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Red Wings Roster Races: Winners and Losers

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Detroit Red Wings v Boston Bruins
What’d you call me?
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Roster is, for all intents and purposes, finalized with just one more forward getting sent down today (two if Pulkkinen clears waivers). The Wings are ready to go into the regular season with the group of guys they’ve got to start and a second group chomping at the bit for first callup status. After all, Ken Holland told us all not to worry so much about the opening day roster¹.

Still, there’s no better way to take stock of how everything looks than at the very beginning. Let’s take a look at the races we had and where things stand as of right now.

The Kyle Quincey Hole

The Role: The top seven spot on the D-corps left by the departure of Kyle Quincey.

The Winner(s): Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Jonathan Ericsson

The Loser(s): Nick Jensen, Robbie Russo, The Fans

At the offset, this was a question of which player would earn the opportunity to be the first guy into the lineup in case of injury, but quickly became one of real playing time thanks to Niklas Kronwall’s lingering issue. With one spot becoming two, Ouellet and Sproul were the waiver-eligibles who avoided the wire, while Jensen and all the exempt players were sent down.

The bigger problem is that among Jeff Blashill’s demands to be slapped in the face² (presumably with evidence), we had Jonathan Ericsson’ doing his best E. Honda impression by putting up a 37.5% CF in the preseason while still presumably earning a roster spot. While it’s true that Ericsson did most of his struggling against actual NHL-caliber competition, blowing it that badly against the guys he’d be playing against in the NHL every night is kind of a big piece of evidence against giving him that chance, isn’t it?

The Right-Shooting Offensive Specialist

The Role: A winger who can add a big shot to the PP while not costing the team at even strength with imperfect defensive play. He also must shoot from the right.

The Winner: Thomas Vanek

The Loser(s): Martin Frk, Teemu Pulkkinen

We’ll get to how weird the specialized role thing is later, but bottom line is that the Wings apparently had only enough space for one right-shooting PP specialist winger and went with the reclamation over the still-rehabbing guy and the younger injury backup to that role (saying something about the overall organizational value of having such a role in the first place).

Thomas Vanek was making this team regardless and the two points he scored in the only preseason game he played, not to mention his WCoH performance explains why. It’s kind of weird they only want one of these guys though, considering there are two power play units. I’m sure we’ll hear all about attempts being made to get some value here, but the fact is that neither of those guys are with the team anymore because the team feels they absolutely have to ice an entire line of players who should be in for only limited ES ice time.

Though in that context, it makes it hard to call Pulkkinen and Frk “losers” here, since they’ll get more ice time away from the Wings’ lineup than in it...

The Tough-to-Play-Against Forward(s)

The Role: Apparently old people who “know what it takes to win” and who bring intangibles like the kid who brings full Gatorade bottles for everybody instead of those stupid tiny one-sip juice boxes everybody hates.

The Winners: Luke Glendening, Steve Ott, Drew Miller

The Losers: Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Evgeny Svechnikov, Common Sense

This is a men’s league. Somebody has to block shots. Somebody has to kill penalties. Kids aren’t the answer³ Blah blah blah a guy with three kids is better than a kid with no kids blah bah.

The part belied by Jeff Blashill’s claim that he wants to spread ice time evenly and by merit⁴ is that he’s intentionally not using the 12 best forwards¹, because Team USA’s 0-3 performance at the World Cup apparently inspired the Red Wings to copy their plan.

When all was said and done, the Red Wings guaranteed roster spots for three different PK-specialists who generally don’t win even-strength possession battles, whose scoring rates are either flat/low or declining/low, and who are somehow more expensive than their competition. The claimed benefit is an intangible increase in what could best be described as “energy differential,” though in way that has yet to be positively vetted. Meanwhile, younger, cheaper, and more-talented players will find their NHL time limited by the idea that only 9 spots are available where there should be 12.

_ _ _

At the end of the day, there are only so many roster spots to go around and some tough choices have to be made. Unfortunately, the choices still include a spate of formerly-established veterans for a team that’s supposed to be aggressively finding its way toward the future. A defensemen with a constantly-injured hip showing every way possible that he’s still not capable of handling NHL duties and no less than an entire line of forwards who are there to fill a role other than “be really good at hockey.” This makes limited opportunities essentially nonexistent.

Sources

¹ Holland breaks down Wings roster after multiple moves - The Detroit News

² Red Wings final cuts might not bode well for Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou - MLive

³ Ken Holland with Matt Dery on November 20, 2015 (Via Kukla’s Korner)

Detroit Red Wings' Blashill: 'Minute distribution' to be more equal - The Detroit Free Press