Photo Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Looking back at why the Datsyuk trade was a mistake, 10 months later

Arguably the biggest trade the Detroit Red Wings have made over the past few seasons came about 10 months ago, which is funny because nobody involved with the trade has played a game for the franchise since. With a quick hush coming over the Buffalo arena that finds a way to change its name just about every six months, Gary Bettman announced that the 16th overall selection and the cap room associated with Pavel Datsyuk would be moved from Detroit to Arizona for the 20th and 53rd overall selections. With those picks, the Arizona Coyotes selected Jakob Chychrun, while the Red Wings were able to land Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek with their spots in the draft.

The move was mostly praised at the time for being a moment of genius for Ken Holland.

It’s far from the worst deal he’s ever pulled off, but here’s 5 reasons why the trade shouldn’t be viewed as a positive move for Detroit:

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The Red Wings (likely) lost the best player in the trade

Jakob Chychrun was once considered a top-3 pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, with some even saying he’d challenge Auston Matthews for the #1 spot. While he eventually got pushed out by the emergence of the Matthews-Laine-Puljujarvi contingent, Chychrun never lost any of his talent — he simply didn’t progress to the level some people were hoping out of him leading up to draft day.

In his draft year, Chychrun averaged 0.79 points per game. Dennis Cholowski, also a defenceman, averaged slightly better at 0.8 points per game… but it’s important to consider the quality of the two leagues that the players were playing in. Chychrun was facing junior hockey’s best in the OHL, while Cholowski was playing in the BCHL. This year,  0.29 for Chychrun vs. 0.33 for Chowlowski… in the NHL against the NCAA.

Offensively, their talent is at worst a wash and at best an advantage for Chychrun.

Defensively, both of them still have work to do. Chychrun put up just a 45.4 CF% at even strength this season, and while it’s an awful stat no one should ever really take seriously at all,  Cholowski was a -9 on St. Cloud State this year, which was second worst on the team. It’s not much, but it’s all we have, and considering he put up just 44 shots on net this year in 36 games, it’s hard to imagine he was really driving the team’s offensive possession numbers all that much.

It’s never a great take to say that a prospect will be a better player simply because he makes the NHL faster, but it’s also not a good sign if the player won’t be able to contribute within a few years of being drafted. Of course, this is mostly up to management and not the player, but one of these two athletes will be playing with the big club this year for sure, while the other one will likely be in the AHL. If Cholowski finds his way into the Red Wings next season, it’s quite unlikely it’ll be as a full time player.

Via our friends at The Bloggers Tribune,  we see that on average Chychrun was rated 17 spots higher in the average final draft ranking than Cholowski- 12th vs. 29th. Chychrun went as high as 6th on Future Considerations’ draft board, while McKeen’s ranked Chowlowski highest at 18th. The lowest Chychrun was ranked went was 17th, while Cholowski found himself into the 30s quite often.

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Trading down is usually considered to be good value and you could put together a strong argument that the Wings ended up with the better value getting two draft picks instead of one, but draft picks are all about how you use them and it’s clear that the Wings likely traded down knowing Cholowski would still be available.

Adding further insult to injury is the likely chance that there were better players on the board when Chowlowski was taken. Alex DeBrincat, Max Jones, recent Vancouver Canuck acquisition Jonathan Dahlen stand out as a few notable names that could’ve been a Detroit Red Wing had Ken Holland decided to take a different route.

The Red Wings were always going to be bad this year

The results of the 2016-17 season were anything but a fluke. Though optimism might have pegged Detroit to finish higher than they did, the Wings losing the playoff streak really wasn’t a hard prediction to make if you paid much attention to their roster.

In losing their best player, the Wings went from a bad bubble team to a bad team in general. Pavel Datsyuk’s impact on the team, both offensively and defensively, barely dragged the Wings to a postseason spot in 2015-16. A negative goal differential wasn’t exactly something an aging core and a combined 120 or so games from Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou could correct.

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Despite finishing one point above the Buffalo Sabres, for the vast majority of this season the Red Wings were riding in the basement of the Atlantic Division. Playoffs were never a real possibility once the high of the six-game winning streak early in the year wore off.

You couldn’t have necessarily predicted the Wings would see a large regression from Dylan Larkin and would sit Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha for far too many games, and you definitely wouldn’t have Riley Sheahan having zero goals through 81 games, but you also didn’t need to be an expert that the Wings would be a worse team this season than we’d seen from them in a generation.

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What really will define the Red Wings era is if that season was the low point, or just the first stop on a long fall down the mountain. Sure, the Wings were bad,  but there were still 5 NHL teams who finished lower than them in the standings. They might be losing a goalie to the expansion draft, their team is riddled with unnecessary contracts and they have no players 25 or under who even hit 40 points this season. The Wings have a pathway to get better, but getting worse is a very scary and realistic possibility too.

