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, Jacob Messing and Tony Wolak are the muckers who makeup THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
With the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline a little over a month away, the Detroit Red Wings have an outstanding opportunity to significantly bolster their draft pick stockpile and prospect pipeline.
Over the past couple seasons, general manager Ken Holland has done a fantastic job jettisoning rental and non-essential players and bringing back a solid haul for each. He’ll have the ability to do the same this season, with seven Red Wings players headed for unrestricted free agency and a few more the summer after.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their top Red Wings trade chip. Of the players on the trade block, which could conceivably bring back the best return for Hockeytown?
Tony Wolak: Jimmy Howard
While he may have the lowest amount of possible suitors, Jimmy Howard represents Detroit’s most valuable trade chip. Sporting a .916 save percentage, the long-time Red Wing has given the team a chance to win every night, even if the defense in front of him is sub-par at best.
If a contending team absolutely needs a starter, the Red Wings will require them to pay a premium price to obtain Howard’s services. Apart from him, there really isn’t a high-level starting goalie on the market – Sergei Bobrovsky’s situation with the Columbus Blue Jackets is something to watch, though. So if Detroit’s netminder ends up being the best available goalie option, the Red Wings can name their price and see if a team is willing to pay it.
The optimal scenario to look for is if a top-10 team’s goalie goes down. While we never want to wish for injury, it would create demand for Howard. Moving him to be a backup or 1B option would not bring back the best return – just look at the Ben Bishop deal from a few seasons ago.
With Andrei Vasilevskiy ascending to the starting role, then-general manager Steve Yzerman traded Bishop, a pending unrestricted free agent, to the Los Angeles Kings along with a fifth-round pick for Peter Budaj, Erik Cernak, a seventh-round pick and a condition draft pick if Bishop re-signed with the Kings, which he did not. This is not the kind of return Red Wings fans are hoping for and would more than likely rather see Howard re-sign with the only organization he’s ever known.
But if the Red Wings can find a team willing to acquire Howard to be their starting goalie, a first-round pick or solid prospect could be in the cards.
Rachel Anderson: Martin Frk
Out of Detroit’s possible trade bait (without no-trade clauses), Martin Frk is a viable option to unload. I watched Frk develop with the Grand Rapids Griffins and have been thrilled that he’s been able to maintain a spot in the NHL after his brief stint with the Carolina Hurricanes. But, right now, he’s not producing in Detroit.
Frk has played 23 games and only tallied four points so far this season – a far cry from the 50 points he had during the 2016-17 season in the AHL. He has a ton of potential, is still very young and has a heck of a shot, but he’s not a “must keep” in Detroit right now. His age, being only 25, would be a selling factor as well as his powerhouse slapper.
The biggest drawback in hanging on to Frk is that he’s inconsistent. Though working on his accuracy has been something he’s been addressing all season long, there is little proof of that in the numbers. The Red Wings are in no position to teach should-be veterans so Frk’s potential is being wasted right now in Detroit. With another team, already healthy in terms of structure, he could be a key asset on the power play and as a contributor on offensive pushes.
There are, of course, numerous other options to trade, such as Howard and Niklas Kronwall, like my Grind Line cohorts state, but I’m of the opinion that their ages alone would be overriding factors to their perceived value. Whereas, with a youngster like Frk, he has several seasons left in him and has yet to reach his full potential. I have loved watching him develop and was there when he scored his first NHL goal. The unfortunate thing with trades is that it’s inevitable about the team’s health and bottom line. In this case, Frk would be an easy-sell, to put it in mercenary terms.
Jacob Messing: Niklas Kronwall
Defense is always in demand at the trade deadline as teams stock up for Stanley Cup aspirations and per the old adage “defense wins championships,” 2019 will be no different. While the addition of Kronwall wouldn’t single-handedly take a team to the next level, his veteran status would still go a long way in reaching the ultimate goal.
The 38-year-old has been impressive this season given his age, career-long knee problems and overall state of the team. As a veteran of 918 games, Kronwall has 82 goals and 336 assists for 418 points and has been a consistent top-four defenseman with a reliable defensive zone readiness and widely-touted physical side.
The Swede holds two goals and 11 assists for 13 points in 44 games, fair production as all but two points have come at even strength. He also holds a plus-four rating, which is tied for second on the team among players who have skated in at least 40 games, impressive considering the Red Wings’ minus-24 goal differential.
As a Stanley Cup winner and modest playoff performer, Kronwall understands what it takes to be the last team standing. He is in the final year of his contract that carries a relatively low $4.75 million cap hit and by all accounts is set to hang up his skates this summer.
However, as a career-long Red Wing in his 15th NHL season, Holland understands the meaning of playing for one team for a single career. It’s by no means the best business practice, but don’t be surprised to see Holland fail to move Kronwall. Holland’s brand of being loyal to a fault could play a significant part in Kronwall staying put, plus he also holds a modified no-trade clause, which permitted Kronwall to submit a list of 10 teams he can be traded to.
It’s only a matter of time before a decision will be forced upon Holland as suitors will absolutely come calling for Kronwall’s services.