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The Next 18 Months - The Red Wings’ Road Back - Part 2

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Ottawa Senators v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After Part 1, which discusses how the Detroit Red Wings should manage the NHL Expansion draft, the NHL Entry draft, and free agency, here’s where the Wings would stand entering the 2017-2018 season:

  • The Wings have lost one of Justin Abdelkader/Darren Helm to Las Vegas in the 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)
  • The Wings have parted ways with Robbie Russo, Drew Miller, Ben Street, and Joe Vitale
  • The Wings have called up Evgeny Svechnikov and Joe Hicketts

If all holds true, the Wings will enter the 2017-2018 season with a cap hit of $72,450,000 for their 23-man roster, regardless of whether or not they lose Helm or Abdelkader based on how Johan Franzen’s long-term injured reserve benefit is calculated.

via CapFriendly’s “Armchair GM”

As of right now, the salary cap is projected to be between $75,500,000 and $76,000,000 pending inflator negotiations with the NHLPA. This means that the Wings would have between $3,150,000 and $3,550,000 in cap space entering the season.

Now that the stage is set, let’s tackle how I think Ken Holland should approach the 2017-2018 season.

In-Season Moves

Evgeny Svechnikov and Joe Hicketts make the roster

Red Wings’ fans were able to see a brief glimpse of Svechnikov as he made his NHL debut this past week against the Ottawa Senators. At 19 years of age, he’s had an excellent season in the AHL. As of 04/03/2017, Svechnikov ranked 4th in the AHL among all under-20 skaters in 5v5 estimated primary points per 60 minutes.

Top 5 AHL U-20 Skaters in 5v5 eP1/60

Player Age 5v5 eTOI/GP 5v5 eG/60 5v5 eA1/60 5v5 eP160
Player Age 5v5 eTOI/GP 5v5 eG/60 5v5 eA1/60 5v5 eP160
Jesse Puljujarvi 18.359 14.39 0.94 0.94 1.88
Kyle Connor 19.767 16.38 1.25 0.47 1.71
Christian Fischer 19.419 14.98 0.94 0.63 1.57
Evgeny Svechnikov 19.874 12.4 0.88 0.66 1.54
Timo Meier 19.937 14.89 1.01 0.5 1.51
Prospect-Stats.com

Svechnikov has arguably had the most successful AHL rookie season of any Wings’ teenager since Tomas Tatar. In fact, Svechnikov’s numbers as a 19-year-old match up very closely to what Tatar was able to accomplish in 2009-2010.

Tomas Tatar vs. Evgeny Svechnikov

Metric Evgeny Svechnikov Tomas Tatar
Metric Evgeny Svechnikov Tomas Tatar
Age 19 19
Games Played 68 58
EV Goals/GP 0.19 0.22
EV Assists/GP 0.24 0.19
EV Points/GP 0.43 0.41
All Sit Shots/GP 2.43 1.69
TheAHL.com

From what we know about aging curves, forwards tend to peak at age 24-25. Svechnikov, at 20 years of age, would be given an opportunity to hone his craft in the NHL in a low-expectation situation.

As for Hicketts, his name hasn’t come up much this year but he’s had an excellent year in Grand Rapids. Of the 27 U-21 defensemen in the AHL, Hicketts ranks 7th in 5v5 estimated primary points per 60 minutes and 5th in 5v5 estimated points per 60 minutes.

Top-5 AHL U-21 Defensemen in 5v5 Estimated Points/60

Name Team Age GP eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eA2/60 eP1/60 eP/60
Name Team Age GP eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eA2/60 eP1/60 eP/60
Rasmus Andersson STK 19.885 50 15.92 0.15 0.3 0.83 0.45 1.28
Travis Sanheim LV 20.466 67 12.87 0.49 0.49 0.28 0.97 1.25
Julius Honka TEX 20.784 50 15.44 0.23 0.47 0.54 0.7 1.24
Oliver Kylington STK 19.326 54 12.94 0.34 0.26 0.6 0.6 1.2
Joe Hicketts GR 20.367 65 13.37 0.35 0.28 0.56 0.63 1.19
Prospect-Stats.com

Hicketts is an excellent skater and puck-mover, and would be a real asset to the Wings’ blue line. I expect the Wings to initially carry eight defensemen next year, and while he may not crack the top-6 immediately he should receive ample playing time given the health of the Wings’ defensemen. Speaking of the health of the Red Wings’ defense....

Niklas Kronwall Finds LTIR Next Season

In Elliotte Friedman’s most recent “30 Thoughts”, he mentions that the Wings will allow Kronwall to decide his own future this summer. My suspicion is that Kronwall will at least want to give it a go at the start of next season. However, I don’t believe that he will be able to continue playing and at some point next season, he will permanently land on long-term injured reserve due to his history of knee injuries.

