Red Wings general manager Ken Holland has been in hot water with Red Wings fans for some time now. They have called him washed up, they have been angry for losing assets on waivers for nothing and many have demanded he be replaced.
As a note of liability, the use of “fans” doesn’t reflect the entire group, but more of what I believe is the majority of the Detroit fan base.
Every move Holland makes puts him further under the microscope from which fans are increasingly refocusing. Fans demanded Steven Stamkos, who never made it to free agency after re-signing with the Tampa Bay Lightning; they also demanded a trade of Jimmy Howard to relieve the team of his $5.3 million cap hit that has him locked up until after the 2019-20 season.
He was condemned on re-signing Drew Miller and Darren Helm. He was highly criticized on the first day of free agency for signing 32-year-old Frans Nielsen as a center to replace Pavel Datsyuk, taking a chance on 32-year-old Thomas Vanek after a sluggish season and giving 34-year-old agitator Steve Ott a one-year contract.
The criticism wasn’t so much against the aforementioned players, but more so the belief of them taking jobs from farm players including Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi. — which brings us to the first way Holland can start winning trust back.
Give the Youth a Look
Before losing Martin Frk and Teemu Pulkkinen off of the waiver wire, fans believed Nielsen, Vanek and Ott were being handed jobs that could be filled with more speed and youth and less money and commitment.
In order to give some of AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins players a look in the NHL this season, the Red Wings will have to experience some injuries.
Injuries are bound to happen, but the coach has to determine which AHL player best fills the lineup hole. If a fourth line player such as Drew Miller gets injured, Jeff Blashill won’t plug a high-scorer like Mantha into that spot.
It would be bad use of an offensive weapon and would disrupt the chemistry and grinding of the surrounding fourth line players who can’t match Mantha’s offensive power.
Mantha was perhaps the biggest disappointment in regards to training camp cuts. After a strong camp, he was sent back down to Grand Rapids, where he has made quite the statement with a league-leading six goals through just five games.
By giving young players a real look in the NHL, Holland can get a better judgment of their skill, growth and trade potential instead of losing them on waivers with nothing to show for it.
It gives other teams a chance at scouting potential trades and players they may think differently of than Holland and Blashill. It’s more of a “what do you have to lose” concept in dealing with assets.
Trade Jimmy Howard
Following another first-round playoff exit, the Red Wings were cleaning out their lockers and Howard made a comment to reporters that a trade might be best for both him and the Red Wings.
Fast-forward to October, where Howard remains a Red Wing and is currently 2-0-0 with a shutout, 0.50 goals-against average and a .984 save percentage. Howard’s wins didn’t come against easy opponents either, giving up just one goal against the New York Rangers and shutting out the Stanley Cup runner-up San Jose Sharks.
It could be the change in Howard’s goaltending coach that has helped him rediscover his game. The Wings promoted Griffins goaltending coach Jeff Salajko after they decided not to renew the contract of Jim Bedard, who had been Detroit’s goalie coach since 1996.
The promotion of Salajko signaled that the team was looking to move forward with Mrazek full-time.
There are two things that could happen with Howard’s strong start to the season; one is Holland could try to move him while his worth is increased, the other is to have a steady back-up goaltender who may cost $5.3 million but can steady the ship if Mrazek struggles down the stretch.
Trade for a Top-Pair Defenseman
Cue Kevin Shattenkirk, Jacob Trouba and Cam Fowler.
The right-handed, 28-year-old Shattenkirk has scored 40-plus points in every NHL season he has played 56 or more games in. In 72 games last season, Shattenkirk scored a career-high 14 goals.
However, the St. Louis Blues seem prepared to run out Shattenkirk’s contract this season unless GM Doug Armstrong gets exactly what he wants for the point-producing defender. It was rumored the Blues asked for Dylan Larkin (and more), which is a no-go for Holland.
Trouba, a Michigan-native, is another right-shot and even with three NHL seasons to his credit, is still just 22-years old. With his entry-level deal complete, Trouba asked for a trade, citing his lack of usage for the Winnipeg Jets and wanting to realize his full potential on the right side in a top-four role.
He was instead told that righties Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers would be the occupants on the top two pairs and that a top-four role would have to be on the left side, which ended up being a large sticking point between the two sides. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, similar to Armstrong, is also standing firm until he gets what he wants for Trouba.
Hampus Lindholm has officially signed with Anaheim and now rumors will swirl about which defender is on his way out. It’s likely Fowler, another Michigan native and still young at 24-years old. The left-handed Fowler is a regular high-30s point producer and would be an upgrade to any team that were to land him via trade.
He has had a strong start to the year, posting three goals and seven points through eight games with a plus-1 rating on a 3-3-2 team. The problem in a potential trade is that Anaheim is high on the cap and needs to dump salary to allow Lindholm’s contract to be put on the books.
Detroit is also high on the cap and would also need to move salary to bring in Fowler. That may prevent a deal between the two teams.
Watch the Wings Have a Solid Year
Heading into the season, expectations for the Red Wings were low. They were being written off for a lack of defense, inconsistent scorers and questionable goaltending.
— Tom Mitsos (@tom_mitsos) October 17, 2016
Much like recent years, analysts and reporters were saying this was the year the streak would end. I believe it was Nick Kypreos of the NHL Network who recently said something along the lines of “nobody has made money betting against the Red Wings.”
He was referencing the streak and the team’s ability to keep it going through determination and a strong leadership core the past few years.
After the Wings started the season 0-2-0, losing against division opponents Tampa Bay and Florida, the naysayers built their cases against the Wings even more. Detroit blew two, two-goal leads against Tampa before letting them run the third period.
They looked abysmally bad against Florida in what could very well be their worst game all year—even with 75 to go.
But now, the team has won six straight and is playing with confidence. They’re getting scoring from all four lines and newcomer Thomas Vanek is playing like he’s back in his prime, or at least like he enjoys the game again.
If the Red Wings can put together a consistent season and extend the streak by walking into the playoffs and not backing-in, Holland’s recent choices can defend his ability to still manage a team and get the fans off of his back for a little while longer.