With the Detroit Red Wings staying afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race, it’s hard to definitively nail down what the team will do in the weeks and months leading up to the trade deadline. Buying isn’t exactly advisable seeing as Detroit currently sits outside the playoff picture with 35 points and a record of 16-15-3, and they have lacked the consistency needed to really break away in the standings. Selling, on the other hand, essentially pulls the plug on this year’s team, despite the progress they have shown. This is why general manager Steve Yzerman may be inclined to be a little more conservative this year in terms of the sheer amount of players he looks to send out ahead of the trade deadline.
Further backing up this idea is the fact that the Red Wings have some pending unrestricted free agents (UFA) that, while fitting the description of traditional “trade bait”, could help out Detroit in seasons beyond this one. In some of these cases, the question has to be asked whether the return in a hypothetical trade would offset what the Red Wings would be losing in that player. Many players have come and gone through Detroit over the last few seasons, and it would undoubtedly be refreshing for the team to see some of these guys stick around rather than be shipped off for third round picks and mid-level prospects.
In the case of these players, perhaps the right move is to not make a move at all.
If there’s one player that has raised their value exponentially this season, it’s Vladislav Namestnikov. After posting just eight goals and 17 points through 53 games last season, the Russian forward has already eclipsed his goal total with nine this season, and he just needs one more point to best his total from last season. He is providing the kind of depth scoring that the Red Wings had hoped they were going to get when Yzerman signed him to a two-year pact prior to the 2020-21 season.
Namestnikov presents value not only as a depth offensive player, but he plays a role on the penalty kill, and his ability to play on the wing and down the middle gives his team lineup options on any given night. There is a ton of value in that, and with a cap hit of just $2 million, it should be easy for most contenders to fit him on their books. Aside from defenseman Nick Leddy, Namestnikov should be the player that the Red Wings receive the most calls about as the trade deadline approaches.
However, at just 29 years old, Namestnikov is hardly an over the hill veteran that has no place in the Red Wings’ future. In fact, seeing as he firmly understands his role on this team and he seems to genuinely enjoy playing for the Red Wings (his uncle is Vyacheslav “Slava” Kozlov after all) there is also a ton of value in keeping a guy like that around. He’s not going to be taking a roster spot from the team’s top prospects, and he would likely contribute to the culture that the team wants in place for when those prospects make their way to Detroit.
The last time Namestnikov was traded, on Feb. 24, 2020 from the Ottawa Senators to the Colorado Avalanche, he came at the cost of a fourth round pick in the following year’s draft. Even if Yzerman were able to raise the price to a third round pick, is that worth giving up the kind of quality veteran a rebuilding team like the Red Wings should love having around?
Speaking of quality veterans, Sam Gagner’s tenure with the Red Wings can only be described by those exact words: quality veteran. The sixth pick of the 2007 draft has had a career of highs and lows, ranging from a 50 point campaign in 2016-17 with the Columbus Blue Jackets, to just 13 points in during the 2019-20 season which saw him start the season with the Edmonton Oilers and then finish the season with the Red Wings. At 32 years old, he’s the type of veteran that has been everything from a top six forward to a fourth line “just don’t do anything stupid” forward.
Now in his second full season with the Red Wings, Gagner has established himself as something reminiscent of “team Dad”. Though he is tied with Carter Rowney for the oldest forward on the team, Gagner has been with the team longer and is a part of the team’s regular 12 forwards if everybody is healthy. He isn’t afraid to step in if the other team is taking advantage of Detroit’s younger players (he stood up for Lucas Raymond in the first month of the season) and he always provides fairly honest insight whenever he is called upon to face the media after games. Though he doesn’t wear a letter on his sweater, it’s fair to assume that he is on the shortlist of players that would wear an “A” if the team’s designated leaders were absent for one reason or another.
Given that the Red Wings aren’t likely to get more than a late round pick in exchange for Gagner’s services, the question has to be asked whether or not it’s worth moving on from the grizzled veteran. Whether it’s as a fourth line forward or even just a depth forward that plays here and there, he can provide depth production and veteran leadership in a limited role. He carries a cap hit of just $850k this season, and keeping him around would probably cost around the same amount. The Red Wings could do a lot worse than bringing him back.
The argument for keeping Marc Staal is a similar one to the argument for keeping Gagner. At 34 years old, Staal is the eldest member of Detroit’s defense, and he has experience that very few of his teammates can rival. Unlike Gagner, Staal is one of the Red Wings’ alternate captains, a role he also held during his time with the New York Rangers. Staal is also on track to cross 1,000 regular season games this season, meaning he should be awarded the silver stick that every player gets once they cross that benchmark.
Besides Staal’s own résumé, the Red Wings also face an interesting predicament this coming offseason. Aside from Jordan Oesterle, every left-handed defenseman on the team is a pending UFA. While Detroit should see healthy competition for one or two of those spots from their internal prospects, Yzerman will more than likely want to fill one or two of those spots with already-established NHL players. Bringing back Staal ensures that the team will have a reliable player on the third defensive pairing, and he also presents competition and stability for those previously mentioned prospects.
With just four points through 27 games this season, Staal isn’t on the team to show up on the scoresheet. He’s there to be a boost to the locker room, and to take care of business defensively. Assuming his play doesn’t fall off down the stretch, he fits into the defense-equivalent of Gagner’s role up front.
NHL Trade Deadline on March 21
All of this comes with the natural concession that if a good enough offer is out there, it will certainly give Yzerman something to think about. Looking ahead to 2022-23, however, it seems like it’s time to identify which players, if any, can be a part of this team’s immediate future. While none of the guys listed here impact the game at an elite level, their respective roles don’t demand that level of play. If the Red Wings need guys to fill those roles heading into next season, these guys already know what the job entails.
Take the right offers when they come, and keep the right players when they arrive.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.