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The Next 18 Months - The Red Wings’ Road Back - Part 3

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NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

After Part 2, here is where the Detroit Red Wings stand entering the 2018 offseason:

  • The Wings have lost one of Justin Abdelkader/Darren Helm to Las Vegas in the 2017 expansion draft
  • The Wings have re-signed Tomas Tatar to a three-year, $13.5 million deal ($4.5 million AAV), Xavier Ouellet to a two-year, $2.5 million deal ($1.25 million AAV), and Andreas Athanasiou to a two-year, $5 million deal ($2.5 million AAV) during the 2017 offseason
  • The Wings have parted ways with Robbie Russo, Drew Miller, Ben Street, and Joe Vitale during the 2017 offseason
  • The Wings have called up Evgeny Svechnikov and Joe Hicketts to start the 2017-2018 season
  • Niklas Kronwall is on long-term injured reserve during the 2017-2018 season
  • Mike Green, Riley Sheahan, and Ryan Sproul have been traded at the 2017-2018 trade deadline
  • The Wings have ~$25 million in cap space with the following roster:

2018 NHL Free Agency

The following players will be free agents in the 2018 offseason:

  • Dylan Larkin (RFA)
  • Anthony Mantha (RFA)
  • Tyler Bertuzzi (RFA)
  • Tomas Nosek (RFA)
  • Petr Mrazek (RFA)

Of this group, the Red Wings should focus in on Larkin, Mantha, and Mrazek. Regarding Larkin, he will be turning 22 years old in July 2018. From a production standpoint, Larkin had a down year based on expectations. After Larkin’s scorching start to his rookie campaign, his production leveled off during his sophomore campaign.

hockeyviz.com

Larkin’s drop in production can partly be explained by a change in his teammates. After playing greater than 60% of his 5v5 minutes with Henrik Zetterberg in 2015-2016, Larkin found himself on the ice with Zetterberg for less than 10% of his ice time this year.

hockeyviz.com

I think this information helps the Wings as it suggests Larkin may not turn into a player who can carry a line. Rather, Larkin is a good player who can thrive playing alongside elite players. Keeping this in mind, the Wings would be wise to target a bridge contract with Larkin to confirm this thought. My goal would be for the Wings to lock in Larkin to a deal that does not exceed three years and $3.5 million in average annual value. It is important for that deal not to exceed three years as it will allow Larkin to remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal. For the purposes of this article, we will lock in Larkin to a three-year, $9.75 million deal (AAV = $3.25 mil), making him a 25-year-old RFA in 2022. If you recall from Part 1, NHL forwards peak between age 24-25 when evaluated via wins above replacement and 5v5 production.

Next on the Wings’ priority list should be Anthony Mantha. The 22-year-old rookie had an excellent season, tallying 17 goals and 36 points in 60 games. Like Larkin, Mantha spent a significant amount of his year with Zetterberg, spending over 65% of his 5v5 ice time with the Red Wings’ captain. Unlike Larkin, Mantha had a significant impact on shots when he was on the ice. Of all forwards who played greater than 300 minutes at 5v5, Mantha ranked 15th in 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi For% relative to his teammates.

Top 15 Forwards in 5v5 Score-Adjusted Corsi For% Relative To Teammates

Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 Sc Adj Rel CF%
Player 5v5 TOI 5v5 Sc Adj Rel CF%
Patrice Bergeron 1035.57 8.93%
Nino Niederreiter 1036.42 7.95%
Brad Marchand 1091.02 7.88%
Blake Wheeler 1161.26 7.80%
Chris Kreider 1025 7.63%
Mark Stone 1006.64 7.53%
Matthew Tkachuk 923.33 7.53%
Derick Brassard 1100.13 7.51%
Timo Meier 394.15 7.48%
John Tavares 1164.47 7.36%
Taylor Hall 1065.75 7.34%
Michael Frolik 1051.99 7.18%
Antoine Roussel 704.75 7.10%
Ryan Johansen 1139.06 7.07%
Anthony Mantha 768.11 6.58%

The positive impact on shots is encouraging and gives me hope that Mantha will be able to thrive if pressed into minutes away from Zetterberg. My target would be a deal similar to the three-year, $8.25 million deal given to Tomas Tatar in 2014. This deal would be a massive win for the Wings as it would keep Mantha a restricted free agent at the end of the deal. I would be comfortable with the deal reaching an AAV as high as $3.25 million if necessary, although I think the Wings will be able to keep his AAV to $3 million or less. For the purposes of this article, we will lock in Mantha on a three-year, $8.25 million deal.

