The Detroit Red Wings had a backlog of forwards last season. Twelve skaters up front on any given night, long term injuries to Pulkkinen, Miller and Franzen and a healthy Jurco watching from the press box.
This was also to the dismay of fans who only got to see Mantha for a few games and Athanasiou for less than forty. Further still, this was before they went out and signed three more forwards this offseason while letting no one walk and even extended Luke Glendenning, who still had a year left on his deal. Well, they did lose one forward and that void is going to prove harder to fill than I think even the most level-headed Wings fan or critic is projecting even now. This is all while putting themselves $4M over the cap.
What July 1st meant to the people following the Red Wings trajectory was pretty simple: there’s a trade coming. Detroit’s awful blue line has been the punching bag for fans and opponents alike. It’s bad, there’s no way around that, and everyone knew something had to be done. Shattenkirk? Fowler? God forbid Kris Russell?!
Names were tossed around, reported asking prices were sky high, and here we are halfway through August… and still nothing.
The only certainty in all of this speculation were the details on the Wings end. They had to move at least one forward in the deal, but likely would attempt packaging multiple forwards via a mix of roster players and prospects to get a trade done. The other certainty was that the only two players of any value who could sit as the centre piece of a deal like this would be Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.
Trading either of these players at this point in their career is most certainly a mistake.
Don’t trade your best
How about the basics? Tatar has managed to put up 140 points (69-71) in 236 games over the past three seasons for the Wings. This is without being in a top-six role for most of those games and averaging only about 14 minutes a night. Nyquist wasn’t too bad himself, posting 145 points (69-76) in 221 games over the past three seasons. Nyquist managed to hit about 16 minutes a game in playtime and had definitely seen more of a regular top-six role than Tatar.
Only Zetterberg and Dastyuk have scored more points in the last three years than Nyquist and Tatar on the Red Wings and they both did so clocking 20 minutes a night, having secure top-six roles, playing together on the top PP unit and getting paid accordingly. Last year Tatar and Nyquist’s cap hits combined equalled Datsyuk’s $7.5M. More than deserved on Dastyuk’s end, that’s not the point, the point is a cap strapped team needs scoring and they need it on a budget, which is exactly what these two provided.
Tatar’s 29 goals in 2015 is the highest goal total by a Red Wing in the last seven years and Nyquist was right behind him with 28 in 2014. For a team that so desperately struggles to score, how can you consider moving your top two goal getters of nearly the past decade? Not to mention the fact that since the 2002 cup win, the only guys to get more goals are either retired (Datysuk/Holmstrom), in the hall of fame (Fedorov/Hull) or on a steep decline towards retirement (Zetterberg/Franzen). This is the company Tatar and Nyquist have managed to keep as Red Wings with goal scoring going down.
Besides just bottom-line stats, where else can these two help the Wings? Well, that power-play was atrocious last season. Their power-play went 18% in the regular season, good for 13th overall but a terrible decline if you consider the season before it was firing at 23.5%, good for 2nd best in the NHL. What changed? Well the biggest point to take away was that Nyquist saw nearly a 10% decrease in his PP time-on-ice per game. This isn’t because the Wings had less PP time, this is just simple misusage. Abdelkader managed to increase his PP time by 16% from 2015 to 2016 despite his 27 PP points over the last two seasons combined barely eclipsing the 24 PP points Nyquist put up in 2015 alone. Again, Nyqvust’s 45 PP points and Tatar’s 40 PP points over the last three seasons is only eclipsed by Pav, Z and Kronwall at a fraction of the price.
I bring up these numbers because the main critique for both players last season was that they regressed when everyone expected a considerable stride forward.
Both players were 11 points shy of the totals they put up the previous season and down in all scoring categories. This is a fair critique, the team certainly needed more from both, but as we’ve already seen from their stat lines, neither were given the top-six minutes or line mates needed to produce at a higher clip. In both cases they actually saw less PP time and were given less time in a real position to excel.
First year under a new coach aside, they were quite simply mismanaged and misused by the staff as less talented skaters like Helm and Abdelkader ate their minutes with much less to show for it. More ice time with more skilled line mates would have been an easy and immediate fix for players who have proven they can score at a better pace on a team that struggled all season. It’s not as though Helm’s chemistry with Datsyuk was just too irresistible to split up, in fact quite the opposite, as Helm’s underwhelming 26 points last year only go to prove that point.
