The Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 years in 2016-17. Not seeing the winged wheel on the ice is something deeply unfamiliar to many, and Detroit’s management is hoping that it won’t become a trend. However, there is definitely concern going forward as to what direction the team will head. While the team is technically going through a rebuild, effectively doing so can be quite difficult when you have so many aging players taking up spots and cap dollars. There are also questions as to whether any extended period of failure would be embraced by management, as fan-site Winging it in Motown wondered earlier this month. The strategy for GM Ken Holland is going to be complicated, as fans might need to grow accustomed to losing for a brief spell if the team is to strengthen its core.
Firstly, they will need to decide which players are part of the core and which are accessory pieces. There were good signs this off-season when Holland decided to sell assets, including Thomas Vanek, Tomas Jurco, Brendan Smith, and Steve Ott. This is a solid portent that there will be future moves, but there is room for doubt. For example, the 36 year-old Henrik Zetterberg has 4 years left on his contract at $6.083 MM, while the 33 year-old Frans Nielsen was just signed to his long-term deal, good for another 5 years at $5.25 MM. Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm still have plenty left in the tank, but at $4.25 MM and $3.8 MM respectively, and years of term, is a full rebuild truly so feasible? Niklas Kronwall is another well-paid veteran at 36 years-old, and he has two more seasons under contract.
Then there is the goaltending situation. Detroit is paying over $9 million dollars in contracts to their two tenders, both of which have had their difficulties. Jimmy Howard had what could be considered a bounceback year, posting a .927 save percentage after the awful .906 dip the season before. The caveat – he only started 26 games. The other half of the duo, Petr Mrazek, received the bulk of the starts – 50 in all. Unfortunately, his stats took a nosedive to a .901 save percentage, as he struggled mightily behind his flightless team. To complicate matters, Howard has a modified No-Trade Clause, under which he can list the 10 teams he would accept a trade. The obvious decision seems to be that they will bank on Howard going forward and try to flip Mrazek to a team in need of help in the crease – he only has one year remaining at $4 MM before he needs his contract re-negotiated. If they are unable to do so, Mrazek would likely be snagged by Vegas in the expansion draft. But management obviously showed confidence in Mrazek’s abilities this season, sticking through him despite his impressively bad statistics. Perhaps Howard is the one on the way out of Motown. But if Mrazek flounders yet again, what does the pipeline hold?
The team as a whole has already allotted $67.09 MM to 18 players (two of whom are now on LTIR), and they need to sign RFAs Andreas Athanasiou, Xavier Ouellet, and Tomas Tatar. Only two players are coming off the books, the moderately paid forwards Joe Vitale and Drew Miller, either of whom could potentially re-sign. In terms of prospects, the talented winger Evgeny Svechnikov is the most promising potential addition. He posted 20 goals and 51 points in his rookie season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and impressed with his size. Anthony Mantha continues to be intriguing, and Athanasiou definitely has the talent to take another step forward. However, there isn’t a ton of help on the horizon in terms of defense. A top-flight prospect here would do wonders for the squad going forward. With 11 picks in this year’s draft, in what is Holland’s last contracted season as GM, decisions with incredible importance lie ahead. Will Hockeytown fully commit to a long-term rebuild, or will they make runs at competing in the relatively weak Atlantic division with a mix of aging and inexperienced players?