The Red Wings are on the verge of a catastrophic failure if they try to move Pavel Datsyuk’s contract to clear room to sign Steven Stamkos

The Detroit Red Wings are going through a period of time which no hockey franchise likes to go through – serious self-denial. From the ownership group right through to the most casual of fans, there’s an underlying sense that everything will be okay.

Today, Pavel Datsyuk officially announced his time as a Red Wing is over after a long saga wondering exactly what he’d do. 

While the possibility was in the works for a while, reports surfaced yesterday that the Wings may be trying to package Datsyuk’s deal for cap purposes – which would likely include a roster player, and not a throwaway- perhaps someone like Teemu Pulkinnen, Brendan Smith, Andreas Athanasiou, or Tomas Jurco.

A lot of these possibilities were tied to landing a big-name free agent. There is exactly one free agent under the age of 30 and who had a cap hit than $6 million this past season, and his name is Steven Stamkos. There is one superstar available, and everyone else is not a big name free agent. Eric Staal, Brian Campbell, Patrik Elias, Dan Hamhuis, and Dan Boyle are all available, but none of these guys are “move the franchise around to make room for” guys. Steven Stamkos is that type of player. 

Even if Ken Holland isn’t overly optimistic about trading the cap hit of Datsyuk away, it still means he’s trying to do it. And if he’s trying to do that in order of landing Stamkos, well, that’s quite the ambitious move. 

Failing to come to terms with a few simple possibilities that all point back to Datsyuk’s contract, could push the Wings from “making the playoffs, but struggling” to “complete franchise meltdown”.

Last week, our own Greg Brady discussed why any trade involving Datsyuk’s cap hit is a bad idea, whether it’s related to Dasyuk or not. In short, the Wings won’t come out on top in the long rung They’ll end up losing an asset instead of being patient for a year when they’re not going to be great anyway and just sucking it up.

Here are a few things to consider about the Red Wings and the NHL in general : 

  • Pavel Datsyuk is not a Red Wings player anymore.
  • Steven Stamkos is very likely not be a Red Wing next season. 
  • If somehow, Steven Stamkos were to become a Red Wing, it could only realistically happen if Pavel Datsyuk’s cap hit were no longer on the roster, as the Wings do need other players on their roster and have yet to sign Petr Mrazek, who will be looking for a long term deal. 
  • If the Wings don’t sign Steven Stamkos, they’ll have traded away a good player for a player they ended up not landing. 
  • There are not a lot of other A+ UFA options available, none that make the impact on a franchise like Steven Stamkos does, and none that are worth trying to make your franchise player at this point in their career- or trading away quality players to another team for a cap hit relief and a small return.

The Decision 3.0

Steven Stamkos is not LeBron James in the sense that he’s in the conversation for “the best ever” in his sport, but he’ll be arguably the biggest free agent signing in his league’s history, like James was… twice.

Steven Stamkos can’t turn around a franchise immediately within a season like James did every where he went. It’s been proven repeatedly statistically even the best NHL players only amount to a few extra wins per season.

The Decision, where Lebron chose to go to Miami, was one thing, as Miami was always kind of considered a front runner for LeBron to sign with.
The second decision, where LeBron eventually returned to Cleveland? It changed the landscape of the league, which led a lot of teams to make transactions in order to clear space for LeBron – the only problem was, he always wanted to go to Cleveland (or at least said that he did). 

This idea of trading Datsyuk to clear up space for Datsyuk has an eerie resemblance of that – and not just because the idea’s been floating around for a while of Stamkos returning home to Toronto. 

It’s one thing to make cap space on the off-chance you might get a certain player in free agency, but it’s a stranger move to have to trade away quality assets – when you don’t have a real good chance of getting a player. 

The Wings do not serve a very rational chance of getting Steven Stamkos.
 

There’s a question so massive it deserves its own section of the article. It’s not an easy one to ask, but it’s a very, very necessary one:

Why on earth would Steven Stamkos come to Detroit?

Let’s ask another question first:

Is Steven Stamkos next year better than Pavel Datsyuk was last season? Probably, but we’re cutting it close between two of the better players in the league. 

If you were to take out Steven Stamkos’ impact from and inserted it into a Datsyuk-less Detroit, you’d probably get a marginally better team – but a clearly worse one than Steven Stamkos’ Tampa Bay. 

