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Photo Credit: NHL.com

Trying to make sense of the Adam Erne trade

After a lackluster free-agent signing period, the Detroit Red Wings decided to give their fans something to talk about in the middle of August, trading a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning for 24-year-old Adam Erne.

Erne, the Lightning’s second-round pick (33rd overall) in the 2013 draft, scored seven goals and 13 assists in 65 games last season playing about 10:32 per game (9:40 at 5 on 5). Clearly, the 6-foot-1, 214-pound forward was used in a depth role, which is almost a guarantee on a stacked Lightning team unless your name is Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos or Brayden Point.

General manager Steve Yzerman did talk about adding another forward, even after the signing of Valtteri Filppula on July 1, but with no waiver move or trade, the Red Wings’ log jam continues to get tighter at the forward position, especially in the depth forward category.

Erne was a restricted free agent at the time of the trade, but the Red Wings have since signed him to a one-year, $1.05 million deal, so there are no issues with term or cap hit the team has to worry about.

I’m not going to pretend to know what is going on in Yzerman’s head, but we can look at all situations and attempt to figure out why he decided to make this trade, despite conventional wisdom saying it doesn’t make the most sense.

First, let’s break down what kind of player Erne is.

Adam Erne isolated impact (Chart via HockeyViz)

Above is Micah Blake McCurdy’s isolated impact chart. As a quick refresher, red means more shots than league average and blue means less shots than league average. Overall, Erne is a strong defensive forward who draws more penalties than he takes — a slightly better Luke Glendening defensively.

Basically, he’s a bottom-six forward who may be able to chip in offensively on occasion. Obviously, the Red Wings weren’t going to get a 30-goal scorer for a fourth-round pick, but it’s not as if Erne is completely useless, either.

Now that we know what kind of player we are dealing with, we can attempt to figure out where he fits with the Red Wings.

2019-20 Red Wings depth chart (Via CapFriendly)

Above is a basic outline of what I expect the Red Wings roster to look like come Oct. 5. Of course, injuries can happen, Detroit may elect to send Michael Rasmussen to Grand Rapids, Joe Veleno — though highly unlikely — could make the team, etc., but you already start to see where the problems arise.

The Red Wings have a lot of young players that need to start seeing significant NHL minutes and adding Erne to the mix complicates things.

Before you grab your pitchforks and congregate outside Yzerman’s house, let’s take a look at some different scenarios as to why the new GM traded for Erne.

Scenario No. 1: Jacob de la Rose’s health

Near the end of last season, Jacob de la Rose had a cardiac episode that kept him sidelined for the team’s final nine games. It was the second cardiac episode for de la Rose, 23, in the past year, having one last fall when he was with the Montreal Canadiens.

And while de la Rose is expected to be ready for training camp, who knows what kind of player he will be once he steps back on the ice.

It’s possible Yzerman traded for Erne to have some depth to fall back on in case de la Rose isn’t ready to go for the season-opener and/or will miss extended time once the season starts.

Of course, as many pointed out on Twitter, that still leaves a number of other forwards who could easily step in and take de la Rose’s spot, including Dominic Turgeon, who I didn’t include on the depth chart.

Scenario No. 2: There’s another move coming

It’s no secret the Red Wings have a lot of bad contracts on the books. Three of those (Darren Helm, Luke Glendening and Justin Abdelkader) end after the 2020-21, 2020-21 and 2022-23 seasons, respectively. Is it possible we see another move to make room for Erne?

A trade for two of these players seems unlikely with their cap hits (Helm: $3.85 million, Abdelkader: $4.25 million), but Glendening’s $1.8 million cap hit is manageable. We know Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has been interested in acquiring Glendening in the past, but are there others?

It’s also a possibility the Red Wings bury one of these forwards, or even de la Rose, in the minors. Under Ken Holland, waiving a veteran with a high cap hit would have been unheard of, but we know from the past that Yzerman isn’t afraid to pull the trigger on moves he thinks will make his team better.

Scenario No. 3: Yzerman will be patient with the kids

This is the nightmare scenario for Red Wings fans, many of whom were hoping to see Filip Zadina or Taro Hirose make an impact this season.

Does Yzerman want to see them succeed in the AHL before subjecting them to the rigors of the NHL? Hirose had seven points in 10 NHL games last season, a good output, but is it something he would be able to sustain over the course of an 82-game season? Probably not.

Zadina was somewhat successful in the AHL (16-19—35 in 59 games) and even chipped in a goal and two assists in nine games with the Red Wings, but he tapered off toward the end of the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, scoring just four points in his final 14 games. For a sixth overall pick, that is a bit hard to swallow, but he is just 19 years old and had an entire summer to bulk up.

Put Zadina and Hirose in Grand Rapids, and the roster thins out a bit. And while Yzerman said that signing a free agent wouldn’t automatically prohibit a young player from making the team, it certainly doesn’t make it any easier.

It would be nice to see improvement from the Red Wings to the tune of moving up in the standings, but they still need another impact player before they start thinking about competing for playoff spots.

Of course, no GM is going to come out and admit they have no incentive to accumulate wins, but if there was a season for that, it would be this season for Yzerman.

He told fans during his first press conference this was going to be a long rebuild. They know the first couple of years are going to be rough, but the agony of constantly losing can be offset by drafting an elite player like Alexis Lafreniere, Hendrix Lapierre, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond or Yaroslav Askarov.

A deep 2020 draft could bode well for the Red Wings’ rebuild, and Yzerman could decide some extra seasoning in the AHL is worth it if it means a better draft position come next June.