An analytics look
What about the fancy stats? We know the Red Wings organization seems to mostly ignore them but maybe, just maybe, both have some underlying problems that will rear their ugly heads when put under a microscope.
Again though, we see basically the exact opposite and only create a stronger case for their importance to the team. Over the last three seasons both players have been possession monsters. Since 2012 Tatar has a Corsi-For of 57.39% at 5v5 while Nyquist earned an exceptional 53.95% at 5v5. Only possession wizard Pavel Datyusk has been better over the last three seasons and both players have been better than Zetterberg in this department. Tatar and Nyquist’s numbers aren’t inflated over those three years either from easy deployment in their rookie seasons. In 2016 in fact, both were better than their three year average. Tatar was 57.91CF% at 5v5 and Nyquist sat at 54.52CF%.
Here are Tatar and Nyquist during last year’s supposed “down” season in comparison with Datsyuk and Zetterberg as our references. Not only are they both driving play in possession, but they’re also well on the positive side of generating shots, scoring chances, and expected goals for. In every category they are better than Zetterberg and trail only Datsyuk. Better yet, they’re doing it without any puck luck. When Tatar and Nyquist are on the ice they quite simply make the wings a better team at 5v5. Its already been pointed out they’ve been beneficial on the power-play and previous seasons have shown they can achieve even more.
All of these statics show they can more than handle the roles they have been given and that they’d likely produce at an even higher level if given the opportunity. Nyquist is at a very reasonable $4.75M cap hit until 2019 and although Tatar only costs the team $2.75M until the end of next year, he’s going to require a decent raise after that. Even if it’s on par with the Nyquist deal, it’s still a bargain. Here’s Nyquist up against a contract-comparable Kyle Palmieri, who is coming off a career year and a new $4.65M deal:
Tatar and Nyquist side by side:
What I’m trying to say here is that considering these players potential bargaining chips and not unmovable assets is borderline insane on this team.
The retirement of Datsyuk only intensifies this point.
The Wings don’t have another single player on their roster that can produce at this level.
Wings Nation is praying that Larkin can one day do this but the reality is right now, these are the only two who have produced like this. Even if the team was trying to rebuild (which they quite obviously are not) these guys are still only 25 and 26 years-old. They would fit fine into any rebuild and they’re ready to play now if competing is what the team is attempting. They’re versatile, they drive play at 5v5 and they’re both deadly on the power-play and deserve more minutes. They both deserve a full-time top-six role and the speed dependant, youthful shift the league has taken recently only plays even better to both their games.
Trading either of these players will 100% burn you almost immediately. Either would slot into a top-six role on nearly any NHL roster and with some power-play time and proper utilization, undoubtedly thrive. The raw stats are there, the advanced stats are there, they would be a drastic improvement to most 2nd lines in the league and pull their weight on most top lines.
The problem with Detroit’s defence was not created by them, it is not perpetuated by their play and it sure isn’t their responsibility to fix. Dreaming of packaging either forward with a prospect or a pick is insanity in this inflated market and not a price the team should be willing to pay. Is one defenceman really going to stop more goals than Nyquist or Tatar would generate? That seems unlikely, as the rest of the core is riddled with weak spots and inconsistencies.
Any trade involving Tatar or Nyquist is a temporary fix, only seemingly beneficial for a brief moment because there’s nothing to back it up coming down the line.
There’s no elite defensive prospects coming this season or next, Ericsson isn’t going anywhere, there are few talented forwards in the farm system and drafting 15th every year doesn’t exactly yield superstars annually.
The Wings have watched as first rounders and projected top-six forwards suffer missteps, underachieve and turn into role players early into their NHL careers (Sheahan, Pulkkinen, Jurco). They should be cherishing the luck they’ve received and how hard Tatar and Nyquist have worked to become the players they are today. The numbers show they should be considered untouchables on this team, not simply bait for some temporary fix on the back end.
On a team packed with over-paid underachievers, Tatar and Nyquist should be the last two guys one would look to remove.