And what would Pavel Datsyuk’s contract have done to really have changed the Wings’ outcomes this season? Somehow, the Red Wings finished the season with somewhere between $0-1.6 million worth of cap space, depending if you believe CapFriendly or NHLnumbers. They still finished 25th in the NHL. If anything, it might have hurt their chances at a higher draft pick. I never really knew what the Wings plan for this season was at all, but whatever it was, 25 is a really awkward spot to be in.

It impacted the Red Wings’ offseason plan

If Steven Stamkos had any sense of rationality, Detroit was never in his plan. However, it always sounded like he was in Detroit’s. The Datsyuk move helped to open up a significant amount of cap space for the Red Wings, presumably to sign a superstar forward like Stamkos.

Ironically, this may be the most costly part of the deal. After talking to the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Tampa Bay Lightning (and no one else), Stamkos eventually returned to the team that didn’t make the playoffs this year and re-signed with Tampa.

Nothing wrong with missing out on a Stamkos-type, right? 29 teams would’ve loved to have him…

But then the Wings went a little-stir crazy, signing six forwards (three UFAs, three RFAs) and an RFA defenceman (Danny DeKeyser) in his place.

  • Thomas Vanek netted some assets at the trade deadline in a third round pick and Dylan McIlrath, but that’s likely not why they signed him.
  • Steve Ott… managed a 6th round pick.
  • Frans Nielsen scored 17 goals and added 24 assists, but is on the downward trend of his NHL career, not the upward one. Already age 33 (as of today! Happy birthday Frans!), is his production in the NHL going to be worth $5.25 million on a rebuilding team until 2022?
  • Danny DeKeyser is signed also until 2022 for $5 million per season. He had 12 points and was a 46.6 CF% at even strength this year and is 27.

It also helped in opening up the space to re-sign just about everyone under the sun, no matter how good or bad they were for the Wings. Teemu Pulkinnen?(lol bye) What about Darren Helm? Drew Miller? Riley Sheahan? Sure, why not!

Most GMs don’t need $7.5 million in wasted cap space to remind them not do something stupid. Ken Holland probably could’ve used that space after that offseason.

Filip Hronek probably isn’t worth the difference between Cholowski and Chychrun

The Wings, of course, ended up with an extra player in the trade, for some reason. They managed to squeak out the 53rd overall pick, selecting Filip Hronek in the process.

But what is Filip Hronek going to turn out to be?

At best, he’s going to be a body to play in your bottom-four, but is by all accounts not going to be a spectacular player.  If he becomes an NHLer, there’s very few people betting on him to become a bonafide star.

The funny thing is he managed over a point per game in the OHL in this past draft+1 year, which is a better offensive talent than Cholowski displayed.

But in 10 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins, he put up just 2 points. More alarmingly, in 40 games last season in the Czech professional league (albeit at age 17,) he managed just 4 points in 40 games. While he may be able to, being a high-scoring pro hockey player doesn’t appear to be in the cards for him.

And the truth is that it’s not hard in the NHL to find another Filip Hronek-quality player. Every offseason has more than a few UFAs available, and if it comes to it, you can always trade another second-round pick for that model of guy. Which the Wings have five of this year. Usually, you don’t need to also trade along $7.5 million in dead space while trading down.

Jakob Chychrun, on the other hand? The jury’s still out on him, but as we went through earlier, is quite a bit harder to acquire.

There was one year left on the Datsyuk deal

There are a lot of bad contracts that are moved around the league with a few years or more remaining that a GM happily unloads to a rebuilding team. This contract had 82 games left on it. Eighty-two.

As stated before, the Wings were going to bad with or without Datsyuk’s cap hit this season. The trade essentially comes down to whether the Wings were comfortable trading pick #16 for #20 and #53 and a little flexibility for a mediocre roster.

There were no make-or-break players on the Red Wings this season. Sure, Henrik Zetterberg had a resurgent year, and sure, Vanek and AA and Mantha were tons of fun to watch for stretches this season, but there was no one large enough to make an impact to pull this team to a playoff berth. Though Vanek may not have been able to be signed if Datsyuk was still around, at the end of the day, how much does it really matter?

The Wings really should’ve been tanking or at least re-tooling since day one of last year’s offseason seeing how they stumbled into and out of the playoffs in 2015-16. Instead, they led themselves into a fake sense of competitiveness and made moves that a potential contender would make. Of course, they were very far from one.

Though it doesn’t deserve a fancy heading because frankly it doesn’t really matter, lastly, Pavel Datsyuk did not retire as a Detroit Red Wing, despite never playing any games for another NHL franchise. That’s weird, no? He was easily one of the best players in franchise history, but killed the formalities of one-club man ideology when he retired and subsequently became a Coyote, if on paper only.

All in all, the Pavel Datsyuk move didn’t break the Red Wings and losing out on Jakob Chychrun isn’t a major factor contributing to the demise of the franchise, but it was a mostly unnecessary move that doesn’t look like it added any value to the team and gifted Arizona a stud D prospect for two average ones.