There is no set format for the grading system across the board for all of our writers when it comes to these players. I was tasked with grading the defensive corps for the Red Wings this season (as we know it, this was probably their weakest link). For grading purposes, I weighed each player’s production from last season, plus their career averages against how they performed on the ice this year.
This grading format included a variety of stats from goals, assists, time on ice and Corsi For%. I’ll preface this article by saying they really missed Danny DeKeyser on the back end this year after he underwent back surgery in December and you’ll notice he was left out of this article having only appeared in just eight games.
Let’s get into the grades…
Entering the season the expectation for Hronek was to play bigger minutes on the blue-line. A former second-round pick in 2016 from the Ken Holland regime, the young Czech defenseman was going to be leaned on more in 5-on-5 situations as well as on the power play with his heavy, right-handed shot. For an aging team, it was time to rely on their younger defensive cohorts heading into the year.
The Red Wings blue-line as a whole was historically bad in 2019-20. The team itself was a disastrous -122 in the goal differential...and it wasn’t even close, with the Ottawa Senators the next team ahead of them at -52.
In his sophomore year, Hronek managed a career-high 31 points (up eight points from last season) and doubled his power play production from the year before with 10 points. His CF% dipped below his career average (48.4%) to 46.9%, but a result of this would be the team leading 23:54 average TOI.
Despite leading all defensemen on the team at -38, Hronek ended up playing the most minutes of anyone on the team and was stacked up against other team’s top lines throughout the year. For a 22-year-old, he was thrust into playing more minutes due to the DeKeyser injury and, if we’re calling a spade a spade here, Jeff Blashill didn’t really have any better options. All in all, I thought Hronek navigated a historically poor season for the franchise pretty well, hence the grade.
When Steve Yzerman signed Nemeth last summer the expectation for me was that he would be Jonathan Ericsson’s replacement. A big, tough Swedish veteran that has played over 300 career NHL games. Nemeth is nothing flashy from an offensive perspective and was in Detroit to log minutes, while contributing a stay-at-home style that could be useful on the penalty kill.
Nemeth came in and did exactly what was expected of him, averaging 22:02 of ice time, while providing a much needed physical presence on the blueline. Again, for a team that was so poor in its own end this year, the Swedish defenseman’s 47.4 CF% was right around his career average. I think he was an upgrade from Ericsson because of the age difference (although Ericsson would plot his return later in the year), plus he led the team with 92 blocked shots and brought that physical aspect in his game each night. Overall, I thought it was a decent transition signing by Yzerman.
The grade is where it is because Nemeth has been an average NHLer over the course of his career and that’s exactly what we saw again this season. He’s not going to cost you a hockey game, but he’s not going to win it for you either. He’s stable back there in a second or third pairing role (likely more of a third pairing guy considering the Wings were in the basement this year). Somehow achieving just a -10 rating on a team that was dead last in goals against this year could probably be considered a small win.
I think the biggest expectation heading into the year for Green was doing his best to stay healthy. It was already a blue-line that lacked a lot of depth and having his veteran presence on the backend, especially when it came to contributing on the power play, would be helpful to the team’s success.
Obviously, Green’s offensive skills have wavered in recent years and when he landed in Detroit, I think the fanbase knew it wasn’t getting the Green of old during his prime in Washington. Defense has never been his strong suit, but any offensive output was the measuring stick this season.
Green finished with just 11 points in 48 games with the Wings this season (not the offensive production they had hoped for). But, the fact that he managed 48 appearances in a shortened season, may have been an accomplishment in itself. His 46.4 CF% (45.9% during his tenure with the Wings) was way down from his career average of 52.6% and in fact, it was the lowest total of his career to date.
The only positive from Green’s season was the fact that Yzerman pulled off a Houdini-like act by landing a conditional fourth-round pick in late February from the Edmonton Oilers for the veteran rearguard (thanks, Kenny!). Green appeared in just two games for the Oilers before injuring his knee and opted out of the NHL’s restart in August.
Green has been a shadow of his former self the last few years — missing 76 games — and never really regained his offensive stride with the Wings. This year was a debacle by all accounts and for me, Green was at the top of that list.
He retired last week after 880 NHL games.
I think the expectation for Bowey heading into the season was that he could be leaned on a little bit more by Blashill. He’s been a middle of the road NHLer to this point in his career and came over last season from the Capitals in the Nick Jensen trade. At first glance, he has good size (6-2 and 200 lbs.) and a heavy, right-handed shot from the point — there’s a lot of potential there. At 25, his leash is a little bit longer because of the veteran bodies on this blue-line and the front office likely wanted to see if he could deliver on a full-time basis in 2019-20.
