Yesterday, fellow WingsNation “writers” Ryan Hana, Brad Krysko, and Evan Lobsinger interviewed The Athletic Detroit’s Craig Custance on the Winged Wheel Podcast. I won’t talk to much about the interview itself, because you should listen to it yourself, but there are a couple points that Custance made during the interview that might cause some concern if you’re a Red Wings fan.
When asked about Ken Holland’s strategy of rebuilding on the fly, compared to the opinion of most fans that they should commit to a total rebuild, Custance mentioned a couple of ideas that Holland is probably going to look into.
“The path they seem to be going in, and are going in, is collecting as many draft picks as you possibly can, trying to hit better and later in the draft, basically with strength in numbers, and hoping that with 11 picks, and nine next year, and they’ll probably collect more because it sounds like they’re going to some shorter term deals in free agency, or at least that was what was suggested to me, and if things go bad they can flip those players again, and collect picks again.”
So, this is a promising sign for the Red Wings. Despite the miserable season, Holland has identified one of the few good things that they did this season, and that was signing players to one-year deals, and then if the team sucks, they trade them at the deadline. They did that this year with Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott, and also shipped out Tomas Jurco and Brendan Smith, capitalizing on assets that would’ve otherwise walked to free agency for nothing.
Now, the key for Ken Holland is to be smart with these signs. You want to get max return possible, and the best picks possible. So, while you were able to trade Steve Ott for a sixth, it doesn’t mean you have to sign Steve Ott-type players. My best advice would be to go for more Vanek types, to get a better return. Think of it as the difference between acquiring a sixth round pick compared to acquiring a second or third round pick when signing these players at the deadline.
“The plan is to still collect picks and inject young players. There was some hints yesterday that the days of guys staying in the minors, and probably overripening are gone, or at least they’re going to give it some strong reconsideration, and probably play guys younger.”
Another promising sign for the Red Wings. Their method of overdeveloping their prospects in the minors has been criticized recently, with the sudden shift to the league getting younger coinciding with the Red Wings drifting towards mediocrity, so the fact that they’ve finally started looking into changing that is long overdue, but gladly welcomed. Hopefully, this means that we may start to see Mantha and Athanasiou in more prominent roles, as well as the team giving Svechnikov, Bertuzzi, Callahan, and Frk a shot in the big leagues.
But, there’s a problem with both of these points. While individually they both show signs of progress in Holland’s ideology, together they don’t add up. He wants to fill in the holes on his roster with short term free agents, but also wants to fill them with some of their prospects in the minors. This would be great if the Red Wings had a surplus of roster spots to give away, but the unfortunate truth is that they don’t.
Take a quick look at their depth chart, and you see the problem.
Assuming that you put two of Helm, Larkin, or Athanasiou on the wing and that Tatar and Athanasiou, that leaves you with one whole roster spot. Obviously, you want some bench players, so we’ll say that’s three spots for a combination of free agents and prospects. I doubt that free agents are going to want to sign with a team where they’ll have to compete just to be a third or fourth liner, never mind the fact that it would be for a team that probably isn’t making the playoffs, so it might be hard to attract free agents.
This means he’ll probably just have to resort to players from the minors, which isn’t a bad route with regards to developing towards the future, it just means you won’t have as many assets to trade via free agency. They do have some options from their own team though, just like Smith and Jurco last year.
Mike Green is their most prominent option, as his contract expires this year. If the Wings retained 50% of his $6 million, you could get a lot for him at the deadline. There’s also Riley Sheahan, who could have some value depending on if he rebounds this year or not. Ryan Sproul could also be an option if the team decides that they don’t see a fit for him on their team. And there’s Petr Mrazek if Holland decides his character issues are bad enough that he should be traded.
So, the Wings already have tradeable assets on their team, and very few spots for any more. Looking back at Custance’s comments, hopefully Holland resorts to the second quote more than the first. While it won’t deter the franchise if Holland resorts to a few UFAs to fill the rest of the lines and the bench, it might affect those players that won’t make the team because of it, which brings the Wings back to their original problem of not giving their young guys a chance. Holland could end up looking like a hypocrite, considering that he just said that the team is likely abandon that philosophy.