Our continued look at RFAs takes us to Riley Sheahan, the big bodied Center who loves bombarding us with pictures of cute, cuddly puppies. Just to be up-front, being an RFA and a players' inherent value therein lends itself to Riley being less of a "No" candidate. But, he may not be a straightforward "Pro" either. Much like quantum physics or trying to pull the "Room-Mate Switch", it's kind of complicated...
#15 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Dec 7, 1991
Expectations And Performance
To compare with the 2014-2015 season, Riley (along with just about every Red Wing not named Larkin or Mrazek) seemed to regress a bit in 2015-2016. While his goal total stayed relatively the same (13G 2015, 14G 2016), he saw a significant drop in assists (23A 2015, 11A 2016). He saw about 25 seconds less ice time per game on average this season, while also getting about 1:30 more PK time and 1:15 less PP time. His faceoff win % also dropped, from 50% last season to 46% this season. Overall, the numbers make it look like a bit of a rough year for Sheahan.
However, as with most situations, this goes a bit deeper than just the surface numbers. The addition and use of Brad Richards, to say nothing of his performance, probably impacted Sheahan's TOI and PP time with Richards assuming a share of the time that Riley was given last season. Also, the injury to Drew Miller is at least partly behind Sheahan's increase in PK usage as Blashill looked to fill the open PK slot.
Decreasing a player's EV and PP ice time and increasing their PK ice time is not an effective recipe for upping their points production. But considering his usage and that Sheahan spent the majority of his ice time as 3C, 4C, or as a bottom-6 winger, one might not consider his numbers to be that bad. If you were to compare him with Darren Helm, once dubbed "the best third-line Center in the NHL", Sheahan is about on pace with where Helm was at the same age (2009-2012) and Helm was arguably on a better Detroit squad.
Does He Still Fit Moving Forward?
As things stand TODAY, one pretty much has to assume that Sheahan still has a place on the Red Wings roster. Assuming Pavel Datsyuk goes home to Russia, the end-of-season roster translates to the start of next season, and none of the UFAs are brought back, the Wings will have 11 forwards (counting Johan Franzen) to ice for the season opener - including Sheahan. Obviously Franzen will move immediately to LTIR on Day 1 of the 2016-2017 season, and Anthony Mantha will probably have a place on the Opening Night line-up to keep the count at 11. Plenty of room.
So now, let me start tossing wrenches into this machine. If Holland and Blashill are seriously committed to further embracing a youth movement, as Holland indicated at his end-of-season press conference, it can be assumed that they could be looking to give Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou their own lines next year to further develop these guys where they have traditionally played - at Center. This probably occurs on the 2nd and 3rd lines, with Riley dropping back to the 4C spot. With a 46% mark for faceoff wins last season and only a 48% mark over his career, is Sheahan better suited to play 3C than on a 4th line that potentially faces Babcockian match-ups against opposing top lines? Would you trust Sheahan to win defensive zone faceoffs against Sidney Crosby? Or would you go with Luke Glendening and his 55% faceoff win mark from last season?
What about rumors linking Steven Stamkos or Alexander Radulov to Detroit this off-season? Stamkos, more than capable of playing Center on the top line, could potentially bump Sheahan out of a roster spot at Center if the dominoes fall appropriately. Radulov, a winger, could have the same effect if today's plan is to play Glendening as 4C and put Sheahan on the wing. If by some crazy twist we were to land both Stamkos and Radulov, or if a Radulov signing helped convince Datsyuk to play out the last year of his contract, Sheahan is almost certainly staring at 4th line minutes or being a healthy scratch.
The big question is, under any of these scenarios, is Sheahan worth re-signing to play 4th line minutes or sit in the press box? Or, are the Wings interests better served by trading Sheahan (maybe coupled with Jimmy Howard) to bring other assets to the team?