wise to see him in NHL action before just-about-guaranteeing him a roster spot next season because of his waiver situation.
Andrej Nestrasil andTrevor Parkes – Unfortunately for these fine gentlemen, their time in the Red Wings organization is #overbanger.
Riley Sheahan – Like Ferraro, he’s pretty much guaranteed a spot on the opening night roster. The difference, of course, is that he has played a handful of NHL games in the past. The Wings won’t be short on centers to start the season. And it does NOT include Luke Glendening.
Adam Almquist – The top defensive call-up this season has to make the Red Wings next season or he absolutely will be lost via waivers. That certainly complicates the Kyle Quincey situation, or — alternatively — any addition they hope to make to the blueline via free agency.
Gleason Fournier – Not in the future plans, given the trajectory he’s had in the minors.
So… back to the roster, assuming a few promotions to the big club and ZERO re-signed players:
Top call-ups in Grand Rapids: Luke Glendening (waivers 2015), Tomas Jurco (waivers 2015), Teemu Pulkkinen (waivers 2015), Calle Jarnkrok (waivers 2016), Anthony Mantha (waivers 2017 if he turns pro, which he will).
DEFENSEMEN Kronwall :: Ericsson DeKeyser :: Kindl Smith :: Lashoff Almquist
Top call-ups in Grand Rapids: Xavier Ouellet (waivers 2016), Ryan Sproul (waivers 2016)
GOALTENDERS Howard Mrazek
Top call-up in Grand Rapids: Jake Paterson (waivers 2017). Jared Coreau is having a rough start to his pro career (to put it unimaginably lightly), so don’t even mention him.
Can you imagine a world in which the Red Wings allow Daniels Alfredsson and Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Mikael Samuelsson, Kyle Quincey, and Jonas Gustavsson to walk away — ALL IN THE SAME OFF-SEASON — and stack their roster with not one, not two, not three, NOT FOUR — but FFFFFIIIIIVVEE rookies? I certainly can’t… but I also can’t stomach the idea of losing promising players for nothing via waivers.
The Wings have way of stockpiling potential NHLers and bringing everyone to training camp before eventually forming the roster we all see coming in July. For the first time in recent memory, the Wings will have several players that have to make the big club or will be exposed on the waiver wire. This past year, that only applied to Tomas Tatar — next season there are 8 players, three of which are guys who would absolutely be claimed, and a fourth would likely be claimed.
Now is the time to acknowledge that if you identify a player that will not have an impact on your NHL roster, but may be of value to someone else, then perhaps you cut the cord and deal that player. Take, for example, Landon Ferraro. If he was a Calgary Flame prospect, he’d be in the NHL by now. He knows that. The Red Wings know that. If the Red Wings also know that he doesn’t have a place on the big team’s roster in 2014-15, why hang on to him any longer?
If there’s a chance that the youngsters could make the team out of training camp (a phenomenon that hasn’t happened in recent memory), then that’s another thing entirely. Complicating matters further is players who AREN’T included in this write-up — guys like Luke Glendening and Anthony Mantha. The former has proven to be a wonderful depth player, but exactly the kind of guy that the Wings will hang onto in Grand Rapids (back and forth) for another year because they can. The latter is an example of the kind of junior scorer the Red Wings have never had in the wings (pun!) and COULD, albeit unlikely, make the team as a 19 or 20 year old, but CERTAINLY before his waiver exemption expires.
Ultimately, do I think the most recent roster is the one the Wings take to the ice with in October? Absolutely not — there’s no way that all of those free agents are leaving, nor is there any way that that many young players join the already-fairly-young roster. But either the Ferraros and Sheahans make the roster, are traded elsewhere, or they’ll be snatched up for nothing.
In order of likeliness of making the roster, among the waiver-eligible rookies:
1. Riley Sheahan — book it. 2. Landon Ferraro — fairly guaranteed, even without an NHL game under his belt. 3. Adam Almquist — probably more deserving than Ferraro, but also less likely to be claimed on waivers. 4. Mitch Callahan — not guaranteed to be claimed, but will be if he keeps playing how he is. 5. Louis-Marc Aubry — relatively high draft pick to be given up for nothing. 6. Andrej Nestrasil — out. 7. Gleason Fournier — out. 8. Trevor Parkes — out.
And, also in order of likeliness of being on the roster, among the impending unrestricted free agents:
1. Todd Bertuzzi — as mentioned above, it’ll be his call, but he’s still got game. 2. Daniel Alfredsson — heck of a contributor, but they’ll have to determine his worth/risk ratio as it pertains to potential waiver moves. 3. Kyle Quincey — hard to imagine he’s not re-signed given the history, but they almost don’t have a choice. 4. Jonas Gustavsson — toss of a coin. 5. Dan Cleary — unless there’s a turnaround, he’s as redundant a player as the Wings have. 6. Patrick Eaves — wish him luck elsewhere. 7. Mikael Samuelsson — even management has to recognize the blunder.
Luke Glendening is also an unrestricted free agent, who will very likely be re-signed, but will probably not be on the NHL roster at the beginning of the season, barring injuries.
With (imaginary) extensions for Bertuzzi, Alfredsson, and Quincey — we’d be in a very similar situation heading into 2014-15 as we were heading into 2013-14 (and 2012-13… and 2011-12…), where there are several more players than there are roster spots. It’s impossible to make it through an entire season without injuries, and that’s very likely the reason there were 26 NHL players on the roster throughout training camp, despite the league only allowing 23 at a time.
So what do I think will happen as we move toward the next season of Detroit Red Wings hockey? Up front, I think that Sheahan and Ferraro are in — if for no other reasons than their stature as high draft picks and waiver eligibility. I think that one of Bertuzzi or Alfredsson are brought back, but probably not both, and certainly not "neither." I think the second amnesty buyout is used on Tootoo, which would put us as 12 forwards — leaving two spot for a Callahan surprise, a Mantha super-surprise, or free agent acquisitions.
On the back end, I think they may try to trade Quincey during this season, or potentially let him walk rather than giving him a raise for sub-average play. Almquist is in because they won’t want to risk losing him (despite a wealth of good prospects on the blueline coming in the following years).
In net, Gustavsson departs and Mrazek steps right in and — despite the former’s excellent season — the tandem is improved.
Kronwall :: Ericsson DeKeyser :: Kindl Smith :: Lashoff Almquist
This, obviously, doesn’t take into account other trades that may come — perhaps they look to upgrade that blueline by forfeiting one of the younger guys already on the roster, for example. With an open slot on the top line, someone like Dan Cleary (oh my God, can you imagine) or the second of Bertuzzi/Alfredsson make their way back into the lineup. But, again, that won’t improve the current roster too much, and the team runs the risk of becoming (even more) stagnant.
Looking outside of the organization, there are some free agents that will draw considerable attention. It’s hard to imagine that the Wings are in on guys like Marian Gaborik, Dany Heatley, Thomas Vanek, Joe Thornton, Alex Steen, Paul Stastny, or Jarome Iginla. But it’s possible they take a look at guys like Mike Cammalleri (whose pricetag will come way down), Ales Hemsky (ditto), David Legwand, or their ilk to fill out the forward lines. But, frankly, with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Nyquist, and Tatar, their top six is pretty well stocked… and is Stephen Weiss becomes the player they signed him to be, there’s not a lot of room up there. I won’t pretend to be a prognosticator of such things… I’m more of a numbers kind of guy — and the preceding is where we’re at looking ahead to the summer.