We've been hearing for the last couple weeks that the Red Wings are getting closer to being healthy on the blue line. Kyle Quincey is nearing his return to the Wings. Quincey hasn't played a game since the October 23rd game in Calgary, originally went through the concussion protocol before having ankle surgery for bone spurs. He would not have been considered much of a loss in prior years, but since a strong showing last season and a good 3 points in 7 games start for this year, Quincey is definitely worth giving a spot back to.
Unfortunately, this probably doesn't mean good things for the Wings defense, even if Quincey's return is a positive. In reading around the diggersphere in Red Wings land, it sure feels like we're being buttered up for Alexey Marchenko to move back to Grand Rapids:
- Ted Kulfan wrote "Marchenko feeling the pinch" in his post about the possibility of Quincey's return.
- Helene St. James wonders "What is Alexey Marchenko's future with Red Wings?"
- Ansar Khan went with "Alexey Marchenko thriving, but tough roster, lineup decisions looming"
All three of those articles say pretty much the same thing: Quincy is coming back, Marchenko has earned a spot, but the Wings' inability to move Jakub Kindl and potential unwillingness to lose Kindl to waivers indicates that the easiest move is to send the waiver-exempt Marchenko back to Grand Rapids to make space. Each of them use the same quotes from Blashill speaking glowlingly of Marchenko as being the team leader in preventing quality scoring chances, as counted by the Red Wings internal metrics (another positive indication that the Wings are paying attention to advanced stats at least).
Oddly, they all quote Holland as having told them that Kyle Quincey's return would require the Red Wings to make a cap move for Quincey's return as well. Since CapGeek is no longer around, there are a number of salary cap-tracking sites out there and none of them seem to agree with the Wings' GM about an official requirement to clear cap (though Holland's comments could indicate an internal cap for reasons of either financial planning or for the team trying to avoid carrying over bonus overages into next season).
For what it's worth, Marchenko's cap hit is $666,667, while the amount of space cleared by literally any other defenseman clearing waivers and being assigned to Grand Rapids would be $950,000
So Why Send Marchenko Down?
Let's be real clear, if the Red Wings send Alexey Marchenko down in favor of Kyle Quincey's return, it's a feature of the team getting "unlucky" enough to have Quincey's getting healthy not coinciding with somebody else getting hurt and it's a feature of the GM punting a decision to ice the best team in favor of trying to keep the most pieces. I'm sure the Red Wings have their own internal metrics which tell them who is and isn't good at playing defense. Blashill has already told us as much, and that Marchenko ranks high on one portion of those. From the metrics we have, Marchenko has played well enough and has shown that he's versatile enough to be worth keeping over Jakub Kindl.
The Wings Don't Have to make a Move
I want to go back up to the concept of the "need to clear cap room" argument real quick, because if there's not an official CBA requirement for the Wings to clear cap space to activate Quincey, then there's not a need to make any move at all. With Teemu Pulkkinen still weeks from returning, Quincey would become the 23rd player on the active roster, filling it out with 13 forwards, 2 goalies, and 8 defensemen. Holland has told the diggers he doesn't plan to carry 8 D-men, but he didn't really clarify whether he meant "ever" or if he meant "all season." There's a good argument in favor of activating Quincey without moving a D-Man out while the Wings are still out West through the end of next week.
If there's a true cap need, then yeah, we'll see somebody moved out; I just can't find any information that suggests it's true there is a cap need.
Marchenko is a Ticking Waiver Time Bomb
The thing is that if we were having this conversation about five weeks later, it wouldn't even be a discussion. Marchenko started the season needing 52 NHL games played to reach waiver eligibility. To this point he's played 34 of those games. Were Marchenko to keep up an ironman streak for 18 more games, he'd reach waiver eligibility on February 20th against the Senators.
Sadly, until then, he remains the easiest to move around to make space. One way or another, the pending RFA will be waiver eligible next season. What this means if he does get sent down though is that another defensive injury for the Wings could mean that Xavier Ouellet would get recalled over Marchenko just to avoid the waiver wire again.
What to Watch For
Chuck Pleiness tweeted today that the Red Wings won't make a move today to activate Quincey from IR, but it's still possible he could be activated on Sunday to get into the lineup against Anaheim. If Quincey is going to be activated and if they are going to make a move to make either roster or cap space that they don't really need to make, then we'll need to keep an eye on the waiver wire on Saturday. Waivers run from noon one day to noon the next, so if the Wings have to send a guy through waivers to make space on Sunday, it has to happen on Saturday's midday.
If we don't see a player hit waivers by then, there are four possibilities:
- Quincey isn't coming back
- Quincey is coming back and they're simply not making a move
- Quincey is coming back and Marchenko is going to be sent down
- Quincey is coming back and somebody is getting traded before Sunday's game.
Personally, I think number two is the most-likely option, but three wouldn't surprise me either. I think I'd be shocked if number four happened, but that's just because it's extremely unusual for the way Ken Holland has run the Red Wings for so long.