As a rebuilding team, the Red Wings should be thinking “sell” when they look at their pending unrestricted free agents, but when is the right time to do it? As we’ve learned over the past couple of years from the Thomas Vanek and Mike Green situations, rentals can be a finicky thing. They don’t always bring in the return you hope and sometimes, as in Green’s case, they don’t bring in a return at all.
Rentals very rarely work out for the selling team. Players either get injured or hit cold streaks late into the year, which decreases their value. Because the selling team is so often out of the playoff race, the players struggle to make an individual performance stand out on a bad team. This leads to an underwhelming return.
For the Red Wings, both Gustav Nyquist and Nick Jensen are on expiring contracts this year and should be attractive trade targets for teams who need an extra kick for a long playoff run. Both players are off to encouraging starts to their season that should make them attractive trade targets for playoff-bound teams.
Jensen was never touted as a top line prospect. He was a little shaky when he joined the team in 2016-17, rotating in and out of the lineup with Ryan Sproul and Xavier Ouellet. Last year, he finally got regular playing time, appearing in 81 games, and, despite not scoring a single goal, established himself as one of the Wings’ better defensemen.
This year, he started the season as a healthy scratch, sitting out the first game so the rookie defensemen could make their NHL debut. In the eight games since, Jensen has scored two goals and three points, good for second-best among team defensemen.
His underlying stats tell an even more positive story. At 5-on-5, he has the best on-ice shot attempt percentage among current active defensemen (53.67%), as well as the best on-ice shots-for percentage (50.7%), with the team averaging 32.11 shots-for-per-60 while he’s on the ice. He’s also got the best individual shot attempt-percentage and is second only to Dennis Cholowski in independent SF/60.
All that to say Jensen has been one of Detroit’s best defensemen at driving the play in the offensive zone. He’s certainly not a top-2 defenseman, but he’d be a great depth pick-up for teams like Pittsburgh, Toronto, or Philadelphia to help them on a playoff run.
There really aren’t any cons to moving Jensen for the Red Wings. He has an easy-to-move contract and would open up an opportunity for one of the young guys to play more regularly. As it currently stands, it might even be him who is the odd man out on a fully healthy blueline. A fresh start somewhere else may be the best thing for both Jensen and the Red Wings.
Nyquist has been on everyone’s trade deadline radar since last year, but don’t expect a monster return for the former 28-goal scorer. Pointing to the Tomas Tatar deal from last year’s deadline is unfair, as the Golden Knights were buying four years of his service, not just a mere couple of months.
Nyquist’s tenure in the NHL has been a little up-and-down. After back-to-back 25+ goal seasons, he failed to score 20 for consecutive seasons, before putting up 21 goals last year. Now, as a veteran on the team, Goose is expected to be a leader on and off the ice. So far, he’s off to a strong start with one goal and seven points in his nine games played.
Spending most of his time with Dylan Larkin on the top line, Nyquist is one of four Red Wings forwards who have played more than 100 minutes to have an on-ice shot attempt percentage over 50%. He has a permanent spot on the first power play unit, where he plays the set-up man from the half-boards. He’s recorded three of his seven points on the man advantage.
With Henrik Zetterberg out of the lineup, Nyquist has been more visible on the ice. He’s out there for important minutes and is being counted on to prop his teammates up. He assisted on two of Larkin’s four goals, including setting up the beautiful tic-tac-toe play in the team’s only win against the Florida Panthers.
— Nick (@nickseguin19) October 21, 2018
As for the goal scoring, it will come. Nyquist is currently shooting at 4.8% with one goal on 21 shots. Besides, teams looking for that extra punch to push them over the edge aren’t necessarily looking for a 30-goal scorer. They’re looking more for depth, someone who can pass the puck and add secondary scoring. This is something Nyquist can do and do well.
Trading Nyquist earlier would definitely maximize the return, but I’m not sure that is the right move for the Red Wings. The team has struggled mightily to score goals this year already. Nyquist has been part of seven of their 20 goals. Removing him from the equation would send this team into an even faster tailspin. It’s bad for morale and it’s bad for the development of young players.
Before the season started, I predicted that the Red Wings would move Nyquist by December, but now I think they’ll hold on to him for as long as they can. The return they would get is not worth the irreparable damage it could do to the team’s young player’s confidence in the long run.
The Red Wings absolutely should move forward with trading one or both of these players and continuing to collect assets. As a rebuilding team, their focus should be on the future and neither of these players will play a big part in that with space running out on the roster and them being on expiring contracts.
The real question is when the trades should happen. For Jensen, it should be as soon as possible in order to clear up the crowding happening on the blue line. As veteran players return from injury, the sixth D revolving door is about to start spinning and Jensen’s value will only decrease as he watches games from the press box.
As for Nyquist, waiting as long as possible is probably the right move. He adds stability to the top-6 and playmaking support for players who are lacking confidence. Moving him too soon could send the team into an even deeper nosedive to the bottom of the standings.
And, while they’re likely to end up there anyways, we’d at least like to see them collect a few wins on the way.