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2018-19 Player Grades: Defense and Goalies

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Detroit Red Wings v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hello friends and welcome to the last of the player grades from Ken Holland’s Red Wings. I’m looking at the defense and goaltending crew. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out J.J.’s grading of the Forwards!

They are a difficult bunch to consistently scale because do you grade compared to each other or compared to expectations? I tend to lean more toward performance against expectations, and try to keep my personal biases tamped down as best I can.

Defensemen

Madison Bowey #74

Age 24 - $1M Cap Hit (Acquired from Capitals in Jensen trade, 2020-2021 RFA)
2018-19 Wings Stats: 17GP, 1G-3A, -4, 8PIM
Role(s): New Guy, Person Who Is There, “Reclamation Project
Expectations: Was not even expecting him to be on the team.
Summary: Bowey was acquired from the Caps as part of the Jensen trade at the end of February. He bounced between D.C. and Hershey and was right on the edge of being a regular NHLer but couldn’t quite jump the hurdle.

Coming to Detroit, he had the chance at a fresh start in a defensive corps that would be hard to make worse. He noticeably struggled to adjust for a few games, as you’d expect, but finally clicked with his first goal as a Wing on March 14th.

Next year could be a make or break year for him, because he wasn’t born in Michigan or over 28 which means he has to fight hard for his place.
Grade: B

Dennis Cholowski #21

Age 21 - $895k Cap Hit (2021-2022 RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 52GP, 7G-9A, -20, 16PIM
Role(s): Preseason Surprise, Team Stepchild
Expectations: Be the young gun who gets old guys scratched
Summary: It was a pleasant surprise to see Cholowski crack the opening night lineup coming out of a solid preseason, he hadn’t really been on anybody’s radar and then there he was. However, he seemed to hit the wall hard and made too many mistakes for Blash to accept and started benching him (including his first game near home when his family was there). He was sent to GR in late February, with hopes that he will work hard and be NHL ready (again?) next season.
Grade: C-

Trevor Daley #83

Age 35 - $3.17M Cap Hit (2020-2021 UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 44GP, 2G-6A, -3, 12PIM
Role(s): Bowey’s Landlord, Locker Room Guy
Expectations: Not be injured a lot.
Summary: Daley could not get it together this season, during many of the games he played he was a hindrance more than a help but at least that made some other players look better in comparison? Injured in October. Injured in November. Injured in December. And then gone for the spring.

Hi Trevor, c’mon in. We are restructuring our internal efficiencies and implementing a workforce imbalance corrective strategy and are going to have to let you go.
Grade: D

Danny DeKeyser #65

Age 29- $5M Cap Hit (2022-2023 UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 52GP, 5G-15A, +2, 39PIM
Role(s): Cap Space Destroyer. Hometown Hero #2
Expectations: Be bad again.
Summary: I hesitate to call this a bounce-back season for DeKeyser, as it’s unclear if he looked better by comparison, looked better because he played fewer games, or was actually ok. However, his mistakes were less game breaking as past seasons and he wasn’t frequently caught out of position.

Overpaid? Yes. Stuck here forever? Yes. The worst? Not this time.
Grade: B

Jonathan Ericsson #52

Age 35 - $4.25M Cap Hit (2020-2021 UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 52GP, 3G-5A, -10, 35PIM
Role(s): Ken Holland’s Failure. The Saddest Swede.
Expectations: Rage-inducing failure.
Summary: Well, he did not disappoint expectations that’s for sure. Disaster. He’s arguably the worst defenseman in the league if you look at both the stats and the “eyeball test”. He’s a reminder of how Ken Holland has made some bad decisions the past decade (understatement?).

It’s only for one more season...right?
Grade: F

Mike Green #25

Age 33- $5.375 Cap Hit (Currently LTIR, 2020-2021 UFA )
2018-19 Stats: 43GP, 5G-21A, -1, 28PIM
Role(s): Undisclosed Illness Haver. Patient Zero.
Expectations: NOT BE INJURED MAYBE??
Summary: It seems like Mike Green played zero games this year, but in fact played just over half of them. He’s been fragile even before he came to the Wings, but has taken it to a new level with not just head injuries but mysterious illnesses and probably attacked by muskrats and hit by a meteor.

I barely even remember him doing anything despite seeing he played 43 games.
Grade: D

Filip Hronek #17

Age 21- $715k Cap Hit (2021-2022 RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 46GP, 5G-18A, -10, 30PIM
Role(s): The Filip of Defense
Expectations: Remain stuck in the pipeline
Summary: Hronek did NOT remain stuck in the pipeline! Thanks to a plethora of injuries to the elder statesman, Hronek came up and then earned his spot to stay. He had a few games where he couldn’t stop coughing up the puck, but nothing that indicates he won’t keep growing and be an NHLer next year and beyond! For someone who was on the border of Grand Rapids and Detroit, he did a solid job to be the young guy on defense for us this year.