Last but not least is Petr Mrazek. After a sublime 2015-2016 season that saw Mrazek briefly flirt with elite status, he had a tumultuous 2016-2017 season, losing his starting job to Jimmy Howard.

Corsica.hockey

Evaluating Mrazek using expected goals saved above average, a metric that takes into account shot quality, we see that Mrazek finished below league average and in particular, he struggled to corral medium-danger shots.

Dispellingvoodoo.com

This puts the Wings in a tough position. When we look at Mrazek’s historical performance as evaluated by Win Threshold% (WT%), a metric that looks at the percentage of starts where a goaltender performed “well enough” to win a league average game, Mrazek ranked only behind Henrik Lundqvist. From a Loss Threshold% (LT%) which looks at the percentage of starts where a goaltender performed “poor enough” to lose, Mrazek ranked only behind Lundqvist and Cory Schneider. Essentially, he was one of the most consistent goaltenders in the NHL prior to this past season.

@NMercad (Nick Mercadante)

Putting all of this together, Mrazek’s 2017-2018 season will be the most predictive of where his contract ends up. If he finds the level he hit during the 2015-2016 season and is able to sustain it, we could see Mrazek handed a contract with an AAV north of $5.5 million. If Mrazek turns in another season similar to 2016-2017, you could see the Wings walk away from him entirely. My gut feeling is that Mrazek finds a level somewhere in between. If we accept that, I would offer Mrazek a three-year, $15.8 million deal (AAV $5.27 million) which would take him through his age-29 season.

However this is the riskiest part of my plan as I’m committing nearly $10.5 million in cap space to goaltending, albeit for only a single season. If Mrazek doesn’t find his game early in the 2017-2018 season, I’d be willing to shop Mrazek. In this market, it’s unwise to commit a significant amount of money to goaltending unless you are getting elite-level goaltending. In my mind, the Wings still have Jimmy Howard, so if they are truly going to commit >$10 million to goaltending, it should only happen if Mrazek rediscovers his game. There are cheaper options available in the 2018 free agent pool such as Eddie Lack, Antti Raanta, and Jaroslav Halak, if necessary.

With respect to Tomas Nosek and Tyler Bertuzzi, I don’t envision either player having a significant future with the Red Wings. Nosek will be turning 26 in 2018 and Bertuzzi will be 23. In limited looks, neither forward has looked the part of a future top-six forward. While neither player is going to cost a lot to keep, I would opt for trying to move both of these players with the intention of bringing up both Givani Smith and Axel Holmstrom for the 2018-2019 season. In reality, I would consider keeping Bertuzzi on a one-year, $950K deal as the 13th forward but would look to move Nosek for a late-round pick during the 2018 offseason as I stated in Part 2.

Bertuzzi has demonstrated flashes of offensive brilliance, ranking 19th in 5v5 estimated primary points per 60 minutes among U-22 AHL forwards. However, he was largely invisible in his brief stint with the Wings and I think his roster spot would be better served with either Holmstrom of Smith in his place.

Top-20 U-22 AHL Forwards in 5v5 Estimated Primary Points Per 60

Name Pos Team Age eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eP1/60
Name Pos Team Age eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eP1/60
Jake Guentzel C WBS 21.942 15.38 1.89 1.3 3.19
Peter Cehlarik LW PRO 21.121 12.3 1.59 0.95 2.55
Danick Martel LW LV 21.759 12.73 1.28 0.8 2.08
Hunter Shinkaruk LW STK 21.923 12.51 0.76 1.2 1.96
Ivan Barbashev C CHI 20.753 14.28 1.1 0.82 1.92
Jesse Puljujarvi RW BAK 18.359 14.39 0.94 0.94 1.88
Oliver Bjorkstrand RW CLE 21.433 15.04 1.08 0.75 1.83
J.T. Compher C SA 21.438 13.6 1.18 0.65 1.83
Jakub Vrana LW HER 20.545 12.79 1.37 0.46 1.83
Lucas Wallmark C CHA 21.027 13.93 1.08 0.74 1.82
Josh Ho-Sang RW BRI 20.647 13.16 0.76 1.04 1.8
Justin Bailey RW RCH 21.208 11.91 1.32 0.48 1.8
Carter Verhaeghe C BRI 21.088 12.95 1.19 0.59 1.78
Ryan Kujawinski C ALB 21.463 10.53 1.07 0.71 1.78
Samuel Blais LW CHI 20.247 13.17 1.16 0.61 1.77
Kyle Connor LW MB 19.767 16.38 1.25 0.47 1.71
Adam Erne LW SYR 21.405 11.78 1.05 0.65 1.7
Mike McMurtry C TEX 21.288 10.39 0.99 0.7 1.69
Tyler Bertuzzi LW GR 21.556 14.12 0.83 0.83 1.66
Morgan Klimchuk LW STK 21.54 12.78 1.05 0.57 1.62

