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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Wings Nation Roundtable: Expansion Edition Part One

With the looming expansion draft, this offseason has been particularly fun. Who will the Wings protect? Who will they expose? Can they lure Vegas to take a certain someone? What kind of team is Vegas looking to build? Will they go young or offer to take big contracts off teams’ books? There are a lot of questions and zero answers, which means speculation has been rabid! This week, our gang of writers are throwing fuel on that speculation fire by providing their protected lists and who they think the Wings will lose to Vegas.

Because of the interest in this topic, all of our writers wanted to chime in so we’ll be rolling this roundtable out in two parts. Today, we hear from Chris Babiarz, Brock Seguin, and Ryan Hana.

CHRIS BABIARZ

Protected Players (7-3-1):

Forwards – Zetterberg, Nielsen, Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Mantha, Athanasiou
Defensemen – Green, Jensen, Ouelett
Goalie – Mrazek

Nielsen must be protected due to his no-movement clause. Z, Gus, Tatar, Mantha, and AA are all no-brainers to me. I chose to protect Sheahan over the likes of Abdelkader and Helm for a few reasons. First of all, I think this year was not indicative of the player that Sheahan is. Second, he holds trade value. Reportedly, quite a few teams (namely Toronto) were in on him at the trade deadline this year. If he can put up around 25-35 points next year he could be a valuable trade asset at next years deadline with returns being higher than what was offered this past year. Finally, exposing Helm, Abdelkader, and Glendening increases the chances that Vegas will take one of the Wings’ bad contracts off of their hands.

Ouelett and Jensen are both promising, young (and cheap) defensemen. Although they do not project to be top pairing guys, their ceilings are as solid, middle-pairing defensemen. Green is the team’s best defensemen. He is also the best trade-deadline asset on the team for next season. If he has a good season this year, the return should be a first round pick. I doubt the team protects the above three players. I think they will protect Dekeyser rather than one of Ouelett or Jensen. Although Dekeyser had a bad year, I still believe he can be a good, number 3 or 4 guy. Even he is exposed, I doubt Vegas takes him due to his lengthy contract and poor showing last season.

Mrazek may be inconsistent, but he is still a very promising goaltender in this league. He is much younger than Howard and is simply better than Coreau. If the Wings choose to expose Mrazek, I think he would be one of Vegas’ easiest selections.

Predicted Player Chosen: Darren Helm

If the Wings go with my above plan I think they choose Helm. Although Helm’s contract is heavy, I think he is the best player available from the Wing’s exposed list. Glendening is less skilled, slower, and has a contract that runs through the same year as Helm (2021). Abdelkader’s contract runs two years longer and he has a higher AAV so I doubt Vegas takes him. They could take Howard, especially with the goalie market thinning as a result of Bishop and Darling being signed, but I think they will go with younger, cheaper options in net. Other than the above mentioned guys, I don’t see many other choices for Vegas unless one of their scouts is really high on someone like Frk or Sproul. Even if they are high on them, it’s uncertain if those guys will make the Wings next year so Vegas could have a shot at them next year via waivers.

BROCK SEGUIN

Protected Players (7-3-1):

Forwards: Zetterberg, Nielsen (NMC), Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Mantha & Athanasiou
Defensemen: Green, Ouellet, Jensen
Goalie: Mrazek

The goal for the Red Wings heading into the expansion draft should be to protect their young assets as they try to rebuild and expose their overpaid players in the hope that the Vegas Golden Knights will relieve us of a big contract.

Coming into 2016-17, I think there were a few prognosticators that were thinking the Red Wings would leave Henrik Zetterberg and his massive contract unprotected, but after a sensational season, that definitely won’t be the case. Frans Nielsen didn’t have the best debut season in Detroit, but has a no-movement clause so he isn’t going anywhere. Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou were obvious, leaving me with one spot left. I chose Riley Sheahan despite a hilarious two-goal season; both coming in the final game of the year. Keeping him was simple. He wasn’t great this year, but he was snakebitten to say the least and is still capable of being a 20-goal scorer in years to come. This leaves their key exposed forwards as Justin Abdelkader and Darren Helm—both are overpaid and make top-6 money while performing more like bottom-6 forwards.

On the blueline, Mike Green was a no-brainer. Danny DeKeyser played himself into being exposed after signing a big deal last summer and following it up with an awful campaign. Niklas Kronwall has one leg, Jonathan Ericsson is terrible, leaving me protecting 23-year-old Xavier Ouellet and 26-year-old Nick Jensen, who made a big splash after a mid-season call-up.

Petr Mrazek had an inconsistent 2016-17 season, but is a sure-fire protect for Ken Holland. Jimmy Howard was excellent when he wasn’t injured, but he is eight years older than Mrazek and makes $1.2 million more per season. Mrazek has shown flashes of being a high-end NHL starter, but needs to find more consistency in his game night-in and night-out.

