The Grind Line: Red Wings’ Protected List Reaction

On Saturday, the Detroit Red Wings submitted their protected list for the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft along with the other 29 NHL teams. These lists were made available to the public yesterday.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland previously stated that he was going to protect seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie. Which specific players would be protected remained a mystery to those outside the organization until yesterday, when Detroit unveiled their list:

  • F – Henrik Zetterberg
  • F – Frans Nielsen
  • F – Anthony Mantha
  • F – Andreas Athanasiou
  • F – Tomas Tatar
  • F – Gustav Nyquist
  • F – Justin Abdelkader
  • D – Danny DeKeyser
  • D – Mike Green
  • D – Nick Jensen
  • G – Jimmy Howard

In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, the Red Wings’ coverage team for The Hockey Writers weighed in on Detroit’s protected list, surprises from other lists around the League, and which unprotected Red Wings player would likely be sporting a Golden Knights uniform in the fall.

Tony Wolak

It was a bit of a shock to see Jimmy Howard protected over Petr Mrazek in net, but perhaps the Red Wings view him differently now. Ken Holland has been “kicking tires” with regard to moving a goalie, so it’s possible that no team expressed interest in Mrazek. Therefore, there’s less risk in exposing him with Vegas likely to take Marc-Andre Fleury as their starter. As we know, a $4 million backup is expensive.

Petr Mrazek of the Detroit Red Wings.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for the rest of the league, there are quite a few quality players available to Vegas. The most baffling scenario is in Anaheim, where both Josh Manson and Sami Vatanen were exposed. Anaheim is stacked on defense, but how could those players be exposed when Kevin Bieksa is protected? Why wouldn’t the Ducks ask Bieksa to waive his no-movement clause? If they have a deal in place to keep both Manson and Vatanen, it’ll surely cost them a lot. St. Louis protecting Ryan Reaves was a head-scratcher as well.

Then again, these lists could be meaningless. There could be a multitude of already negotiated side deals ensuring Vegas does not select certain players that would make these seemingly horrible decisions palatable. Even more, teams could have inside intelligence on other selections that would influence who they protect.

This next week will be fun.

Tom Mitsos

In regards to the Red Wings’ protected list, I hoped for the best but feared the worst. I wasn’t disappointed.

General Manager Ken Holland has a history of being too loyal, and he continues to show that in his protected list. Selecting Justin Abdelkader and Danny DeKeyser over Riley Sheahan and Xavier Ouellet was expected, but it still doesn’t make it any less egregious. Sure, Sheahan had a season to forget, scoring just 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 80 games, but he’s cheap ($2.075 million cap hit), and the expansion draft was a good opportunity for the Red Wings to rid themselves of hard-to-trade contracts.

Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader
Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdeklader (Bridget Samuels)

Abdelkader ($4.25 million until 2023-24) and DeKeyser ($5 million until 2022-23) are two contracts they need to start shedding. There’s no guarantee Vegas would have taken either one, but why make it easy and give the Golden Knights an opportunity to select Sheahan or Ouellet, who is a restricted free agent?

But that wasn’t even the worst part of the protected list. Holland opted to protect 33-year-old Jimmy Howard over 25-year-old Petr Mrazek. We all know about the character issues Mrazek has, but that is no reason to leave a talented goalie exposed in an expansion draft. If the Red Wings’ front office really doesn’t approve of Mrazek’s attitude, then protect him and look for an opportunity to trade him during the season or at the draft.

Holland again shows terrible asset management, and it could cost the Red Wings their goalie of the future. Of course, there is no guarantee the Golden Knights take Mrazek. They could opt to take Ouellet instead, but if I’m George McPhee, I’m stocking up on goalies to trade to teams who may have lost a goalie in the expansion draft.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bobby Ryan was a notable name left off Ottawa’s protected list. His contract isn’t ideal for Vegas ($7.25 million until 2022-23), but he’s a skilled winger, and there won’t be many of those for the Golden Knights to choose from.

Florida’s Jonathan Marchessault is also available for Vegas. The 26-year-old center scored 30 goals and added 21 assists for the Panthers last season, and with a cap hit of just $750,000 he won’t break the bank. He’s also great trade bait with a favorable cap hit; Vegas could opt to use him to get some draft picks or prospects.

Brandon Peleshok

Red Wings fans figured Holland might throw a curveball their way with his protection list for the Vegas expansion draft, but he still managed to shock most of the fan base. The team’s decision to protect Howard over Mrazek is baffling, to say the least. Even if Holland and co. have given up on the 25-year-old netminder, it makes a lot more sense to hang onto him and attempt to work out some kind of trade. Of course, there is always the slim possibility that the team has worked out a deal with the Golden Knights, though Holland has already stated otherwise.

Back in March, the Red Wings writers took a crack at their own protection lists for the expansion draft. I was perfect in my predictions up front, as the team elected to protect Abdelkader, Athanasiou, Mantha, Nielsen, Nyquist, Tatar and Zetterberg. Holland elected to go with Jensen over Ouellet, whom I assumed the Wings would protect. It’s likely that speed was the determining factor here, as Jensen is the superior skater. I was also wrong about the Wings protecting Mrazek over Howard, but it’s safe to say that most people were off on that one.

Detroit Red Wings defenseman Xavier Ouellet.
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s a bit early to pick at other team’s protections lists – it’s possible there are already deals in place to influence the Golden Knights’ selections. However, some of the more notable names out there are Vatanen, James Neal, Bobby Ryan, Marc Methot, Marc-Andre Fleury and Antti Raanta. In either case, we are in for an interesting ride between now and Wednesday night.