You can’t bat a thousand.
Whether you’re Peter Chiarelli or Canadiens legend Sam Pollock, there’s no way you can ensure a guaranteed win with every deal. The same goes for Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman. In his two seasons in Hockeytown, he’s made 25 trades — 17 if you don’t count moving up or down on draft day. While a few moves have been home runs, others have left a lot to be desired — or have the potential to look poor in hindsight.
In order to gauge Yzerman’s track record with trades, this piece will take a closer look at some of the earliest deals made in his tenure with Detroit. In the interest of brevity and clarity, this piece will focus primarily on roster players and prospects traded away by the Red Wings. There’s no telling what someone like, say, Sebastian Cossa could become just yet.
Trades will be graded on the price, the impact it has on the rebuild, and the overall impact the trade had on both teams.
Today’s piece will cover the 2018-19 offseason and the 2019-20 regular season.
Adam Erne acquired in exchange for 2020 4th round pick
Steve Yzerman’s first trade was widely regarded with a shrug by the rest of the hockey community. Erne played a solid role on the fourth line in Tampa Bay, but it wasn’t seen by many as a blockbuster trade. In hindsight, it appears that the Red Wings obtained a very fair return on their investment. Since the trade, Erne has played 101 games for the Red Wings, scoring 25 points in the process.
If those numbers don’t leap off the page for you, this fun statistic will: Erne led all Red Wings players in goals last season with 11 in 45 games. It’s highly unlikely he’ll ever do so again, but that extra oomph of offense on the team’s depth can’t hurt. As far as depth trades go, Yzerman could’ve done much worse here.
Verdict: Win (even if it’s a small one!)
David Pope traded for Alex Biega
For those who don’t remember David Pope, the 2013 4th round pick was touted as a potential depth player for the Red Wings in as early as 2018-19. After the trade that sent him to the Canucks, he played 11 games with their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets, before playing just nine games in the ECHL. Since the 2019-20 season, he hasn’t played a single game of professional hockey, according to EliteProspects.
Alex Biega, on the other hand, played 62 games across two seasons with Detroit, earning six points in the process. Biega was used as a seventh defenseman in 2019-20 as injuries and trades piled up for the oft-maligned Red Wings. He was able to perform the job amicably, earning a one-year contract extension in the process. While he was never expected to step in as a difference-maker for Detroit, he did play 62 more NHL games than Pope has. When you’re rebuilding, every victory counts — even if they’re little ones.
Alec Regula Traded for Brendan Perlini
There’s something to be said about swinging for the fences — and Yzerman did his fair share of that in 2019-20. With the team in a state of arrears, he elected to make change with what he could. Following a series of tough losses, he traded prospect Alec Regula for Brendan Perlini — a forward in need of a change of scenery. Perlini struggled to make an impact on the Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks in 2018-19 and 2019-20. Unfortunately, this trend continued in Detroit. In 39 games with the Red Wings, Perlini put up just four points; the lowest in his NHL career. Detroit opted to not re-sign Perlini, and after a year of playing in Switzerland, the former Red Wing has recently signed with the Edmonton Oilers.
The chart above (shout out to Evolving Hockey) shows that Perlini failed to generate any sort of offense or defensive impact while on the ice. In fact, the team played significantly worse in almost every scenario.
Regula, on the other hand, made his NHL debut last season looks ready to make a full-time leap sometime in 2021-22. The third-round pick played 14 games for the Rockford IceHogs and three for the Blackhawks in 2020-21, racking up four AHL points in the process. As far as third-round picks go, Regula’s role as a depth NHL defenseman appears to be par for the course for his draft range. In hindsight, it’s fair to see Yzerman’s point of view. The Red Wings were floundering and a change had to be made. Sadly, the scales appear tipped against him on this trade.
Jacob de la Rose traded for Robby Fabbri
In an interview with NHL.com, St. Louis Blues general manager Doug Armstrong spoke very highly of Fabbri, wanting to offer the fan-favorite an opportunity somewhere else. The Red Wings relished this chance, obtaining Fabbri in exchange for Jacob de la Rose, a waiver acquisition in 2018-19. Fabbri struggled with two major injuries in his career before joining Detroit. In a new environment, he has thrived, posting 48 points in 82 games with the Red Wings. The second-line forward has quickly become a key member of the Red Wings’ rebuild alongside Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Zadina, and many others.