Extra step up just for setting up Zadina’s goal but 2 steps down for those turnovers in front of the net. I expect at least an A- next year, young gun.
Grade: B-

Joe Hicketts #2

Age 22 - $636k Cap Hit (Currently RFA)
2018-19 Stats: 11GP, 0G-0A, -9, 0PIM
Role(s): Designated Griffwing, Possible unspecified involvement in the Joe Hicketts Mafia
Expectations: Hoping he’d get called up at some point
Summary: And called up at some point he was! He’s another guy who’s hovering on the border but leaning more toward Grand Rapids than Detroit and is in danger of being leapfrogged by some of our newer defensive prospects. Wouldn’t be a bad thing to re-sign him and see how things go the next year or two.

HICKETTS/MCILRATH 2020. Kidding...or am I?
Grade: Pass. I’m grading him pass/fail because 11 games, but for those I guess he’d get a B?

Nick Jensen #3

Age - 28 - $812.5k Cap Hit (Traded to Capitals, signed 4yr/$10M extension)
2018-19 Wings Stats: 60GP, 2G-13A, +1, 17PIM
Role(s): The Forgotten One, Washington Capitals Superstar
Expectations: Trade Bait ooh ha ha
Summary: Jensen is the OG random defenseman coming out of nowhere and hanging around all the time, or at least from the past three seasons. He did a good job again this year, wasn’t incredible but not quite invisible either, but our blueline is not the place you want to be right now. He found himself a home in Washington and seems to have flourished with top minutes, we wish him luck and success except against us.

I’ll never forget you exist again.
Grade: B

Niklas Kronwall #55

Age 38 - $4.75M Cap Hit (Currently UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 79GP, 3G-24A, -5, 40PIM
Role(s): Oatmeal Health King, Team Dad, Noble Swedish Falcon, Brutally Honest Interviewee Expectations: Ride into the Sunset, Be a bit better than last season and way better than the few seasons prior.
Summary: After missing the first 3 games which is his thing now, Kronner started off his season in just vintage form. Handing out Kronwallings at clearance prices, not getting caught in footraces he can’t win, and even smiling on a regular basis, he turned out to be the most stable presence on the blueline as everyone else was plagued by frequent injuries. As the season went on, he wasn’t quite as dynamic but he definitely held up to the standards he set last season. Maybe those standards weren’t the highest, but just look back at the few seasons before and what a difference.

Spare me your correct and logical arguments for retirement, I’m not ready for a world without Kronwall’s brutally honest interviews and dad sighs.
Grade: C+

Luke Witkowski #28

Age 29 - $750k Cap Hit (Currently UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 34GP, 0G-2A, -5, 23PIM
Role(s): G R I T, Frans Nielsen Injurer
Expectations: Get into fights, be a nice person off the ice
Summary: Ah, the good ol’ utility player. Ready to step in on defense or at forward, and with the numerous injuries he did slot into the defensive lineup fairly often. At times I made the bold argument that he was preferable to Ericsson, and not just based on the price tag. He’s the definition of that player you’re like /typing noises/ I HATE YOU and then you see him visiting elementary school kids and start crying hearts and rainbows. With Steve at the helm, it’s hard to imagine Witter being re-signed, but if he is well trust the process trust the Yzerplan.

Pro tip: when you’re making a run at somebody make sure it isn’t one of your teammates particularly the Danish ones who always look half concussed anyway so it’s hard to tell when they really are.
Grade: D+

Goalies

Jonathan Bernier #45

Age 30 - $3M Cap Hit (2021-2022 UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 35GP, .904 SV%, 3.16GAA
Role(s): Stopgap
Expectations: Make some saves, play 30-40 games unless Jimmy gets hurt
Summary: Bernier is our affordable option to bridge the gap between Jimmy and whichever pipeline goalie is ready first. He’s been a journeyman and we’re his latest, but not necessarily final, destination. Looking at SV% and GAA alone is one thing, look at them together and you’ll see that Bernier was on point. He had a few oopsies moments, some injury time, but overall handled his backup role well sometimes going many days between starts.

/singing sadly from the goal crease/ I’m only human after all, don’t put the blame on me.
Grade: B

Jimmy Howard #35

Age 35 - $5.29M Cap Hit ($4M 2019-2020, 2020-2021 UFA)
2018-19 Stats: 55GP, .909 SV%, 3.07GAA
Role(s): James Tiberius Howard
Expectations: Possibly get injured, but hoping for another season of eliteness
Summary: Some people love to hate Jimmy, but over the years he has personally dragged this team to the playoffs, sabotaged the tank, and earned the heck out of his starting position. This season he absolutely stole some games plus making highlight reel saves 10 times a game. Daring to have a SV% above .5 when playing on a team with no defense is a bold move indeed. Larkin may be the obvious team MVP but you can’t deny Jimmy had a big hand in ruining your draft dreams. Looking forward to another season of eliteness.

What more could he have done? Gone on NHL 96 breakaways to score more goals? HE HAS GIVEN YOU EVERYTHING.
Grade: A+

So there you have it folks, agree? disagree? Just remember, Steve Yzerman is our GM now. LGRW!