Overall, I don’t think Bowey had too bad of a year. In fact, he managed a career-high 17 points in 53 games while averaging 17:54 of ice time. As far as his possession metrics, it was status quo for Bowey as he finished the season with a 44.4 CF% (his career average is 44.5%). He seems to be getting a little bit more of an opportunity in Detroit than he did with Washington, but remains in that bottom tier of the Wings defensemen.
I actually like what Bowey brings to the table. He’s a decent skater with good size and the best part is he’s only 25. With just one year remaining on his contract, it will be an important year for Bowey to showcase to the front office that he can stick around longer. I’m hoping they work something out because he’s currently the second youngest defenseman on the roster (depending on where Dennis Cholowski starts next season) and Bowey has the potential to be a consistent top four blue-liner for this team.
Biega was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in a trade that sent prospect David Pope packing in early October. It was a depth move by Yzerman and panned out because of the injury to DeKeyser that kept him out for much of the season. Biega had never been much of an offensive contributor from the backend and spent his first five years in the league with the Canucks — his best season was in 2018-19 with 16 points in 41 games. The Wings were looking for an established veteran that would give them some minutes and play steady defense.
Biega was a stable presence for the Wings this year and with his experience in the league, it was likely beneficial to the younger skaters on the team. He finished the year with just three points in 49 games, but as we know, he’s not an offensive-minded defenseman and was productive in a penalty kill role. If we look at the possession metrics, his 44.3 CF% dipped well below his career average of 48.1%, but then again this was a hockey club that surrendered the most goals of any team in the league by a landslide.
As stable as Biega was this year, he was just okay for me. Nothing flashy, nothing out of the ordinary, just a whole lot of mediocrity. As a whole, this was one of the weakest defensive groups in the NHL last season, and Biega really didn’t set himself apart from his peers. He’s on a very cheap contract heading into the 2020-21 season, so he will be back and provide a stable rearguard for Blashill.
This was a big year for Cholowski, in terms of getting out of Blashill’s dog house. Is he young? Sure. Does he have some more developing to do? Check. But, it seems that Blashill can’t give this guy a break. I’m not sure if it’s a similar situation to when Anthony Mantha avoided a long stretch of NHL games early in his career for defensive reasons, but whatever the case, the coaching staff doesn’t think Cholowski is ready for big time NHL minutes. There have been some knocks on Cholowski’s game when it comes to being stronger on the puck in his own zone and making a firm outlet pass to start the transition through the neutral zone. The theme for the 22-year-old this year was consistency.
I don’t really know that Cholowski got a fair shake this season considering I’ve been calling for Ericsson’s departure for a few years now and I would have preferred to see him get the time over Trevor Daley. I think he has the skating ability and instincts to contribute more offensively, especially on the man advantage, but it seems he is a little bit like a deer lost in the headlights in his own zone. Is that going to improve with a longer stay in Grand Rapids? I don’t think that’s the answer. I think he needs more minutes at the NHL level to figure these kinks out and let’s be honest, the team isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so adding another veteran defenseman will only hurt his development.
Cholowski didn’t seem to find his stride this year and part of that is due to Blashill’s indecisiveness on whether to make him a full-time NHLer or continue to bounce him up and down the ranks between the minors. This game of musical chairs isn’t really solution in my mind and if you want to maximize his potential, I think the franchise needs to deal with the growing pains. After all, this roster continues to get younger and with that youth comes some headaches.
Another veteran blue-liner in the twilight of his career and the expectation for Daley was to provide minutes in a third pairing role. Daley is a defenseman that Blashill likes to lean on in penalty killing situations and his 16 years of experience in the league is also something the bench boss coveted when it comes to developing the younger defensemen in the lineup.
Daley was a liability the entire season — let’s call it what it is. He basically played because DeKeyser was hurt early on and there was an inconsistency with Blashill to keep Cholowski in the lineup (veterans over youth, stop me if you’ve seen this before). He was once a strong two-way defenseman in this league and a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. But, those days are long behind Daley and as a result he registered a career-worst 40.1 CF%.
Daley was simply a pylon this year and I can’t sugarcoat it. I think he was the worst defenseman on the roster this year and the fact that his contract has expired is a huge bonus for this front office — I don’t anticipate Yzerman bringing him back. He’ll be 37 when next season rolls around and this could very well be the end of the line for him.