Kronwall still has two more seasons left at $4.75 million per season. Unfortunately, he cannot retire cleanly as his contract is subject to cap recapture penalties. If Kronwall were to retire this summer, the Wings would be on the hook for a $2.125 million cap hit in the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 seasons. Instead, if Kronwall hits LTIR, the Wings could expect a cap relief of as much as $2,645,834 if the Wings make no other cap moves prior to that.

While the cap space is nice, the open roster spot is more important. Kronwall has trended down at an alarming rate over the past couple of years to the point where he is a negative impact player when he is on the ice.

Having Kronwall off of the ice will be an addition by subtraction. Replacing him with Hicketts may lead to an even bigger benefit. Kronwall had an excellent career and he could still serve with the team as a mentor for the young defensemen.

2017-2018 Trade Deadline

Similar to this past trade deadline, the Wings should be looking to offload expiring contracts to obtain draft picks. In particular, there are five players the Wings should focus on moving:

  • Mike Green
  • Riley Sheahan
  • Ryan Sproul
  • Jimmy Howard
  • Tomas Nosek

Mike Green should be a no-brainer to move and will likely net the best return out of the bunch. Green will be 32 years old with his deal expiring at the end of the 2017-2018 season. He’s proven to be a more than capable defenseman, ranking 57th among defensemen in unadjusted goals above replacement this year. If next year’s trade deadline is anything like this past one, it is not unreasonable to expect the Wings to get a 1st round pick or multiple 2nd/3rd round picks. A team like Pittsburgh or Calgary may be an attractive trade partner depending on the moves each team makes over the next year.

Riley Sheahan is the other no-brainer for the Wings to try and move. He’s been much maligned this year given the fact that he has yet to score, but that didn’t stop several teams from expressing interest in him at the trade deadline. At 25 years of age with a history of 13- and 14-goal seasons, it’s easy to see why teams thought they could get him for a cheap price.

From this graph we see that Riley Sheahan has consistently been a solid top-nine player and has remained as such this season (to a lesser degree) despite not scoring a single goal. His value in this model is derived from his ability to not take penalties and his even-strength defense. He will likely never be the player the Wings’ hoped for when they drafted him in the first round in 2010, but he is still a useful third line player.

After spending all that time defending Sheahan, I say the Wings should look to move on from him as I am a strong advocate for filling the bottom-six with cheap veterans and players on entry-level contracts. While Sheahan is unlikely to command a cap hit of more than $2.5 million per season, the Wings could fill that spot at 25% of that cost if they called up a player like Axel Holmstrom (cap hit of $686,677). Sheahan will be a restricted free agent after the 2017-2018 season, so if he has a decent year, the Wings should be able to net a 2nd, or possibly, a 1st round pick.

Tomas Nosek is another player the Wings should consider moving. At 24 years of age, Nosek has struggled to break into the NHL. He will be a restricted free agent at the end of 2017-2018 and, while he is likely to be inexpensive, he is also not likely to amount to a top-nine player. At 24 years of age it’s unlikely he develops into much more than what we’ve seen. And as such, the Wings would be wise to move him or allow him to walk in favor of bringing up a younger player with more potential. It’s likely that Axel Holmstrom is already a better player than Nosek, and would be a suitable replacement if Nosek was moved at the deadline.

Jimmy Howard will be the most difficult of these five players to move. With Howard under contract through the 2018-2019 season at a cap hit of $5.291 million, the Wings are not likely to find a trade partner at the 2018 trade deadline unless Howard continues to play at an elite level or the Wings retain a significant chunk of his salary. He’s slowed down since returning from injury, but his numbers still remain better than Petr Mrazek’s this season:

From this graphic, we see than Jimmy has given up 1.58 goals more than would be expected based on the quality of shots he’s faced. However, that’s still substantially better than Mrazek who has allowed 8.52 more goals than expected. Despite the better performance, Howard is eight years older than Mrazek and has a history of lower-body injuries. If there is a team willing to gamble on the veteran netminder, the Wings would be wise to escape his contract. I’m doubtful that the Wings will be able to move him at the 2018 deadline, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try.

The “Old Wave” of “Young D”

Also on this list, and perhaps surprisingly to some, is Ryan Sproul. When he was drafted in 2011, he was the next big thing for the Wings. He was a right shot, had a cannon from the point, and had size to boot. However, things have not panned out for Sproul. Now 24 years of age, Sproul has appeared in just 28 NHL games, scoring one goal and seven points.

