Photo Credit: Nick Seguin

Wings Nation Monday Mailbag: Plan B

As the start of training camp nears, the Red Wings have some unfinished business. Andreas Athanasiou is still unsigned (I’m starting to feel like a broken record) and their roster is on the wrong side of the cap ceiling. Something’s got to give as the October 5th season opener approaches.

At this point, you’ve got to think the Wings have a plan B for Athanasiou not signing. There are two front runners to take his spot on the roster. The first is July 1 free agent acquisition Luke Witkowski. Though listed as a defenseman, Ansar Khan of MLive has hinted that Witkowski will likely play RW on the fourth line. At 6’2″, Witkowski brings size and grit to the ice, something we know the Red Wings value and don’t feel they have enough of.

The other option for them is Tyler Bertuzzi. Last year’s AHL Playoff MVP had a stellar post-season, putting up 19 points in 19 games and setting a franchise record for playoff points. Though his brief stint in the NHL last season wasn’t much to write home about, he’s been consistently brought up by members of the Wings’ player development team and coaching staff as someone who is NHL-ready.

My guess? I’m actually going to pick Bertuzzi here. He’s young, hungry, and I think he left quite the impression on the Wings’ brass with his hard work ethic last season. He’s a dark horse in this race, but he’s far more skilled than Witkowski and a much better skater. My money’s on Bertuzzi being on Glendening’s wing opening night in Little Caesars Arena.

The Red Wings salary situation is among the worst in the league and it’s due to overpaying bottom-6 players for far too long. Ken Holland is a fiercely loyal manager who rewards hard work and dedication with a lot of money and it’s tied the cap into such a tight knot that he can’t trade his way out of it without giving away the farm, too. One thing to note about this season is that the Stephen Weiss buyout added another million dollars to the books, which is the worst it’s going to be on that deal. If that buyout remained at $1.6 million this year, it would likely be enough to get a deal with AA done.

Still, Holland’s management of the cap is inexcusable and absolutely guarantees a long road ahead for the Red Wings. There is no escaping the Abdelkader, Ericsson, and DeKeyser deals (though I do believe DDK will bounce back). At minimum, we are looking at 3 years of this team before we see any changes. Whether they are 3 years of rebuilding or not is entirely up to who is the general manager, which leads me to your follow-up question.

Holland’s contract is up this year and it’s time for ownership to take a hard, critical look at what he’s done for this team lately. Yes, Holland led us to Stanley Cups, President’s Trophies, and Division Championships, but his roster and cap management has been terrible the last ten years and it’s ensured that no big name free agents will want to sign in Detroit for many years. Even now, Holland refuses to use the word “rebuild” and still has the playoffs on his mind. Objectively, this is a bad team and it will take some new, fresh blood to come in and fix things. So no, I don’t think Ken Holland is still our GM when we actually start winning again. I don’t even think he’ll be our GM in October 2018.