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Why Filip Zadina should spend less than 10 games in the NHL in 2018-19

After this morning’s news of sixth overall pick Filip Zadina signing an entry-level deal with the Detroit Red Wings, and The Athletic’s Craig Custance reporting the NHL ruling he was on loan to Halifax, a number of things went through my head.

Firstly, I selfishly hoped the Red Wings would leave Zadina in the AHL for the entirety of the season, so I would have multiple opportunities to watch him play live. However, I understand he does the Red Wings no good wasting away in the minors, so I was excited at the opportunity to see him suit up for Detroit’s season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But then I reversed course again, and now I would like to see Zadina in less than 10 NHL games.

While the loan debacle continues to drag on, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend the Red Wings have the option of keeping Zadina or sending him to Grand Rapids. It would be in Detroit’s best interest to play him in fewer than 10 NHL games and keep him in the AHL for the remainder of the season.

Former contributor for The Athletic Prashanth Iyer’s reasoning is Zadina will burn a year of his entry-level contract should he play in 10 or more NHL games, meaning he would be a restricted free agent at the end of the 2020-21 season. However, should he spend less than 10 games in the NHL and the rest in the AHL, his entry-level contract would “slide,” meaning he would then be a restricted free agent after the 2021-22 season, essentially gaining another year on his entry-level deal.

So why would the Red Wings want to slide his contract for one more year as opposed to keeping him in the NHL and giving fans something to look forward to each night? Well, because while seeing a high-profile draft pick in the NHL is exciting and gives fans a reason to watch/attend the games, the Red Wings, most likely, are going to have another down season. Zadina will get a massive pay increase after his entry-level deal expires, so it’s better to push that increase back a year while the team continues its rebuild. Entry-level deals cannot exceed $925,000, so it provides Ken Holland with a small window to get maximum value from Zadina before he is eligible for a raise and his cap hit eats up a bigger percentage of the team’s salary cap.

Zadina can play the first nine games of the season, the last nine games or nine games in the middle, whatever course of action the Red Wings think his best for his development.

The Red Wings were the 27th-ranked team last season, so even if Zadina gets them an extra six to 10 points in the standings, they’ll still miss the playoffs and hurt their draft odds. It makes more sense to struggle for another season, possibly land another high draft pick and keep Zadina on the Red Wings full time in 2019-20.