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Red Wings Roster: Big Decision Looms on Defense

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the fourth week since the Detroit Red Wings placed Jakub Kindl on injured reserve with an elbow injury. He missed the game against Boston on December 29th and was placed on IR the next day to accommodate the team bringing up Xavier Ouellet in his place. Updates have been scarce, but Kindl has been skating with the team since they returned from their Western Canada road trip.

The message has been consistent that they don't know how long it's going to take for his elbow to heal. He apparently got it caught awkwardly during a practice drill and has been unable to fully extend it since. We've had very little in the way of updates. On the 16th, Brendan Savage wrote for MLive that Kindl had seen a doctor previously in the week and was told to give it another week to heal,

Now it's closer to two weeks since then and we still don't know.

What we do know is that Xavier Ouellet has played in all ten games for the Wings since Kindl went down with injury and most of the fanbase doesn't want that to change. Ouellet has just one point in those ten games (a goal scored against Minnesota just before the All-Star break), but that goal tied Kindl's output for the year in the 28 games he had played. Ouellet has played 19.

While Kindl retains the outright points lead over Ouellet thanks to having six more assists, the numbers get a bit fuzzier thanks to the fact that Ouellet has been given more even-strength and PK time per game while Kindl has enjoyed 91 more seconds per game on the power play (1:39 per game for Kindl to 0:08/G for Ouellet). Seven of Kindl's nine points, including his two goals came with a man advantage. Ouellet has not been given that opportunity.

The fancier stats bear it out too: Ouellet has been the better defenseman. While both have been heavily sheltered, Kindl has enjoyed slightly more-beneficial zone starts and a slightly lower quality of competition while Xavier Ouellet's possession numbers have been better. Ouellet is currently riding a pretty heavy stretch of high PDO (a measure of how well the team is shooting and saving shots while he is on the ice), which helps explain the big plus/minus difference between the two, but as that regresses to a more-average number, it shouldn't hurt the underlying possession numbers.

Even without all of that, a vast majority of people can tell you by the eyeball test that Ouellet seems to have more say in the way the Red Wings move the puck forward and keep the puck out of danger in their own end. While Ouellet isn't perfect by any stretch, his bad games have been fewer and farther between. The bottom line is that with the two players healthy, Ouellet is the better choice for the Red Wings' lineup.

Wings Defense Usage Chart 27Jan2015

In the table from War-on-Ice.Com, you can see both the usage difference (higher indicates tougher competition while farther left indicates tougher zone start deployment), and the results difference (bigger circle indicates more time on ice while the deeper shade of blue indicates a higher relative Ccorsi, which is a measure of how well the team does at possessing the puck with a player on the ice versus how well they do when he is off the ice).

The Business Side

From a pure hockey standpoint, it's hard to argue that Kindl should be in the lineup over Ouellet when he's healthy. Hell, it's honestly hard to argue that Brendan Smith should be above Ouellet on the depth chart. The advantage that Kindl has is that he's waiver eligible and that the Wings have committed more time and resources to making him the defenseman he is today. The Wings can reassign Ouellet to Grand Rapids without having to expose him to waivers and risk he'll be claimed like Andrej Nestrasil was earlier this season.

However, that excuse is long-since worn out. While other teams show the willingness to bite the bullet and simply waive players they've been unable to trade (such as Damien Brunner in New Jersey and more recently Mike Richards in Los Angeles), Detroit continues to seem unwilling to risk "losing a guy for nothing."

Honestly, at this point, Kindl being taken off waivers would be an addition to the team. If he clears and is assigned, Detroit gets his roster space, but will only save $925K against the cap while he's in Grand Rapids. A waiver claim makes his cap hit somebody else's problem, giving Detroit an additional $1.475M with which to work. The loss of the potential for Kindl to reclaim the promise of his first-round draft pick projection is certainly a concern, but since an improbable playoff run for Kindl two seasons ago earned him his current $2.4M cap hit, the likelihood of that promise paying off has dwindled past the point of making it a sensible gamble anymore.

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Eventually, Detroit is going to have to take Jakub Kindl off Injured Reserve. It's possible that they continue to find ways to bump his expected return date from the elbow injury farther along, but sooner or later, they're going to run out of road down which to keep kicking the can. When that happens, I hope they're prepared to place a guy on waivers instead of sending a better defenseman back to a minor league system he no longer needs. The only loss for that is a gain in the space needed to ice a better lineup.