Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove – USA TODAY Sports
The trade market seems to be flooded with quality forwards, but the defenseman pool is far shallower. It appears as if a defenseman is the Red Wings biggest need as we approach the deadline, but they may also be in the market for a big, physical forward, but we will leave that for another day.
As trade deadline week at WingsNation continues, let’s take a look at the top five defensemen that the Red Wings should/could target before the trade deadline.
Detroit approaches the trade deadline as a salary-cap strapped team. Unfortunately, both Johan Franzen and Drew Miller find themselves on long-term injured reserve and continue to count against the salary cap.
“If we do anything, from a cap standpoint, to bring in the type of player that would have a real impact, we would have to move somebody out,” Ken Holland told the Detroit Free Press.
In the same interview, Holland said that he will not move goaltender Jimmy Howard, who’s $5.3 million cap hit would naturally open up a tonne of cap space, but keeping him is the right move in my opinion. Petr Mrazek has been great this season, but you need two strong goaltending options to feel confident heading into the playoffs.
Let’s get back to the ‘out with one, in with another’ mindset they head into the deadline with. The Red Wings have a handful of pending unrestricted free agents that could be a part of a potential trade to help generate enough cap space to bring on a new contract. Brad Richards is one of those players, but he seems like the least likely to be dealt. Detroit brought him in on a one-year deal to bring a championship resume into the locker room for a Stanley Cup run. The others are Darren Helm, Drew Miller (who won’t be traded because he’s on LTIR), Joakim Andersson and Kyle Quincey. It is hard to see how Helm and Quincey fit into the equation next season because they are both probably looking for a raise that the Red Wings simply can’t afford. That makes them the most likely candidates to head the other way in a trade to bring in an upgrade on the blueline. According to our friends at NHLNumbers.com [http://stats.nhlnumbers.com/teams/DET?year=2016] Helm carries a $2.125 million cap-hit, and Quincey is at $4.25 million. Moving one of those contracts would be enough for them to take on an impact defenseman. Now it’s time to look at who that blueliner could be.
#1 – KEVIN SHATTENKIRK – BLUES
Shattenkirk’s name was floating around a lot earlier in the season, but the likelihood of him being traded before the deadline seems minimal at best right now. The St. Louis Blues likely aren’t looking to be sellers, so the deal would need to be a lateral move that helps both teams right away. They are 35-17-9 (79 points) and sit comfortably in a playoff spot in the Central Division
Shattenkirk tops the list because the Red Wings have depth on the blueline, but they have a plethora of fourth, fifth and sixth defenseman and need another top pairing guy, especially with Niklas Kronwall approaching the twilight of his career. Shattenkirk is a right-handed defenseman, has a $4.25 million cap hit and is signed through next season. The 27-year-old is on pace for his third straight 40-plus point season, and his 18 power-play points (5PPG / 13PPA) would give the Red Wings’ 20th ranked power-play a much-needed boost.
Shattenkirk is clearly the No. 1 defenseman that the Red Wings are searching for, but with Alex Pietrangelo (knee) out and the Blues recent stretch of strong play, is Shattenkirk still in play? In addition to Pietrangelo, the Blues were dealt another blow over the weekend with Alex Steen out for at least one month. This could put the Blues in the market for a forward, which helps the Red Wings pursuit for Shattenkirk. The Blues’ asking price would be extremely high, likely looking for a winger like Tomas Tatar or Gustav Nyquist.
#2 – KRIS RUSSELL – FLAMES
Unlike the Blues, Calgary is not on pace to make the playoffs and Russell’s contract expires at the end of the season, making it a lot more likely that he gets traded than Shattenkirk. Russell is undersized (5’10” / 170 lbs.) but he plays bigger than his frame. He is an excellent skater and possesses offensive abilities, but he is best known for his shot blocking. He currently leads the NHL with 3.4 blocked shots per game; no Red Wing averages more than 1.5.