To say this deal was lopsided is an understatement. After the infamous one-for-one deal, de la Rose played 47 games for the Blues, putting up six points across two seasons. He has since returned to Sweden to remain close to his mother. While this trade was seen as a good-faith opportunity for Fabbri, there’s no denying that the deal very clearly benefitted one team above the other.
Verdict: Big win
Vili Saarijarvi traded for Eric Comrie
It’s hard to remember, but just a few years ago, the Red Wings’ up-and-coming defensive core consisted of Vili Saarijarvi, Xavier Oulette, and Ryan Sproul. In hindsight, this was perhaps not the best choice. On paper, this move made sense from the Red Wings’ perspective. Jimmy Howard was in the twilight of his goaltending career and Jonathan Bernier could only do so much as a backup. Something had to give, and that something was a 22-year-old defensive prospect.
This trade seems like a head-scratcher on both sides. Saarijarvi never broke out on the NHL level, playing just 25 games with the Tucson Roadrunners before returning to the Finnish Liiga. Comrie allowed five goals on 30 shots in his debut in Detroit, after which he was subsequently waived by Detroit and claimed by the Winnipeg Jets. This would be the first of multiple times the Jets claimed Comrie off waivers. While this wasn’t a loss of a trade by the Red Wings, it certainly wasn’t a win, either. It falls among the gray area where nobody wins. A true hockey trade no matter how you look at it.
Mike Green traded for Kyle Brodziak, 2020 4th round pick
This was the first of two deals Yzerman did with the Edmonton Oilers during the trade deadline. The Red Wings absorbed Kyle Brodziak’s dead contract and acquired a draft pick in exchange for long-term veteran defenseman Mike Green. Green went on to play just two games for the Oilers before opting out of the 2019-20 playoffs. Shortly after, the Oilers went on to lose their play-in round to the Chicago Blackhawks. Following the end of the season, Green retired from professional hockey.
The fourth-round pick acquired by the Red Wings became goaltender Jan Bednar. It’s hard to know what will become of Bednar just yet, but his 2020-21 stats suggest that he still has a few years of development ahead of him. Next season, he’ll perform the role of the starting goaltender of Acadie-Bathurst Titan in the QMJHL. While the jury is still out on Bednar, acquiring a potential starting goaltender in exchange for just two scoreless NHL games out of Green seems like a win in hindsight.
Andreas Athanasiou, Ryan Kuffner traded for Sam Gagner, 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 2nd round pick
The biggest move of Yzerman’s 2019-20 season came with the departure of Andreas Athanasiou. Following an outstanding 30-goal season in 2018-19, Athanasiou struggled to make much of an impact in 2019-20. A change of scenery was needed for both sides. Unfortunately for Athanasiou, this trade benefitted only one of the parties involved. Following the trade, Athanasiou played nine regular-season games for Edmonton, scoring just two points in the process. He was later qualified as a free agent by Edmonton and headed to free agency before signing with the Los Angeles Kings. Kuffner went on to play four games for the Bakersfield Condors before taking a season in Germany in 2020-21. He now plays for the Iowa Wild.
Sam Gagner, on the other hand, has made a good niche for himself in Detroit. The defensive forward has taken on a mentorship role with the organization, teaching players like Michael Rasmussen the ins and outs of playing center at the NHL level. He will enter this third season in Detroit on a cost-effective $850K contract. Funny enough, the two picks Detroit acquired in the trade were never spent by the Red Wings. The 2020 pick was used to trade down in order to acquire Theodor Niederbach and Sam Stange, while the 2021 pick went the other way in the Nick Leddy deal. Acquiring two prospects, a three-year veteran, and a solid defenseman in exchange for nine games of Andreas Athanasiou and an AHL-level player is a win no matter how you look at it.
Stay tuned for part two!