Setting an ideal 2016-2017 Red Wings Lineup: Defense

So far we have discussed what the Red Wings top six and bottom six forward lines could/should look like for the 2016-17 season. In those articles there was a lot of discussion and debate over roles, usage and deployment. There is a lot of skepticism and concern over among the Red Wings fan base surrounding the forwards these days. The scary thing is the forward situation is 10 times less concerning than the defensemen. As we continue our look at the Red Wings potential lineup for next season it is time to delve into the unknown potential abyss that is the defensive pairings.

The Current Picture

Right now the Red Wings have seven wavier eligible defensemen under contract next season and two more who are restricted free agents. It is also well known the Wings are looking to trade for a defenseman. For this article though I made the pairings under the assumption that the Wings will carry seven defensemen and those seven will come from these nine players.




Contract Status (years/Cap Hit)

Mike Green




Niklas Kronwall




Brendan Smith




Alexey Marchenko




Jonathan Ericsson




Xavier Ouellet




Nick Jensen




Danny DeKeyser



Restricted Free Agent

Ryan Sproul



Restricted Free Agent

Information Courtesy of

First Pairing

Danny DeKeyser -€” Alexey Marchenko

The Red Wings do not have a top pairing so I did not put them together that way. Some would probably prefer to see DeKeyser paired up with Smith instead but pairing him with Marchenko gives them the best shutdown pairing they can put together. It would also allow both players the opportunity to be more aggressive in the offensive end because both of them can be counted on to cover up when then other pinches. While it is not extremely important, the fact that they would have a left hand/right hand pairing is an advantage as well. In terms of usage, the expectation is that they would be the go to pair for key defensive situations.

Second Pairing

Brendan Smith -€” Mike Green

Whereas DeKeyser/Marchenko would be the defacto shutdown pairing, Smith/Green would be the dynamic offensive pairing. While I made the decision to not factor in last season's stats into the pairings because of how across the board bad they were, it is hard to ignore the fact that Smith and Green had a 5v5 CF% of 59.7 last season while logging 412 minutes together. If allowed to play a little more aggressively and together consistently this pairing could provide the offensive boost from the blue line that the Wings have been missing for several years now.

Third Pairing

Niklas Kronwall -€” Jonathan Ericsson

I know, I know...the thought of seeing these two paired together again is akin to drinking an entire bottle of Ipecac for many Red Wings fans. Until I see it though I just cannot believe that, as long as they are healthy, the Red Wings will not have #55 and #52 in the lineup. My only hope is that if they can give them as many sheltered minutes as possible it will reduce the pressure and allow them to regain at least some of their old form. It should also decrease the wear and tear on their bodies. This pairing is essentially locked up for the next three seasons so the Wings might as well do what they can to make them as effective as possible.

Seventh Defenseman

Ryan Sproul

Barring a trade for a defenseman, this will be the most interesting battle along the blue line to watch during camp. With Sproul, Xavier Ouellet and Nick Jensen all waiver eligible this season it is very likely that at least one of them is not long for this organization. In my opinion Jensen is the easiest of the three to sneak through waivers because of his age and injury history so that took the decision down to Ouellet or Sproul. Xavier Ouellet likely has the inside track on the spot coming into camp by virtue of the team knowing more about what he can do at the NHL. The problem though is that what he can do is not really anything special. Ouellet is by no means a bad defenseman. He is very similar to Marchenko in that he plays a very solid, albeit simple, game. Sproul on the other hand has tremendous offensive upside and while he is still prone to mistakes on the ice, especially in his own end, he showed progress there last season. In the end Sproul's offensive potential coupled with the fact that the Wings already have at least two players on their roster in DeKeyser and Marchenko who play a similar game to Ouellet led me to keeping Sproul up as the seventh defenseman.

We all know that the Wings are likely to make a move for a defenseman before the season starts. While I still absolutely believe if they can get a young defenseman that they truly believe can be a dynamic offensive threat and/or elite level shutdown defenseman I probably do not see the need to be as absolutely dire as most. At least not to the point I would be willing to sacrifice several quality assets to acquire anyone who is not already a sure fire top pairing defenseman. Sure, this is not a group of defensemen that can anchor a Cup contending team as it currently sits. That does not mean the Red Wings cannot contend with this group of defensemen though. There is talent on their blue line and if managed properly along with a fairly deep group of two way forwards and a goalie tandem that can be extremely good when they are on their game, it can be good enough. The question though, just like with the forwards, is if the right combination of pairings and usage can be found.

Up next in our off season look at the potential Red Wings lineup…the power play units.