FanPost

How to Rebuild the Red Wings

It's a surprise to no one reading this that the Detroit Red Wings are in a very tough spot. They missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 25 seasons and it's tough to underscore just how bad they were. After starting 6-2, they went 27-34-13, and those OTL make it look better than it was. In terms of pure wins and losses, they ended the year with a 27-47 stretch. In the offseason, they did very little to get better while other teams did improve and they figure to be one of the 5 worst teams in the NHL this season. So the question becomes, how in the world do the Red Wings try and dig out of this mess and return to contention, and how long will it take? Let's dive right in, first by looking at the contract situation:

Current Contracts:

This is an absolute mess. If GM Ken Holland is indeed let go after his contract expires at the end of this season (please hope yes), he will have left a bitter taste in the mouths of most Red Wings fans because of how colossally he has mismanaged Detroit's contract situation. In many ways, he has mismanaged the Detroit Red Wings' finances more than Kwame Kilpatrick mismanaged the City of Detroit's finances.

Forwards

Name

Age in 2017-18 Season

Years Remaining

Cap Hit per year

Henrik Zetterberg

37

4

$6.08 M

Tomas Tatar

27

4

$5.3 M

Frans Nielsen

33

5

$5.25 M

Gustav Nyquist

28

2

$4.75 M

Justin Abdelkader

31

6

$4.25 M

Darren Helm

31

4

$3.85 M

Riley Sheahan

26

1

$2.075 M

Luke Glendening

28

4

$1.8 M

Dylan Larkin

21

1

$925 K

Anthony Mantha

23

1

$863 K

Andreas Athanasiou

23

**

**

Defensemen

Name

Age in 2017-18 Season

Years Remaining

Cap Hit per year

Mike Green

32

1

$6 M

Danny DeKeyser

28

5

$5 M

Niklas Kronwall

37

2

$4.75 M

Jonathan Ericsson

34

3

$4.25 M

Trevor Daley

34

3

$3.178 M

Xavier Ouellet

24

2

$1.25 M

Nick Jensen

27

2

$812 K

Luke Witkowski

27

2

$750 K

Goalies

Name

Age in 2017-18 Season

Years Remaining

Cap Hit per year

Jimmy Howard

34

2

$5.291 M

Petr Mrazek

26

1

$4 M

Having long-term, expensive contracts isn't necessarily bad. Having long-term, expensive contracts for declining and old players is very bad. That latter sentence is the Red Wings' situation. The Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm contracts are the worst atrocities on this list, and those four are among some of the worst contracts in the whole NHL. Some of the deals are getting close to running out, like Kronwall, but others are just stuck with the Red Wings. It's a really bad sign when four of your top five defenseman are over the age of 32 and are all being paid more than they're worth.

Prospects/Young Talent:

Next we have to look at what the Red Wings have in terms of young guys who can help this team's future. Let's take a look:

  1. Dylan Larkin (21) -> Larkin began his NHL career as a 19 year old hot shot who looked extremely promising. Through his first 52 games, he posted 18 goals and 20 assists with a staggering +26, on pace for a 60 point, 28 goal season. He finished the year with just 8 points in the last 29 games, with a -14 rating. Last season he had a severe sophomore slump, putting up just 32 points in 80 games with a -28 plus/minus. 2017-18 will be a crucial season for Larkin. If he bounces back to his early rookie season form and puts up a lot of points, he should be a key fixture of this team for a long time. That Larkin could be a great Top 6, two way forward and a centerpiece of a rebuild. Last season's Larkin isn't worth much at all...

  2. Anthony Mantha (23) -> It's rare when a player comes along who is as much of a clone of a former Wing as Mantha is. Anthony Mantha is almost a clone of Johan Franzen. Which will get some Wings fans fired up, but let's remember prime Franzen: from 2008-2012, Franzen scored 191 points in 251 games with a +50. That pace is 33 goals and 29 assists for 62 points over an 82 game season. That's what peak Anthony Mantha could be. Physical Top 6 winger who is terrific offensively and on the power play, but doesn't give you a ton of defense. Last season Mantha had a 28 game stretch where he played with Henrik Zetterberg and produced 24 points and 9 goals in those 28 games. He's the type of guy who could be really, really good when paired with a distributing center like Hank and Mantha needs to continue to make strides in 2017-18 and show he can produce consistently, and when not paired with a top center.

  3. Andreas Athanasiou (23) -> His contract situation is still a mystery as he holds out, but AA is a guy the wings need to keep around. His electrifying speed creates chances and that can't be undervalued. He scored 18 goals and 11 assists in just over 60 games last year and with little ice time. His shooting percentage has been really high, leading many to think he's going to come back to earth, but that S% has been the case for two straight seasons. He needs to improve defensively but there's no reason that AA can't be a good 3rd line center on a championship team.

