As the dust settled from what is widely considered a successful day one of free agency, Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland and Head Coach Jeff Blashill began to explain how they envision the roster working. With newcomers Mike Green and Brad Richards in the fold, the Wings have a wealth of talent and depth that they will have to piece together. How exactly do Mike Green and Brad Richards fit in, and should Red Wings fans be excited by the possibilities, or terrified by the what is still to come?
After inking Green to a three-year, $18 million deal, Coach Blashill began to talk about how he envisions Green fitting in:
Blashill likes idea of pairing together the offensive Green and defensive DeKeyser but said nothing is finalized as far as lines/parings.— Ansar Khan (@AnsarKhanMLive) July 2, 2015
Surprisingly, fans from Washington and other teams noted that Green was at best a 3rd pairing defenseman in Washington by the end of the season and was heavily sheltered to reduce his defensive burden. Ultimately many felt that Detroit overpaid for a defenseman that will be exposed if he plays significant top-4 minutes like he is expected to. However, I believe this statement to be flawed in a few different ways.
Green's Defensive Partner
Last season, Green spent a majority of his 5v5 minutes paired up with Nate Schmidt, playing roughly 30% of his minutes with Schmidt. Later in the season and in the playoffs Green was paired up with veteran Tim Gleason. No disrespect to Schmidt or Gleason, but Schmidt has career totals of three goals and 10 points and Gleason couldn't catch an elephant in quicksand. Obviously there were certain plays that were clearly Green's fault and he's definitely not the most sound defensive player in the league, but you have to imagine that the quality of his partner may have resulted in Green being placed in more adverse situations. Check out Green's most frequent partner (determined by most 5v5 minutes played with Green) from each of the past five seasons.
|Season||Most Frequent Defense Partner|
In Detroit, Green looks like he'll be paired up with stud Danny DeKeyser. This past season, among the 108 defensemen who played at least 1000 5v5 minutes, DeKeyser finished 3rd in shot attempts against/60 minutes, 2nd in scoring chances against/60 minutes, and 10th in high-danger scoring chances/60 minutes. Did I mention that he's only 25 years old? You could argue that DeKeyser is the most defensively sound partner that Green has ever had. Green will be free to play his game and join the rush more frequently, leading to more odd-man chances.
The fact is, Green was brought here to help the Wings generate offense from the blue line. Last season, the Red Wings blue scored just 84 5v5 points, their lowest total in more than a decade. The blue line averaged just 0.66 points.60 minutes at 5v5, the lowest rate for a full season in the salary cap era. Over the last three years, Mike Green has averaged 1.04 points/60 minutes, which is tied for 10th among all defensemen who have played at least 3000 5v5 minutes in the past three seasons. By comparison, Niklas Kronwall ranks 47th at 0.74 5v5 points/60 minutes.
With every contract comes some level of risk. Over the past five seasons, Green has missed 118 games, or 72 more than Nick Lidstrom missed in his entire 20-year career. Green has played a full 82 games just one time, back in 2007-2008. With the memories of Stephen Weiss still fresh in Wings' fans minds, there has to be some level of concern that this might be another wasted contract. However, you'll never get anywhere by being afraid to take risks. GM Holland has taken a calculated risk here and hopefully Green can overcome his injury woes. He's played at least 70 games in each of the past two seasons, so the Red Wings will hope that this trend continues.
Top-5 Second-Line Center?
The initial reaction from most fans after signing Brad Richards was that the Wings acquired another washed up veteran and that there was a potential for a "Modano" situation. Take a look at the following table and see if you can identify which player is Brad Richards.
|Player||5v5 Corsi For%||5v5 iHSC/60||5v5 iPoints/60|
How many of you guessed that player B was Brad Richards? Kind of strange to see that he had more 5v5 points/60 minutes that Tomas Tatar (player A), Valtteri Filppula (player C), Ryan Kesler (player D), and David Desharnais (player E). Essentially, Richards was one of the top second-line centers in the NHL last season and is still very much capable of contributing in a big way. Ever since Filppula left Detroit, the Wings have been looking to solidify the 2C spot so that Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg can play together. The Wings have tried Weiss and Riley Sheahan but have had limited success. Richards might be Detroit's best attempt to fill that spot and he comes in on a one-year deal that won't block the development of Dylan Larkin. In fact, Richards was key in the Blackhawks playoff run as he allowed head coach Joel Quenneville to pair Jonathan Toews with Patrick Kane at times when the Hawks needed to manufacture offense.
Father Time Is Undefeated
The downside to Richards is that at some point he has to regress. Richards is 35 years old and his 0.49 points/game this past season was the fewest of his career. Richards also benefitted from playing more than 50% of his 5v5 minutes with Kane. Richards will not have the opportunity to play with a player as talented as Kane this season and thus could be due for a further decline in his play. If Blashill does elect to play Datsyuk and Zetterberg together, the likely candidate to fill out that line is Justin Abdelkader, meaning that Richards will get to play with Tatar and Gustav Nyquist. While both of those players are exceptional in their own right, neither matches up to Kane at the moment.
Both Green and Richards fill big holes for Detroit, but unfortunately their addition has created a roster logjam. The Wings now have 10 forwards (not including Andy Miele and Joakim Andersson) and nine defensemen under contract with four more RFA forwards to sign. The Wings have $4.8 million in cap space, but will be able to raise that amount to $6.25 million after sending Andersson and Miele down to Grand Rapids. Holland has mentioned that he'd like to move some guys but that he won't rush it. The Wings have until September to get under the salary cap and will look for the best deal for the franchise. There are a few options for the Wings when it comes to identifying a player to move but the thought is still terrifying. By my estimates, the Wings will have to get rid of at least two defensemen and one to two forwards. Despite the mess that is the Wings roster, I'm of the belief that the Wings made the right moves and that this season will be more exciting than terrifying.