Russell will be looking for a fat payday this summer, but he would be worth signing if they let Quincey go. Russell is another lefty, which isn’t ideal, but a player with elite shot blocking capabilities and offensive acumen is hard to come by. He has 15 points (4G / 11A) in 51 games this season and his asking price would be significantly lower than Shattenkirk’s.
#3 – DAN HAMHUIS – CANUCKS
Hamhuis is a pending unrestricted free agent and has a no-trade clause, so he would need to approve a trade to Detroit if they were to acquire him. Hamhuis missed nearly two months earlier in the season after getting hit in the face by a slap shot but has picked up one assist, four hits and seven blocked shots while averaging 21:33 TOI in seven games since returning.
He has offensive ability, but the 33-year-old is best known for his play in his zone. He is capable of logging huge minutes in a shutdown role, which would be crucial in the playoffs. If the Red Wings were to acquire Hamhuis, fellow pending free agent Kyle Quincey could be headed the other way, freeing cap space and creating a roster spot for him to play in a shutdown role alongside Danny DeKeyser.
#4 – DAVID SCHLEMKO – DEVILS
Schlemko is an intriguing option because he appears to be vastly underrated and underpaid. Schlemko’s cap hit is just $625K, meaning the Red Wings could conceivably add him without tinkering with their existing roster. Like I said in the intro, we already have a lot of blueline depth when it comes to fourth, fifth, sixth defensemen, so would Schlemko be an upgrade over Jonathan Ericsson or Alexey Marchenko? I think so. I’ve loved Marchenko’s development this season, but another Calder Cup run with the Grand Rapids couldn’t hurt either.
Schlemko is comparable to Hamhuis. He’s probably better in the offensive zone, but a bit of a downgraded in his own end. Neither player is overly physical but both are capable of playing a lot of minutes. Schlemko has 17 points (6G / 11A) in 52 games this season as well as the second highest relative Corsi among blueliners on the team (per war-on-ice.com).
Personally, I think Schlemko is a better option than Hamhuis because of the cap hit, but I ranked Hamhuis higher because New Jersey may elect to keep Schlemko considering they’re just three points out of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Schlemko is also a lefty, but he can play the right side and has for much of the 2015-16 season.
#5 – JUSTIN SCHULTZ – OILERS
Schultz is an interesting option. The 25-year-old was a highly touted prospect coming out of the University of Wisconsin, who impressed with 27 points (8G / 19A) in 48 games in his rookie year. He followed that up with 11 goals and 12 assists in 2013-14, but has seen his points per game drop every season—0.56 in 2012-13, 0.45 in 2013-14, 0.38 last year and 0.23 in 44 games this year.
“I think they’ll offload Justin Schultz,” Bob McKenzie told TSN 1260. “There appears to be some interest in him. He’s got no future with the Oilers, it’s as simple as that.”
Unlike some of the players mentioned above, it seems like a forgone conclusion that Schultz will be traded at the deadline. In fact, he might be the only one who gets traded. Schultz’s defensive zone deficiencies have been well documented, but the feeling is that he has some untapped offensive potential. A change of scenery, especially to a team with a history of winning, might be exactly what Schultz needs to rejuvenate his young career. He is a right-handed shot, and his high-end offensive talent would help the Red Wings power-play. Schultz has a $3.9 million cap-hit and is a restricted free-agent at the end of the season, so the Red Wings would have control of him. If McKenzie is right, and he usually is, Schultz wearing out his welcome in Edmonton could make him a nice deadline bargain. And the Oilers haven’t had the best history of drafting, so we wouldn’t have to worry about any potentially traded draft picks turning into studs.
Ultimately, I expect the Red Wings to remain relatively quiet as the deadline nears, but there’s always the potential for the right deal to come across the table. One thing that will hurt the Red Wings and other buyers is that Roman Polak and Nick Spaling were traded for second round picks on Monday morning, which sets the market extremely high. If Polak can pull in a second, the asking price for other pending UFA’s like Russell will likely be even higher.