Red Wings’ Bowey Still Searching for Defensive Consistency

With the Detroit Red Wings fully committed to rebuilding, general manager Steve Yzerman is continuously assessing which players have a long-term future with the organization. Talent evaluation is a tedious process, and perhaps no player is harder to analyze than 24-year-old defenseman Madison Bowey.

On the surface, Bowey’s offensive numbers are respectable. He has already set a career-high with 14 points in 40 games, which is a 28-point pace throughout a full season. Unfortunately, Bowey’s defensive exploits leave a lot to be desired.

James Neal, Madison Bowey
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Madison Bowey has had a season full of growing pains. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan)

Those that watch Bowey with regularity know that he can be a disaster in the defensive zone. Likewise, his advanced metrics suggest the same conclusion.

So what are Bowey’s glaring issues defensively, and can they be remedied? More importantly, is he a player that the Red Wings should keep around moving forward? Let us take a look.

Breaking Down Bowey’s Technique

One of the main issues with Bowey’s defensive play is a lack of awareness. During the Red Wings’ 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 18, this was apparent on the first goal of the game.

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Rather than surveying the right side of the neutral zone, Bowey is too busy watching the puck. He then cheats towards Aleksander Barkov on the left side of the ice, despite having two forwards with him in support. Jonathan Huberdeau notices Evgenii Dadonov is completely unchecked and feathers a beautiful stretch pass onto his tape to send him in on a breakaway.

The entire scenario was avoidable if Bowey had noticed Dadonov, which was his responsibility as the last man back. Alas, these types of plays have been commonplace for Bowey throughout the 2019-20 campaign, and it has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

During a post-practice media session on Jan. 6, Red Wings’ head coach Jeff Blashill mentioned: “When [Bowey] doesn’t play as well, I would say sometimes he doesn’t recognize danger.” Blashill continued by stating that Bowey is “a little bit of a rollercoaster” and that his play needs “to even out a bit.”

Madison Bowey was a well-received prospect for the Kelowna Rockets back in 2013. [photo: David Chan]

Advanced stats also back this claim up. Per data found at Evolving-Hockey, among all players with at least 50 minutes of even-strength time on ice, Bowey has the worst xGA/60 in the entire league (0.341). Bowey’s rating is a full 0.093 worse than the next closest defenseman (Libor Hajek, 0.248). Likewise, his goals above replacement (GAR) defensive metrics are abysmal.

GAR is a set of statistics that attempt to quantify the individual on-ice value of a skater, relative to a replacement-level player. A replacement-level player is the equivalent of someone who is freely available to every team and would only garner a league-minimum salary.

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When looking at Bowey’s even-strength defense GAR, he again owns the worst mark in the entire league at minus-6.7 goals below replacement level. For context, that is the third-worst even-strength GAR by a defenseman over the past four seasons, and Bowey has only played 40 games.

Bowey’s Offensive Exploits

While his defensive tendencies are fairly glaring, Bowey still does certain things well. His even-strength offense GAR is remarkably high, sitting at plus-7.7 goals, good enough for ninth-best among all defensemen. His rating is ahead of All-Star rearguards like Victor Hedman, Dougie Hamilton, Morgan Rielly, and Kris Letang.

Notice Bowey’s offensive instincts kick in on this play from earlier in the season. He picks off the loose puck near the blue line, cuts towards the open ice aggressively on his forehand, and then manages to beat Malcolm Subban with a low five-hole shot while being hauled down.

Herein lies Bowey’s potential value, as there are a plethora of defensemen who have carved out NHL careers as offensive specialists. While Bowey will never reach elite levels of production, a player capable of tallying 30 points from the backend is a valuable asset to have.

Attempting to transition Bowey into a winger has also been debated. Alas, that seems like a misguided idea with players like Evgeny Svechnikov and Taro Hirose in the system.

Bowey’s Future with the Red Wings

Ultimately, the negatives currently outweigh the positives for Bowey. If he was even just a below-average defender that produced points, then in sheltered minutes, he could still have a role. Unfortunately, he has shown to be one of the worst defensemen in the entire league thus far, making it hard to justify rostering such a liability.

Madison Bowey Detroit Red Wings
Madison Bowey, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One note to make is that defensemen take a notoriously long time to develop. Bowey is only 24, has played in just 141 games at the NHL level, and has had some excellent performances throughout the season. It is possible that with more development, he can become a viable third-pairing blueliner.

Bowey is a restricted free agent at the end of the campaign. Mike Green, Trevor Daley, Alex Biega, and Jonathan Ericsson are all unrestricted free agents that will likely move on from the team.

At this moment in time, Filip Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, Moritz Seider, Danny DeKeyser, and Patrick Nemeth can be penciled in on the team’s 2020-21 roster, leaving one spot up for grabs.

Madison Bowey Detroit Red Wings
Does Madison Bowey have a future with the Detroit Red Wings? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Red Wings likely to endure at least one more season of futility, there would be no harm in signing Bowey to a cost-efficient bridge deal. Yzerman can plug a hole on the depth chart while getting another season to evaluate Bowey’s game.

Consider the remainder of the 2019-20 season a proving ground for Bowey. If his offense falls off of a cliff and he continues to get caved in on defense, the two parties can move on. He is an extremely divisive player, but the jury is still out on his long-term value.