Similar to my philosophy for the 2017 offseason, I would avoid nearly every free agent in the 2018 class. The only two players who I would be willing to spend a significant amount of money on would be Marc-Edouard Vlasic and John Carlson.

OwnThePuck

Both would like command an AAV north of $6 million and will likely be looking for greater than five years in term. If you were able to nab one of Vlasic or Carlson on a five-year, $32.5 million deal, you have to do it. A five-year deal would take Vlasic to age 36 and Carlson to age 33. However, I consider the likelihood of either player landing in Detroit to be very low and thus for the purposes of this article, will not consider them to be a part of the big picture.

The Buyout

Entering the 2018-2019 season, I believe the Wings could consider buying out one player - Jonathan Ericsson. The buyout window lasts from June 15th to June 30th of each season. If the Wings were to buyout Ericsson on June 30th, this is how the buyout would work:

CapFriendly

The buyout would result in a cost savings of $2.8 million in the 2018-2019 season and the 2019-2020 season and would result in a cap hit of $1.4 million in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 seasons. The buyout of Ericsson would be contingent on him still having the capacity to play and thus not eligible for long-term injured reserve. His contract is not subject to cap recapture penalties creating an opportunity for the Wings to free up his roster spot for a young defenseman. I already have Filip Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi, and Joe Hicketts on the roster, but there is still the possibility that Jordan Sambrook and/or Dennis Cholowski develop into players worthy of an NHL roster spot. Additionally, if the Wings are able to land Liljegren in the 2017 draft, he could fit in as well.

Entering the 2018-2019 Season

If everything holds to plan, the Wings will enter the 2018-2019 season with the following roster (excluding their 2017 and 2018 draft picks):

CapFriendly

At worst, if the Wings are unable to land one of Vlasic or Carlson, the Wings will still enter 2018-2019 with a young, skilled team that could contend for a wildcard spot. The Wings have freed themselves of several albatross contracts and have re-signed their core players to manageable bridge contracts. They’ve called up their prospects to get an idea of what they have prior to their entry-level contracts expiring. Looking ahead, the Wings will see the contracts of Kronwall, Howard, and Nyquist all expire at the end of the 2018-2019 season, freeing up nearly $15 million in cap space. They have $45 million in contracts committed for the 2019-2020 season and will have close to $20 million in cap space in the 2019 offseason.

Where Is All Of This Going?

Why does all of this matter? What’s the end game here? Am I just continually getting rid of veterans and bringing up the young guys with no plan in place? Of course not. I’m setting the Wings up for the 2019 Free Agency class which has the potential to be special. Below are a list of guys currently scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in the 2019 offseason:

  • Drew Doughty
  • Erik Karlsson
  • Logan Couture
  • Artemi Panarin
  • Tyler Seguin
  • Jeff Skinner
  • Blake Wheeler
  • Matt Duchene
  • Ryan McDonagh
  • Max Pacioretty
  • Jake Gardiner
  • Oliver Ekman-Larsson

With $20 million in cap space and a good group of young players, the Wings could establish themselves as an attractive free agent destination. If you landed one forward and one defenseman from that group, the Wings have the potential to build a contender for the next five to seven years. Obviously not all of these guys are going to hit free agency. However, it only takes a couple - and the Wings will have plenty to offer.

At the end of the day, my plan allows the Wings to shed some of their horrendous contracts, add a couple of top-10 draft picks to their prospect pool, and gives them a chance to evaluate the prospects currently in their system before they have to make a decision on long-term contracts. It builds cap space for what could be a special free agency in 2019 and sets the Wings up for the potential to become a contender for several years. And all of it is possible in just three years.

Some of these decisions are extremely difficult and execution will not be easy. Free agency is never a guarantee as other teams can offer more money, better climates, and less taxes. Even if the Wings aren’t able to come away with a single big name from the 2019 free agency class, I’d argue that this plan is still the right way to proceed. It’s not the sexy plan, but it puts the Wings in the best position to ascend back to contender status.

data from Corsica.hockey unless otherwise specified