The Detroit Red Wings were hoping for a better season in 2017-18 than the year before. In 2016-17, the storied franchise missed the playoffs for the first time in a quarter century, going 33-36-13 and finishing seventh in the Atlantic Division. They missed Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and other legendary Red Wings players, and relied too heavily on an aging Henrik Zetterberg for their offensive spark. They sold some assets at the traded deadline, knowing they weren’t headed for the playoffs. This year is much the same.
Through 47 games, the Red Wings are 19-20-8 and in almost exactly the same place they were a year prior—when they had a 20-19-8 record. Now that same selling decision has been made, according to a source for The Athletic’s Craig Custance (subscription required) and the Red Wings are one of the first teams to contact others around the league making it clear they’re ready to deal. Whether that means a full tear down or just expiring contracts isn’t clear, though Custance believes there is more “willingness to move players with term on their contracts,” at least for the right price. He details those that may be available, including pending free agent Mike Green who recently ranked tenth in our Midseason UFA Power Rankings.
The idea of a tear down in Detroit though poses another question. What happens to GM Ken Holland?
If the last two years have been viewed as a disappointment in Detroit, the salary structure going forward is a disaster. The team has few really exciting pieces, and yet find themselves at the very top of the league in terms of projected cap hit according to CapFriendly. They have quite a bit of dead money in the way of Johan Franzen’s long-term injury and Stephen Weiss’ buyout payments, and still have long-term deals on the books for players like Justin Abdelkader, Frans Nielsen and Danny DeKeyser.
The decision to tear down, or at least sell off a good portion of assets is probably the right move for the struggling club. Despite sitting in fourth place in the Atlantic, they are 13 points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and would easily rank dead last in the Metropolitan. But if a real fire-sale is going to happen, allowing Holland to captain it seems like a vote of confidence in his role going forward. If the team has any plans of moving on from their long-time executive, why allow him to be the deciding voice on which assets to keep or jettison, or moreover which ones to bring in?
There have been several rumors over the past few months that Holland could be a new face in Vancouver, added to their front office group after Jim Benning’s contract expires at the end of the season. Whether there is any truth to that is still to be seen, but for now Holland remains in control of the Red Wings. A tear down is important and can be empowering for a franchise and its fans if done correctly. Before the decision is made on whether to trade Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist, a similar one will have to be made a little higher up the food chain.