Would Stamkos come to a team that he could easily beat in the playoffs by staying in Tampa Bay?

Sorry, Detroit, but Tampa Bay’s been quite a bit more successful than you in Stamkos’ prime. Since 2010-11, the Lightning have reached the Stanley Cup final and won seven playoff series. The Red Wings have won just two series in that time frame, and none since coming over to the Eastern Conference starting in the 2014 playoffs.

Let’s look at Hockey Reference’s point share statistic, and how the two matched up in 2015-16:

Steven Stamkos was estimated to be worth about 9 points in the standings last season. At his best, he’s worth about 15 point shares. Is he at his best? Well, he’s not putting up 60 goals a season right now… but he’s still quite the player. At Datsyuk’s best, he was worth about 13 point shares. Last year, he was at 5.6. Pushed to an 82 game average, that’s still a shade under 7 points.
The difference between Datsyuk and Stamkos’ impact over this past year is an estimated about two or three points in the standings. That’s it. He wouldn’t turn Detroit into a contender immediately- no one single player would.

(You can find all of this via Hockey Reference’s Play Index. Here’s last year’s data.) 

If Detroit’s going to be more competitive in the future, they’re going to need a better roster than their 2015-16 edition- and even if they were to somehow land Steven Stamkos, it really wouldn’t make a franchise-changing impact from this season’s team – considering they’re already losing their roster’s best player. While Stamkos would be the best available replacement- and in all likelihood, be better than Datsyuk, his positives really only come with a marginal increase in the big picture of losing Datsyuk.  

If Stamkos wanted solely just to play for a competitive team, he’d probably just stay in Tampa Bay. Detroit simply isn’t very competitive right now, and even signing Stamkos wouldn’t quite put them among the NHL’s best immediately.

Is it about money for Stamkos?

If Steven Stamkos really wants to make the most money out of signing with a new team, he’d go to Toronto. From Jeff Veillette’s post at The Leafs Nation earlier in the season, quoting Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos on how Stamkos would end up with the most total profit – including salary and endorsements – by signing with the Maple Leafs:

What was fascinating, however, was Kypreos’ suggestion that the Leafs might think beyond the salary cap and use the corporate partners surrounding them to get him some additional income.

“It doesn’t make sense for him to suck that much of your team cap and expect to have a good team around him,” said Kypreos when suggested that Stamkos could ask for the projected $14.8M league max. “So they offer him $11, and they guarantee him $5-6M corporately. You get your corporate partners and get them to buck up. It’s happening already.”

No other team could offer Stamkos the superstar life than playing in the biggest hockey market in the world, and really, no other team could offer him the corporate sponsorships that Toronto would have the connections for. While Steven Stamkos could become the new spokesperson for just about every one of the Leafs’ corporate sponsors and make millions, Detroit could maybe offer him a local sponsorship deal with Little Caesars, but still, there’s seven other markets in the NHL with a bigger money value, according to Forbes’ 2015 list. 

Does Stamkos want a team that’s good now, or a team that’s good in the future?

There is a team in the NHL that will soon have a player who won every junior MVP award he possibly could in a single season, a player who outproduced every American player in history at the US National Team  Development Program, and a player who put up 45 points in 38 NHL games, and a two-time Olympic winning coach. That team is also Toronto, and those are three separate players in Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander, picked in the 2014-16 NHL drafts, and Mike Babcock, one of the most well respected and successful coaches in the league. 

In the Wings’ prospect line, there’s Anthony Mantha, who Ken Holland hasn’t shown much trust in. There’s Evgeny Svechnikov, projected to a very good NHL player and one of the better steals in the first round of last year. Then there’s Dylan Larkin, a very talented player, probably the best one on the Wings system, but uh, still very likely not a franchise player. Every other player on the Wings is at, near, or past their peak, and nothing else in the Red Wings system screams “future star”. Oh, and they’re coached by Jeff Blashill, who despite his successes in the AHL, still very clearly has room to grow at the NHL level.

Even if you don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that Toronto makes sense as a destination for Stamkos, and even if you’re still comparing Toronto’s rebuild with unsuccessful ones (Edmonton seems to come up a lot) despite the fact the entirety of the thought process from the management group has been night and day,  that’s fine.

