The Detroit Red Wings aren’t usually a team that likes a lot of turnover on a year-to-year basis. It’s historically been difficult for rookies and young players to make the roster, and the organization has a tendency to lean on the same familiar veterans as opposed to bringing in unknown elements.
This is what makes the offseason of 2016 more interesting than most for fans of the Red Wings. While general manager Ken Holland has never been shy about making — or trying to make — a splash during free agency, he typically likes to stick with players he knows and is comfortable with.
Yet the 2016-17 Red Wings will look quite different from the squad that bowed out in the first round of the playoffs against a short-handed Tampa Bay Lightning team. While there’s usually one or two new faces on opening night, there will be considerably more turnover than usual in Detroit in the coming months.
Here’s what we know so far. Defenseman Kyle Quincey won’t be back with the club in 2016-17. The Red Wings acquired him in a three-way trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche in February of 2012, sending prospect Sebastien Piche and a first-round pick to the Lightning for Quincey after Tampa had traded Steve Downie to Colorado for the defender.
The 30-year-old averaged almost 20 minutes a night during his second tenure with the Red Wings, and it was somewhat surprising to see Holland allow the veteran defender to walk. He’d spent time on the team’s top pairing during the playoffs and head coach Jeff Blashill leaned on him during most situations.
That will open up some ice time for young players such as Brendan Smith, which is outstanding news for Detroit. While the 27-year-old never evolved into the high-end offensive machine that he was pegged as in his draft year, Smith is an outstanding possession driver for the Red Wings. He spent time as a healthy scratch during the regular season and first round of the playoffs, but he should see a more consistent role with Quincey on the way out of town.
Losing the veteran could also mean an increased role for Alexei Marchenko, who appeared in 66 regular season games and averaged nearly 17 minutes of ice time per night. Lastly, the departure of Quincey will likely open up an actual roster spot for Xavier Ouellet, who has been patiently plying his trade in the AHL for three seasons now.
Both Ouellet and Smith are defenders who could thrive in the system Blashill initially wanted to run once arriving in Detroit. He eventually realized that he didn’t have the puck-moving defenders needed to rush up the ice with haste so he had to make adjustments, some of which didn’t click with the team all that well. Check out Prashanth Iyer’s outstanding look at this very subject over at Winging It In Motown if you’d like a more in-depth look the sort of breakout the Red Wings could end up playing next season.
Allowing just one player to leave as a free agent created opportunities for three younger blueliners, which should lead to a quicker, leaner defensive unit moving forward.
We also know that center Brad Richards won’t be re-signed and will be allowed to hit free agency come July 1. He notched 10 goals and 18 assists through 68 games during the regular season, but the Lightning skated circles around him during the playoffs. This may be why Holland elected to let the 36-year-old go.
Richards recently admitted that Detroit wasn’t a great fit for him, noting that the team never got “firing on all cylinders” while he was there. He ended up playing on the right side on the team’s second line during the postseason, which is where Anthony Mantha will likely slot in for full-time duty this season.
Fans have been calling for the 6-foot-5 forward to be inserted into the lineup for a better part of a year now, and his strong performance during a 10-game cup-of-coffee stint in Detroit only fanned those flames. He’s spent two years in the AHL to this point and has notched 36 goals in 102 games played at that level.
The Red Wings need all the offense they can get, especially from a towering power forward like Mantha. He brings a new element to the roster and will have an immediate impact on the power play.
The former 20th overall pick will need to earn his spot out of training camp, but it seems like Richards’ old spot is his for the taking. This isn’t where the potential changes in Detroit stop, however.
Pavel Datsyuk hasn’t officially decided to bolt for the KHL next season, but at this juncture that outcome seems like a foregone conclusion. Holland is looking for a way to get rid of the forward’s dead $7.5 million cap hit. If he’s successful, it will likely mean that the Red Wings will go all-in on the Steven Stamkos sweepstakes. That would create a whole new set of scenarios, but right now we’re going to continue examining the bigger picture.
With Datsyuk likely on the way out and Father Time winning his fight with Henrik Zetterberg, it may be time for Dylan Larkin to get some time at center. He was used mostly as a wing during his rookie season, but the time may be right to try him out on either the first or second line. Asking a 20-year-old (he turns 20 in July) to lead the attack may seem dangerous, but he can’t perform any worse than Zetterberg did during the back half of the regular season.
The team’s captain is a third-line quality pivot who is being shoehorned into a first-line role, and we could see Blashill attempt to move away from the setup as 2016-17 progresses. In general, the organization’s center situation is in a state of flux with Richards leaving, Darren Helm looking for a new deal and Joakim Andersson potentially leaving as a free agent as well. That could present someone like Dominic Turgeon with a real chance to make the team if he has an impressive training camp.
Stamkos isn’t the only big-name free agent the Red Wings are aiming to sign this summer. While he’s the cream of this year’s crop (granted the Lightning don’t re-sign him before July 1), Holland is also trying to bring Alexander Radulov into the fold. The KHL superstar and former Nashville Predator represents a bit of risk, but it’s a gamble Detroit would be wise to make. Especially if they continue to stick to their guns and don’t buckle to the forward’s ridiculous rumored asking price.
If the Red Wings can get him to town on a one-year deal worth around $4.5 million, he’d bring a whole new dimension to the team’s attack. These free agency conversations are very much contingent on Detroit managing to shed Datsyuk’s dead money, but you can bet that Holland will be moving mountains to make sure the highest paid player on his team is actually playing.
He’ll likely need to sweeten the pot to entice a rival team to eat the dead cash, which means an asset like Teemu Pulkkinen could be dangled as the golden carrot. We don’t think that’s the way Detroit should go about dropping Datsyuk’s deal, but starting the season with that much of a black hole draining the cap isn’t really an option either.
Another way for the Red Wings to potentially create cap space would be a Jimmy Howard trade. Since Petr Mrazek is a restricted free agent and will command a hefty raise, both Howard and Detroit can read the writing on the wall. The 24-year-old Mrazek took a serious run at the Vezina Trophy before slumping in March, and was one of the NHL’s best goalies at five-on-five during the regular season.
It’s tough to imagine Howard giving Mrazek a run for his money during training camp, which means the Red Wings could have a new clear-cut No. 1 goalie — something they didn’t have in 2015-16 — and a new backup. Whether that someone is someone like Jared Coreau or a cheap free agent option remains to be seen, but it means more new faces in Detroit regardless.
The last piece of the team’s turnover puzzle is the recently acquired Dylan Sadowy. The prospect couldn’t come to terms with the San Jose Sharks and could have potentially reentered the draft this summer, but Holland swooped in with a third-round pick and pried the forward out of California.
Some draft analysts felt that Sadowy could have been a first-round selection in the draft, which makes this a bit of a steal for the Red Wings. Like Mantha, Sadowy plays a physical game and isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals. It was that trait that led Holland to swing a deal for him in the first place. The team’s assistant general manager Ryan Martin had this to say about the left wing following the deal, according to Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News:
“We like his grit and competitiveness, coupled with a good skill set. He had two 40-goal seasons in the OHL, so clearly he’s got offensive skills. He scores a lot of goals from the hard areas.”
While he’s noted for his ability to score goals from in close, he’s also been praised as a fantastic penalty killer and shot blocker during his time in the OHL. These are all traits that the Red Wings sorely missed on their roster over the past few seasons. Sadowy needs to work on his foot speed a bit, but he’s committed to working on that this summer.
While Detroit is facing a handful of questions this offseason, there’s little doubt that the team will look distinctly different compared to the one that finished the 2015-16 campaign.