What should the Red Wings do at the trade deadline? It’s a question we go to every year, and yet we’ll get different answers every year. Why? Because not all teams are created equal. Every team has their own set of variables.
Now we land at the 2015-16 Detroit Red Wings, what should Ken Holland do this year?
To get a proper answer, we need first to ask ourselves, are the Red Wings a top contender this year? Any year, any team can win the Cup. All it takes is a hot goalie, a flukey hot streak, the emergence of an unheralded hero, any number of long-shot scenarios at the right time. However, if you’re Ken Holland, you should ignore that for this question. You should make your deadline decisions on the assumption that all teams are healthy, and all players on all teams continue performing however they’ve performed this season. Assume the status quo.
Keeping that in mind, are the Red Wings a top contender? I say no. At least, not yet. But soon!
The Red Wings should not add any rentals at this trade deadline, nor should they subtract from the current roster (unless it is unloading an awful contract, which is unlikely). The Wings should be building for next year. This in no way implies the Wings should fold it in this season and assume a seller’s role. They are in an excellent position as all the key assets the Wings have for next season are already in the organization.
The two biggest factors on the Wings right now and going forward are Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazek. Larkin is a 19-year-old rookie going through his first full NHL season. Petr Mrazek, as great as he’s been, is going through his first full NHL season as a starter. Their growth year over year at this stage in their development should be significant. If they’re good this year, how great will they be next year?
To further the point on the youth movement, how great has Andreas Athanasiou looked when used correctly this year? Danny DeKeyser looks like a top pairing defenseman. Tomas Tatar, Gus Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Jurco, Alexey Marchenko, Xavier Ouellet and heck, maybe even Justin Abdelkader are all still on the upswing in their development. If following typical NHL player progressions, they should all be better next year. Given that this is pretty much the core of the team, it bodes very well. This does not even include the possibility of Anthony Mantha making an immediate impact or Teemu Pulkkinen becoming a regular.
However, Henrik Zetterberg & Niklas Kronwall, two key contributors, are on the downswing of their careers and will likely be less effective next year. These are only two cogs in the machine, though; I take the progression of the nine players I listed for the regression of these two.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t mention Pavel Datsyuk. Well, Pavel Datsyuk is a Russian built, immortal cyborg, specially designed to play hockey. He does not age. You could chop off his right leg, and I’m still fairly confident he’ll put up 50-60 points. He’ll also have that whole possible last hurrah thing going for him next year. Don’t ever question the magic man’s abilities.
Another big factor as to why the Wings should be looking at next year. The contract situation. DeKeyser, Mrazek, Pulkkinen, Sheahan & Marchenko are all restricted free agents. Of those 5, I only see Dekeyser and Mrazek getting significant raises. How significant? It’s hard to say for sure, but Holland does have a track record of great contracts with RFAs.
On the flip side, Kyle Quincey, Brad Richards, Drew Miller & Darren Helm are all unrestricted free agents. Of that group, I only see Helm likely returning. It’s not a guarantee, but the Wings will also push hard to get Jimmy Howard’s contract of the books. If they’re successful, the Wings should free up roughly 13.8 Million dollars of cap space between Howard, Quincey, Miller & Richards. Obviously, a good chunk of that will go to the RFAs and Darren Helm, but it does give the Wings flexibility, which in today’s NHL is huge. (This is all also under the assumption Johan Franzen remains on LTIR and pulls a Chris Pronger. Which is looking very likely at this point)
The Wings have a chance to win the Cup this year. I’m not saying this season is a write-off. Far from it. If everything goes right, they could certainly pull off a decent playoff run, much like any other team could. However, If I’m a betting man, I’m putting all my eggs in the 16-17 basket. That team should be something special, so Holland is best off saving every asset he has for next year. That’s the time to go for broke.
Besides, did everyone see what Chicago paid for Andrew Ladd as well? Woof. If that’s the going rate for significant rentals, I won’t touch any of them with a 10-foot poll. Dano AND a first rounder? Chicago is not screwing around.