The Grind Line: Red Wings Rebuild Mid-Term Report Card

What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. Rachel Anderson and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

The Detroit Red Wings rebuild is a hot topic among the Wing-nut community. Ahead of the trade deadline, it received widespread attention with the reassignment of defenseman Denis Cholowski and forward Martin Frk to the Grand Rapids Griffins. The roster move by Red Wings management caused mixed reviews. The social media world exploded with derisive comments about the incompetence of Ken Holland and company while others expressed understanding in regards to the move.

Based on the ongoing roster moves and the trade deadline fast approaching, the organizational overhaul of the Red Wings is worth taking another look at. As a result, The Grind Line decided to take a mid-term look at the rebuild and grade the progress.

Rachel Anderson: B

Despite the negative reaction to the reassignment of Cholowski and Frk, the Red Wings’ “youth movement” is alive and well which prompted me to give the rebuild a “B.” The overall direction of the team is being shaped by the young prospects coming through the system(s), the younger current NHL skaters and the consequent roster moves are being conducted bearing that in mind.

Martin Frk Grand Rapis Griffins Detroit Red Wings
Martin Frk has been reassigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins, Feb. 2019 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Specifically referring to Cholowski, Zadina and others, development is key and their time in the AHL will serve to better suit the long-term mission of the team from a skill-level standpoint, as well as financially. The Red Wings roster is suffocated by expensive contracts which don’t allow for many of the youngsters to have consistent spots.

Therefore, putting them to work in the AHL enables them to get the ice time they need while the parent team figures out where to move the pieces to make room as they are ready. A perfect example of this would be Filip Hronek – who received a call-up just after Cholowski was sent to Grand Rapids. Hronek has worked on the aspects of the game required and received the reward.

Detroit drafted very young players and it takes time to mold them into NHL quality. Overall, the organization is doing an excellent job not only drafting but trying to out-maneuver the bad contracts everyone is well aware of.

The team is struggling this season, but the hope of the future Wings that are near ready in the AHL and other leagues speaks to the long-term planning of the Red Wings staff. Yes, it has been a hard few seasons for Detroit – as they are continually reminded of. However, in the next season or two, there will be more than enough young bloods on the roster to push Detroit back into the playoff mix. Roster and cap space will clear up to make way for younger and more affordable talent.

Tony Wolak: B

Let’s address the elephant in the room: Cholowski is now playing for the Griffins, and that’s okay. The Red Wings gave him ample opportunity to address the flaws in his game at the NHL level and he couldn’t deliver. Now, he’ll have plenty of time to do so with the Griffins.

The organization did the same thing with Hronek earlier in the season and he was able to improve his game. Cholowski should be able to follow suit and we’ll see him in Hockeytown soon enough.

Denis Cholowski Grand Rapids Griffins Detroit Red Wings
Denis Cholowski was reassigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins by the Detroit Red Wings, Feb. 2019 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Now that Cholowski-gate has been addressed, let’s return to the rebuild, which has actually gone well this season. Questionable roster/lineup decisions aside, the young guns have stepped up for the Red Wings. Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha have all improved since the 2017-18 campaign and the overall under-24 production is way up.

In addition, Detroit’s prospects are coming along nicely. Filip Zadina is finding his footing in Grand Rapids. Joe Veleno and Jared McIsaac have been sensational in the QMJHL. And Filip Larsson hasn’t missed a beat since transitioning to the collegiate game.

Finally, the Red Wings are well-positioned to add to their prospect pipeline in the coming months. The trade deadline is right around the corner and Jimmy Howard, Gustav Nyquist and Nick Jensen could bring back a handful of quality draft picks or prospects. That, and the Red Wings are once again heading for a high draft pick – a quick simulation of Tankathon gave them the third-overall pick.

Detroit’s future is producing and has improved as the season has progressed. Great draft picks are on the way. The rebuild is quickly picking up momentum.