The Red Wings are currently on an offseason trade watch. After re-signing Tomas Tatar to a 4-year, $21.2 million contract ($5.3M AAV), the team is right up against the salary cap ceiling with one more player to lock up. Andreas Athanasiou, despite showing flashes of brilliance, will be looking for a bridge deal in the 2-year, $5.5-$6 million range, which means an average annual value of $2.5-$3 million.
To make this happen, cap space will have to be created. In an interview with Ansar Khan of MLive last week, Holland revealed that he’s pretty much banking on someone starting the season on the injured reserve. Jonathan Ericsson, Ryan Sproul, Luke Glendening, and Tatar all had offseason surgery and two of them would need to start the season on the IR for the Wings to be cap compliant (assuming, of course, Athanasiou has a contract). The only problem is that all of these players, with the exception of Sproul, are expected to be healthy and ready for the start of the season.
“If everybody is healthy when we get to opening day, we’ll probably have to make a move,” Holland told Khan. “I’m anticipating we’ll be over by a little bit.”
I can pull two insights from this quote. One, Holland knows that at some point, whether it’s before the start of the season or in the opening months, he’s going to have to make a move. And two, he’s going to wait until he absolutely has to.
The “wait and see” is not the best business strategy. A good strategizer is ahead of these decisions. They have a clear goal in mind and have a strong plan with the necessary steps mapped out to achieve it. You never want your hand forced by external factors because that forces you off plan. It shows signs of indecision, diffidence, and desperation.
All that being said, a move is sure to come for the Red Wings and it could be soon. So who are the most likely candidates to be shipped out of Hockeytown?
Sheahan is a solid bottom-6 contributor on an expiring contract. Trading him would help free up the much needed cap space, but it would also loosen up the bottle neck that’s been built up in the bottom half of the Wings roster. Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Luke Witkowski, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Martin Frk are all players that could fall into those third and fourth lines. I believe Sheahan is better than four of those players, but he’s also the player who will net the highest return as he comes with a low cap hit for only one year. He could bounce back from his awful 2016-17 outing in a big way and be worthy of an extension or he’ll be just as bad and you let him walk at the end of the season. It’s a low risk, high reward situation for the team on the other end of the trade.
After his two goal season last year, Sheahan will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He could bounce back in a bigger way, but even returning to his 25-30 point form would go a long way for the Red Wings. He’ll be a bigger contributor of offense than most of the rest of the bottom-6 and this is not something the team should be shying away from. Plus, a $2.075 million cap hit isn’t a huge help for the team long-term. Getting rid of it allows them to sign Athanasiou, but ridding themselves of Sheahan’s contract doesn’t really help the cap in the long run.
He may be on the other side of his peak, but right-handed scoring defensemen, especially those who can quarterback a powerplay, can net quite the return in today’s NHL. At 31-years-old, Green put up 36 points for the 2016-17 Red Wings. He’s on an expiring contract and would free up a big $6 million in cap space. In addition to this, it frees up a spot on the back end for Xavier Ouellet to step into. As it currently stands, Ouellet is slated to start the season in the press box. Green could be a big help for a contending team who wants some veteran presence and scoring on the back end.
The Red Wings can actually use Green this season. Their offensive production is already low, especially on the back end. Getting rid of their most offensive defenseman just hurts them more. Green is also experienced and intelligent. He acts as a good on-ice mentor for the young defensemen on Detroit’s roster. I don’t anticipate Green finishing the season as a Red Wing, but he’ll net a bigger return as a rental at the trade deadline instead of at the beginning of the season when teams aren’t gearing up for their push into the playoffs.
Mrazek has the highest upside of all three candidates and therefore should net the highest return. I think the greatest pro to Mrazek being traded, though, is that it puts an end to all of the goaltending drama that’s plagued this team over the last year. No more debates about who the starter is and no more wondering about whether he has a bad attitude and how it affects the locker room. Yes, I realize that this is a pro for me and not the team, but the truth is I can’t really think of a pro for trading Petr Mrazek other than it frees up some cap space.
You’re trading away a young goaltender with elite potential. Mrazek’s had some pretty drastic swings in the quality of his play, that’s for sure, but when he learns how to harbour the positive and release it, he is going to unleash hell on this league. If they trade away Mrazek, they are trading away the best replacement option for Jimmy Howard, who is constantly plagued with injury. The team had a plan to transition Mrazek into the starter’s position. They should stick to that plan and work with Mrazek to make it a reality. The next potential starter is still several seasons away from making his NHL debut.
Who Is Most Likely To Be Traded?
If a trade happens prior to the start of the season (and that’s a big “if” – the waiver wire still exists and Holland is all too familiar with it), the most likely candidate to be shipped out of Hockeytown is Riley Sheahan. He’s got the easiest contract to move and will cause the least amount of disturbance to the team’s output. Management and coaching expect to be back in the playoffs next year, a goal Green will play a big part in achieving. Any trade involving Green will come at the trade deadline if the team is certain they won’t be in the playoffs (don’t expect them to move him if they’re in the playoff picture). As for Mrazek, for whatever reason, Holland has been unable to move him. Vegas wouldn’t even take him for free at the expansion draft, which is something that I’m still puzzled about.
Of course, when Holland says “make a move”, it doesn’t only mean a trade. He could send somebody down via the waiver wire with the hopes of them landing in Grand Rapids and ready for a call up when the inevitable injuries happen. In that situation, though, you risk losing an asset for nothing, something Holland seems comfortable doing. Whatever he ends up doing, I’m failing to see any sort of plan to return this team to being a contender and being without a plan is the riskiest thing of all.