  4. Xavier Ouellet (24) -> One of the only defensemen on Detroit to be above average last season, XO is a steady player who doesn't do much offensively, but doesn't get beat defensively a lot either. He's a solid guy and an ideal 2nd or 3rd pairing player on a great team. Think Brad Stuart on the 2008-2009 Red Wings teams.

  5. Evgeny Svechnikov (21) -> The Russian winger brings good size and a nice wrist shot to the table. He's similar to Mantha in some ways, and it's not hard to imagine his peak being a 30 guy, like a poor man's Franzen. Someone you could see on the second or third line of a really good team. Not a star, but a productive offensive piece.

  6. Tyler Bertuzzi (23) -> The nephew of ex-Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi, Tyler is the prototypical grinder who is close to the NHL. He's got grit and hustle and some decent offensive ability. He could maybe hit 20 goals if everything went right, but more likely in the teens. His best use would be as a fourth line winger and an elite penalty killer. Think Kirk Maltby or Darren McCarty

  7. Vili Saarijarvi (20) -> A fan favorite, this 5'9" Finn is a smooth skater with great vision and a high IQ. He brings to the table with him a lot of offensive potential, but questions about his size and defensive positioning remain. His peak is probably an offensive minded 2nd pairing defenseman.

  8. Joe Hicketts (21) -> The Red Wings took a flyer on Hicketts and he's impressed a lot of people, coming close to making this year's team. He's small but surprisingly physical. Solid defensively, but size will always be a problem. Could be a very solid 2nd or 3rd pairing defenseman

  9. Michael Rasmussen (19) -> The Wings drew a lot of ire when they picked the big Canadian 9th overall, a pick considered a reach. He is a monster of a man with a dominant net front presence and good offensive potential. Serious questions about his effort and skating ability remain. His peak is probably another Franzen-type, a Top 6 forward who can chip in 20 or 30 goals on a good team.

  10. Filip Hronek (20) -> No player's development is more important to the Red Wings' future, outside of maybe Larkin's, than Filip Hronek. The Red Wings took Hronek in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft from the Czech Republic. Hronek came over to the OHL last season and in his first season in North America, he posted 61 points in 59 games for the OHL's Saginaw Spirit. He was the #4 scoring defenseman in the OHL and will be in his first full season in the AHL this year with Grand Rapids. Hronek is the only guy in the Red Wings' system who has a real shot to be either a top pairing or maybe even a #1 D-man but it all depends on his development. Hronek has great vision and is a smooth skater. He also has a booming slap shot with a chance to be a power play QB. At 6'0", size is a bit of an issue but not a huge one and he needs to get stronger. More importantly, let the game come to him and adjust to the AHL. If everything goes right, Hronek could be a really good #1 or #2 defenseman. It's a big if, but one every Wings fan needs to be watching.

  11. Dennis Cholowski (20) -> Cholowski was a reach in the 2016 Draft but he has some upside. He's a smooth skater with a high IQ and could be solid on the power play. He needs to get stronger and adjust to the NCAA better than he did last season. His peak is probably a second pairing defenseman.

  12. Axel Holmstrom (21) -> This Homer is in some way similar to the other Homer. He's a hard working guy who scraps for the puck and creates opportunities. He's not a great skater and not very fast, but he can absolutely be a productive 3rd line player who can man the net front, much like Tomas Holmstrom.

  13. Keith Petruzzellli (19) -> The only widely hailed 2017 Red Wings draft pick, Petruzzelli was seen as one of the late round draft steals when the Wings nabbed the goalie in round 3. He's a huge man who takes up a big chunk of the net at 6'6". He stops high shot and has solid rebound control. He needs to add muscle and gain endurance but his peak is certainly a #1 goalie in the mold of fellow monster Ben Bishop.

  14. Givani Smith (20) -> Smith is another grinder type, strong and gritty. He fights for pucks in the corner, crashes the net, checks hard, gets into fights, and scraps. His peak potential is an indispensable 4th line winger who is effective on the penalty kill while chipping in goals in the teens. Another guy in the Kirk Maltby mold.

