While many have called for his dismissal in recent months, Ken Holland showed he still has it and improved the Detroit Red Wings this weekend. Though some of the maladies that these moves resolved were self-inflicted, it’s a step in the right direction for an organization that’s been moving backward for the most part lately.
Whether you’re rooting for a rebuild or new streak of playoff appearances, Holland’s recent transactions improved Detroit’s positioning for each. He added a draft pick, shedded salary, and addressed organizational depth while bolstering the NHL roster. How often can you say that about a GM’s weekend?
Let’s take a look at the moves and their implications.
Athanasiou Re-Signs With the Red Wings
On Friday, Holland kicked off the weekend by agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with holdout Andreas Athanasiou. He’ll earn $1.387 million this year and will be eligible for arbitration next offseason.
While the contract dispute shouldn’t have happened, Holland held firm, remedied the conflict, and got Athanasiou signed. Now, the speedster can come back to Detroit, prove his worth, and vie for a larger contract next summer.
Overall, the Red Wings have played a faster game this season. The addition of Athanasiou will give the Red Wings more options for a middle-of-the-pack power play and make their top-nine that much more dangerous. Athanasiou’s return will likely push Darren Helm to the fourth line and David Booth/Luke Witkowski out of the lineup. The net difference of an Athanasiou-for-Booth/Witkowski swap is huge for the Red Wings.
Sheahan Shipped Out
To clear the necessary cap space to add Athanasiou to the roster, Holland dealt center Riley Sheahan plus a fifth-round pick to the Penguins for left wing Scott Wilson and a third-round pick. Both picks are from the 2018 draft.
Though this trade can be seen as the Red Wings moving on from a failed first-round selection, the reality is that Sheahan was expendable and the right player to be moved out. He’s making just over $2 million this season and is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this spring. And when you’re a soon-to-be 26-year-old center with size, you’re not going to take a pay cut. The Red Wings wouldn’t have had cap space to give Sheahan a raise considering the need to negotiate new deals with Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin, and now Athanasiou as well.
In addition, Detroit has some organizational depth at center. Over the next few years, Sheahan wouldn’t have projected to be one of the Red Wings’ four centers (listed in no particular order).
With Scott Wilson coming aboard, he’ll essentially slide into Sheahan’s former fourth-line left wing role. Wilson can play all three forward positions and contribute offensively in limited minutes. His addition to the lineup plus the impending changes will give Detroit a solid—if not overpaid—fourth line. A trio of Wilson – Glendening – Helm is certainly an upgrade over Sheahan – Glendening – Booth/Witkowski.
Finally, this trade also allows the Red Wings to choose roughly 50 spots higher in this summer’s deep draft. Replacing a fifth-round pick with a third-round pick will give Detroit five selections in the first 90 picks, with the possibility of more coming if Holland decides to sell at the trade deadline.
Swapping Defensive Surplus for Forward Depth
A few minutes after the Sheahan deal was announced, Holland completed another trade. He sent recently-waived defenseman Ryan Sproul to the New York Rangers for forward Matt Puempel.
It was clear this preseason that Joe Hicketts had jumped Sproul on the depth chart and that Filip Hronek wasn’t far behind. By moving Sproul out, the Red Wings can now give other prospects with potential still to be uncovered a chance to play bigger minutes in the AHL. This includes Hronek and Vili Saarijarvi, who had to be sent to Toledo of the ECHL to find ample playing time given the glut of defensemen in Detroit and Grand Rapids.
In Puempel, the Red Wings get a former first-round pick with something to prove after both Ottawa and New York let him go. Like Sproul now is for the Rangers, Puempel is a low-risk, high-reward bet for the Red Wings. He’s also a stronger forward than both Booth and Witkowski if Detroit decides to call him up at some point.
Moving in the Right Direction
When you consider the overall additions and subtractions, the Red Wings are now an improved organization. Not only are the players they added better than those moved out, but Detroit also benefited in other ways. They added cap space, added depth, and resolved a long holdout.
This past weekend, Holland showed us that he still has it. But there’s still work to be done.