Protecting these 11 players leaves Abdelkader, Helm, DeKeyser, Kronwall, Ericsson and Howard as the premier unprotected assets.

Predicted Player Chosen: Jimmy Howard

This would pretty much be worst-case scenario for the Red Wings. While it would be taking a big contract off of their hands, Howard is the one they can afford to hold onto because he is the most likely to actually play up to his contract.

I think we’re dreaming if we expect them to take one of our defensemen. However a forward is possible. Abdelkader scored 23 and 19 goals in 2015 and 2016, so they could be fooled by those numbers, but Helm is probably the next most logical choice. I think they would take Howard over them all because while he is still pricey, his remaining contract is the shortest (up in 2019) and would give them more flexibility going forward.

RYAN HANA

Protected Players (7-3-1):
Forwards – Zetterberg, Nielsen, Nyquist, Tatar, Sheahan, Mantha, Athanasiou
Defensemen – Green, DeKeyser, Jensen
Goalie – Mrazek

There’s no perfect solution in terms of who to protect and who to leave exposed to an expansion draft (by design, of course). I chose the 7F-3D-1G model because Detroit does not possess a wealth of defensive talent that needs to be protected, while there were a few key forwards who warranted preservation. There are only a couple decisions that I feel are contentious or could afford to be changed – the rest are no-brainers.

Protected forwards (7) include Zetterberg (duh), Nielsen (obligatory), Nyquist, Tatar, Mantha, Athanasiou, and Sheahan. The only real one of those that might leave some confused is Riley Sheahan. Two goals all year, terrible season by all accounts – why would Detroit protect him? First, I believe (possibly too optimistically) that this past season was an outlier. Though Red Wings fans have seen Sheahan’s performance ebb and flow over the course of the season, everybody was surprised by his lack of output this past year. He has too much talent, too good of a shot, too much (previously demonstrated) awareness of the game to be _that_ bad. I chalk it up to playing on a struggling team with faltering systems, which caused his still-developing play to suffer (à la Danny DeKeyser). Secondly, he has trade value. Even if he continues to struggle, other teams are aware of his previous performance, and may tend to think that a change of scenery would revitalize his game. This trade value was demonstrated last trade deadline, as multiple teams were reportedly calling Ken Holland regarding his availability.

Protected defensemen include Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser, and Nick Jensen. I know, DeKeyser was bad. I know, this leaves Sproul and Ouellet exposed. I know. I just can’t shake the feeling that DeKeyser would be an easy pickup for Vegas – big contract (they have a cap floor to reach), capable-at-worst (and great-at-best) defenseman in a league starved for blueliners? That would be a no-brainer if I were McPhee. DeKeyser’s struggles this season seemed far too uncharacteristic to be sustainable. Again, I may be too much of an optimist here (Adam Laskaris will tell you all about it), but this is the same Danny DeKeyser who, after going out with a broken finger, could have been the difference in 2013 against eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Not to say that he doesn’t have things to work on – his skating and positioning need retuning, and he needs to get back to the good decision-making and defensive plays that he’s shown in the past. Regardless, a 27 year old defenseman who has shown promise for more time than he’s been bad warrants protection, in my mind.

Mike Green is Mike Green, often the team’s best defenseman and has rediscovered his game with Detroit. Going into the final year of his contract, the most important asset he brings is huge trade value. If the next trade deadline is as crazy as it was this past season, Mike Green could be the belle of the ball and fetch a lucrative return for a team that will likely not be contending for the playoffs.

Jensen over Sproul and Oullet isn’t a hard-and-fast decision by any means. I can see the argument for either of the latter choices, however I’m working off of recency bias (with Jensen showing a ton of promise and performance in his time with Detroit) and the fact that Vegas is unlikely to select a small-contract player like Oullet or Sproul when they’re working to reach the cap floor. Not to say that it’s impossible that either would be selected, but I think the likes of Helm, Abdelkader, or even Howard (in a dream-world) would be more likely to be selected. It’s worth noting that lists that protect Oullet or Sproul over Jensen wouldn’t be blasphemous in my mind, as it’s not likely to be an impactful decision.

The single goaltender to be protected should be Petr Mrazek, and it’s not even a close debate in my opinion. He’s younger, has demonstrated the ability to carry a team, and has yet to reach his full potential. He’s the goalie of the future, and will be a stalwart in net for Detroit if-and-when the rebuild is completed.

Predicted player chosen: Darren Helm.

Shorter contract but still a significant cap-hit for Vegas, while being great depth player with a wealth of experience (including playoffs). His skating, though not what it used to be, is still top-tier, and would be exactly the kind of player McPhee would want in a bottom-6 role.

In a perfect world, Vegas would take Jimmy Howard or even Justin Abdelkader from Detroit (though I don’t think the latter is likely to be exposed by Ken Holland). That would give Detroit the breathing room and leeway to make real, significant moves to work towards a proper rebuild. That is, if Ken Holland is willing to do a proper rebuild.