It’s just one team in the NHL, and if Stamkos doesn’t go there, there’s plenty of other options available to him. Let’s forget about Toronto, since this is about the Red Wings.

Let’s go into a hypothetical situation where the Toronto Maple Leafs got relegated out of the NHL due to their record last season, or otherwise ceased to exist for whatever reason and didn’t serve as a potential destination for Steven Stamkos. 

Let’s also assume that because he had five years to re-sign a new deal with the Tampa Bay Lightning and didn’t, despite being the face of their franchise and the most dynamic scorer in the team’s history, he wants to go somewhere new as an unrestricted free agent, which is in less than two weeks. In a world with or without the Toronto Maple Leafs, let’s assume that this is a safe bet to make. No Leafs, no Lightning for Stamkos. Let’s look quickly at the 28 other teams that Stamkos could sign with.
 

Eight of those 28 teams both have more cap space than Detroit currently does and went as far, or further this season in the playoffs than Detroit. It’s a rudimentary way to tell if a team’s more attractive solely based on one year of playoff success, but I’d say with certainty at least six of those teams will do the same thing next season unless Detroit undergoes major changes.

Ask yourself this. If you were a free agent about to sign one of the most lucrative NHL deals in history, would you sign for a team trending downwards and barely clinging ? Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t fathom that thought process at all with Stamkos and his agent.
With so many options available – what would Detroit have that no one else has?
They don’t have more money available than a lot of teams. They don’t have a great future as of right now. They don’t have a great, well-respected coach. They haven’t won a lot recently. 

You’re betting on a lot of things here in order to lure Steven Stamkos to Detroit. And really, there’s no logical reason why he should. 

The thing is, it doesn’t particularly matter if Toronto or Tampa Bay or any specific team is ahead of Detroit in the Stamkos sweepstakes. All that really matters is that there’s at least one team who isn’t Detroit that would sign them, and there’s several reasons to believe he’ll go anywhere but to the Red Wings. Only one team gets to sign Stamkos. In the words of Ricky Bobby, if you’re not first, you’re last. And if the Wings aren’t already a front-runner, it really doesn’t make any sense to risk assets to do so.

If Stamkos, (a star player with still very much of his career left) and his agent are signing with a team because of their history and not for what the future of the team can bring him and his client – i.e., Detroit being an Original 6 team who’s won 11 Stanley Cups – that’s probably the worst agent in the league.
 

The Wings don’t need to be competitive next season – even though they’ll try to be

The Red Wings are not a very good NHL hockey team. They aren’t a very bad hockey team, but they’re not exactly a very good one, either. This was exposed by them barely making it into the playoffs, being the only team with a negative goal differential to make it into the playoffs, and being unable to compete with a very good team- one who, even without their best player in, uh, Steven Stamkos, could beat the Red Wings quite handily over the course of five games.

For the Wings to throw away a player with upside like on the off-chance you might land a one-in-a-million shot like Stamkos? Now that’s just silly. Of the aforementioned trade baits, all of them have shown their value, albeit in a few different ways:

Pulkinnen is good among underused players, and looks to have some upside (via @SeanTierneyTSS)

Jurco is good right now. The Composite WOWYs are very telling into his on-ice impact, especially his defensive abilities:(via @MimicoHero)

Story 1

Brendan Smith is pretty good, even if he’s ocassionally a healthy scratch: (via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

Screenshot 2016-06-18 at 5.28.38 PM - Edited

And lastly, even if he was never an AHL superstar, Andreas Athanasiou showed this past season he can produce offence at even strength at a rate just as well as about… anyone.

Screenshot 2016-06-18 at 5.34.38 PM - EditedScreenshot 2016-06-18 at 5.34.38 PM - Edited

What if the Wings make room for Stamkos by trading one of these players, but don’t land Stamkos? 

Well, then they’d have cap room to pay – or overpay – another “big-name free agent” (like we said before- there aren’t really any , and probably lose a good player in the process. 

Instead of being sensible and realizing cap room doesn’t need to solely be spent on one big player, eating Datsyuk’s cap hit for a year, and conserving the money for re-signing the team’s RFAs and keeping the talent they do have- they could end up walking away with a past-their-prime player like Eric Staal to be their next number one centre, simply just to make a splash.