Prospect Recap

The Red Wings have what most agree to be a solid farm system. Not elite, but not barren. The Hockey Writers recently ranked it #10 in the NHL, which is solid. What stands out about this group of players is that it is heavy on middle tier players, 2nd pairing defenseman and 2nd and 3rd line forwards. What it's missing is elite talents. As we mentioned, Dylan Larkin has the potential to be a really good top line player and Hronek has the ability if everything pans out to be a top pairing defenseman. But those two players are not enough. The good news is that this team is probably going to suck this season and the season after. While the draft lottery is a total luck of the draw, if the Wings are one of the five worst teams in hockey, they are almost certain to get one of the top 7 picks in the draft. That will give them the opportunity to try and take some elite talent, especially since the 2018 draft is slated to be much, much better than what 2017 was.

Blueprint for the future:

The fact is that 2017-18 is going to be a long year for Red Wings fans. But it can be a success if several things happen:

  • Mike Green plays well and Detroit deals him at the deadline for a first or second round pick

  • Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha take steps towards being top-6 fixtures of the future

  • Prospects like Saarijarvi, Svechnikov, Rasmussen, and Hronek continue developing

  • The Red Wings get rewarded for a bad season with a top 5 pick in the NHL Draft

  • Ken Holland is let go after his contract expires and a new GM with a vision for the future takes over

The 2018 Draft will have a glut of players. If the Wings get lucky and get a top 2 pick, they'll take either superstar defenseman Rasmus Dahlin or Russian wunderkind winger Andrei Svechnikov (brother of Evgeny). But even if the lottery doesn't go their way, Joe Veleno could be a really good center, Quin Hughes and Bode Wilde are potential top pairing defenseman, and

And all of those guys would be available in the top 10 most likely. They desperately need that caliber of player to add to the farm system. And likely will need to do it again in the 2019 Draft. In theory, you'd draft a top defenseman prospect in one draft and a top center prospect in the other.

In the meantime, the team needs to continue to not dole out more outrageous contracts and work on shedding their current atrocities. During or before the 2018-19 season, Gustav Nyquist and his expiring contract should be dealt for prospects/picks and the team could consider looking at trading Tomas Tatar. They also will have wiggled out from under the Jimmy Howard and Niklas Kronwall deals and would be entering the final two years or less of the Ericsson, Daley, Helm, and Glendening deals. So, let's look at a potential 2019-2020 season depth chart, but first one caveat. With the recent news that Henrik Zetterberg will likely not play out the rest of his contract, I'm expecting him to retire before the 2019-2020 season. In terms of pure cash value, Hank will be paid $7 M this season and $3.35 M in 2018-2019. For the last two years of his deal, he would earn just $1 M. Thus at age 39, he would only be giving up $2 M over two seasons, which makes it a convenient time to stop playing. He could likely pretend his back has ended his career, allowing the Wings to pull a Franzen and stash him on LTIR for the last two seasons. So without further ado:

Tatar (29) - Hypothetical Center Draft Pick (19/20) - Mantha (25)

Svechnikov (23) - Larkin (23) - Nielsen (35)

Abdelkader (33) - Athanasiou (25) - Holmstrom (23)

Bertuzzi (25) - Glendening (30) - Helm (33)

Bench:

Dekeyser (30) - Hypothetical Defenseman Draft Pick (19/20)

Hronek (22) - Ouellet (26)

Daley - Hicketts

Bench: Ericsson

Joren Van Pottelberghe

Jared Coreau/Free Agent

This team is better than the one that is being rolled out right now but still is not great. A lot of young names, its success hinges on development of the guys we've talked about along with whoever those hypothetical draft picks end up being. If they are both top-5 pick caliber players, guys at center like Joseph Veleno, Brady Tkachuk, Mike McLeod, Jack Hughes, and Kirby Dach,

and at defense like Rasmus Dahlin, Quin Hughes, Artemi Knyazev, Marshall Warren, then this team could be pretty solid. However, the peak for this lineup is probably a #7 or #8 seed. What about the following season? Well with more contracts off the books, it could look like:

Tatar (30) - Hypothetical Center Draft Pick (20/21) - Mantha (26)

Svechnikov (24) - Larkin (24) - Rasmussen (22)

Nielsen (36) - Athanasiou (26) - Holmstrom (24)

Abdelkader (34) - Glendening (31) - Bertuzzi (26)

Bench: Helm

Hypothetical Defense Draft Pick (20/21) - Hronek (23)

Ouellet (27) - Saarijarvi (23)

DeKeyser (31) - Hicketts (24)

Petruzzelli (22)

Van Pottelberghe/Free Agent

This begins to put the Red Wings into some kind of conversation. Thus, I believe the realistic time table is a three-four year rebuild before things get back into place. It's going to suck now, but if executed correctly, this could be a very fun team in the 2020s.

This is a fanpost written by a WIIM community member. The views and opinions expressed here are that member's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the site itself.