Sproul will be a restricted free agent at the end of 2017-2018 and the Wings will have a tough decision to make. I’ve already got the Wings walking away from Robbie Russo in the 2017 offseason and re-signing Xavier Ouellet to a two-year deal. With Filip Hronek (19 years old), Dennis Cholowski (19), Vili Saarijarvi (19), and Joe Hicketts (20) all chomping at the bit, the Wings would be wise not to hold on to too many members of the Ouellet/Jensen/Russo/Sproul group given that all but Ouellet are 24 or older and have demonstrated that they don’t have top end talent. Ouellet and Jensen have showed the most promise, and as such, these are the two I would keep for the time being.

The Wings are unlikely to escape from the DeKeyser and Ericsson contracts (more on this later) and are still on the hook for Niklas Kronwall even if he ends up on LTIR. While the Wings have a history of not “rushing” prospects, that luxury no longer exists. There’s a real possibility that the guys coming are better or will soon be better than the guys currently on the roster. Hronek and Saarijarvi were tied for 8th among OHL defensemen in 5v5 estimated primary points per 60 minutes. Perhaps even more impressively, Saarijarvi led all OHL defensemen in 5v5 estimated shots per 60 minutes with a whopping 10.58.

Top 10 OHL Defensemen in 5v5 estimated primary points per 60

Name Pos Team Age eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eA2/60 eP1/60 eP/60 eSh/60
Name Pos Team Age eTOI/GP eG/60 eA1/60 eA2/60 eP1/60 eP/60 eSh/60
Kevin Spinozzi D SAR 20.315 16.84 0.55 0.86 0.43 1.41 1.84 5.53
Mikhail Sergachev D WSR 18.225 18.87 0.51 0.89 0.45 1.4 1.84 7.76
Victor Mete D LDN 18.274 15.83 0.68 0.68 0.61 1.36 1.97 5.61
Conor Timmins D SSM 17.992 16.96 0.21 1.11 1 1.32 2.32 4.44
Ryan Merkley D GUE 16.088 16.98 0.4 0.91 0.46 1.31 1.77 5.7
Austin Hall D GUE 19.438 13.95 0.22 1.08 0 1.29 1.29 3.23
Jordan Sambrook D ER 18.43 14.93 0.92 0.33 0.86 1.25 2.11 7.05
Filip Hronek D SAG 18.868 18.3 0.56 0.56 0.83 1.11 1.95 8.39
Matthew Timms D PBO 18.345 17.45 0.4 0.71 0.56 1.11 1.67 3.44
Vili Saarijarvi D MISS 19.337 17.52 0.81 0.3 0.5 1.11 1.61 10.58
Prospect-Stats.com

What To Do With Frans?

Last but not least, the Wings should approach Frans Nielsen and ask him if he would consider waiving his no-move clause. When the Wings signed Nielsen in the 2016 off-season to a $6-year, $31.5 million deal, I don’t think he expected to be playing for “bottom-feeder” team. Nielsen will be 33 years of age on April 24th and this contract will likely span his last chance to compete for a Stanley Cup.

The Wings should approach Frans to see if he would consider waiving his no-move clause to go to a contender at the 2018 deadline. If not, Nielsen’s no-move clause becomes a 10-team modified no-trade clause after the 2017-2018 season and the Wings should consider moving him to one of the 21 teams not on his list. Why move Nielsen? Well for starters, his offensive production has continued to decline and, at his age, it’s unlikely to get better.

Granted, the value of Frans Nielsen has always gone beyond his offense. He was a sensational defensive forward earlier in his career and he’s remained an exceptional defensive forward, as measured by even-strength defense in @DTMAboutHeart’s WAR model.

At some point, Frans’ ability to control the neutral zone will eventually decline. The Wings would be wise to see if they can escape another 5+ year contract for a player who will be well past 35 years of age when it ends. In my opinion, I think it is unlikely that the Wings escape Nielsen’s contract, but again, it is something the Wings should be exploring given his age and the length of the deal.

At the end of deadline day, if the Wings are able to move Mike Green for a 1st/2nd and either a later-round pick or prospect, the deadline will be a success. I expect the market will be good for both Ryan Sproul and Riley Sheahan and would hope that one or both could be moved. I expect the market to be limited for Nosek and I don’t think the Wings will be able to move Howard or Nielsen.

Heading into the 2018 offseason, the Wings’ season could be considered a success if they accomplished the following:

  1. Niklas Kronwall hits long-term injured reserve
  2. Mike Green, Riley Sheahan, and Ryan Sproul are traded with no salary coming back

It would be a bonus if the Wings find a taker for Howard or Nosek. It would be absolutely bananas if the Wings found a taker for Frans Nielsen. Assuming they accomplish only what I’ve numbered, the Wings could potentially head into the offseason with the following roster (including Kronwall and Franzen on LTIR):

CapFriendly

This roster would have a cap hit of $49,659,167 and would have >$25 million in cap space in a summer where Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Petr Mrazek are free agents.

CapFriendly

Part 3 will include how the Wings should approach the 2018 offseason and how the Wings can ascend back to contender status.