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. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The offseason is upon us, and with it comes the speculation about anything and everything the Detroit Red Wings might do this summer. General manager Steve Yzerman was very active in free agency during last offseason, and his overall aggressive tendencies as a GM lead many to believe that he’ll come out swinging this year as well. Besides the usual free agency and entry draft, there is also an expansion draft this year that should give Yzerman another opportunity to push along Detroit’s rebuild.
Everybody likes a hot take. In this edition of The Grind Line, we’re offering up our hottest takes of what Yzerman will do this offseason. Be sure to leave yours down in the comments section!
Tony Wolak: Red Wings Considered Expansion Draft Winners
Surely, the Seattle Kraken will have a great time next month selecting their inaugural team. They won’t be the only “winners”, though.
The Red Wings will come out of the expansion draft in a favorable position. They likely won’t lose a player of significance, which can’t be said about most teams. While Dennis Cholowski, Gustav Lindstrom, and Vladislav Namestnikov are nice depth assets, they’re just that – depth. In addition, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Yzerman swing another salary cap trade around this time. This could either be a straight acquisition like Marc Staal or a middle-man deal like we saw with David Savard at the trade deadline. The Red Wings have a treasure trove of salary cap space and this is a prime opportunity to leverage it.
Overall, the Red Wings could come away from the expansion draft in a better place than they were prior to the festivities. A lateral depth move, an extra draft pick, and a little less cap space – sign me up.
Devin Little: Red Wings Acquire Their Goalie of the Future
The Red Wings have plenty of holes to fill, but arguably the biggest one is their long-term plan in net. While it would be very easy to just kick the can down the road and re-sign Jonathan Bernier and enter the 2021-22 season with the same tandem they had this season, I believe Yzerman will do his due diligence in finding someone they can head into the future with. Luckily for him and Red Wings fans, there are plenty of options out there.
There are two goaltenders projected to go in the first round of this year’s draft: Jesper Wallstedt and Sebastian Cossa. Either of them would immediately become Detroit’s top goaltending prospect, and there’s a good chance that they could both arrive in the NHL right around the time the Red Wings are beginning to enter the playoff picture. With two first round picks, Yzerman and his scouting team have the option of taking Wallstedt with the sixth pick or Cossa with the 22nd; goaltenders are notoriously hard to project, and drafting them in the first round can sometimes be a risky endeavor. If there was ever a time to take the risk, however, I believe this is the year to do it.
Related: Red Wings 2021 Draft Coverage
If they don’t take either of those goaltenders, there are still other options league-wide. It is well-known that the Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to move one of their guys – either Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins. For what it’s worth, I would make a big push to acquire the latter. The Washington Capitals can only protect one of Vitek Vanecek or Ilya Samsonov ahead of the expansion draft; would they be willing to make another deal with Yzerman and the Red Wings? And then there’s Chris Driedger of the Florida Panthers – what’s the asking price for a somewhat unproven guy who outperformed Sergei Bobrovsky this season? The list goes on….
With so many options out there and a lot of movement slated to happen around the expansion and entry drafts, there may never be a better time for the Red Wings to finally find their guy in net. Do your thing, Stevie Y.
Patrick Brown: Red Wings Take Conservative Approach
OK, I don’t know if this qualifies as hot or not, but honestly, my take is that the Yzerplan isn’t quite to the free-agency-splash level just yet. I think Yzerman has plenty to worry about with the potential nucleus of this team, as opposed to going out and taking a chance on a long-term deal outside of the organization.
First off, Tyler Bertuzzi’s situation is an interesting one. Signed to a one-year deal after opting for salary arbitration prior to the 2020-21 season, he finds himself once again as a restricted free agent, and very little to show for it considering he only played nine games last season. His back surgery in late April was a success, he’s expected to be completely healthy come fall, and will be an unrestricted free agent the next time contract negotiations roll around. Despite his recent health issues, I think Yzerman locks him down to a multi-year deal.
Though that’s the most pressing decision this offseason, there’s plenty more. Jakub Vrana’s contract status, two first-round picks in the NHL Entry Draft, the expansion draft, an important assistant coach vacancy to fill, and no clear stability between the pipes all command large amounts of attention right now, so this is not the ideal time to make the proverbial splash in free agency.
The Red Wings are still searching for their identity, and the plethora of talent waiting to make an impact at the NHL level needs to establish itself before Yzerman can add the final pieces of the puzzle. I expect this offseason to be a series of calculated maneuvers that are very low risk until the core of the team truly starts to shake out.
Kyle Knopp: Red Wings Sign BIG Free Agents
If you watched or listened to this week’s episode of The Hockey Writers Grind Line (which you can find at the end of this article), I gave my thoughts on what the Wings should do with Dougie Hamiltion — sign him to a seven year deal and then trade him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Morgan Rielly. However, with coach Rod Brind’Amour coming back to Carolina and the group that they have returning next season, I don’t see Hamilton leaving the Hurricanes. With that said, the Wings still need to target a left-handed defenseman and a top-six center.
One player that would fill that first void, and add a much needed grit to the blueline would be Jamie Oleksiak from the Dallas Stars. While Oleksiak, a 28-year-old 6-foot-7 defenseman from Toronto, may not be as much of a puck mover as Rielly, he brings size, experience, and toughness that the Wings lacked this season on the back end. While with the Stars, Oleksiak was part of a deep playoff run that would go a long way in mentoring a young up and coming defenseman in Moritz Seider. With the two of them across the top-four pair, the Red Wings will be a force to reckon with in their own zone.
The other position the Wings need to address is finding someone to become a first line center. Yzerman and head coach Jeff Blashill have mentioned that Dylan Larkin is on track to become a true number two center, so the Wings need to find someone to fill that void in the top spot. While I don’t mind the Wings offering a short term contract to David Krejci, I think they should focus on someone a bit younger.
The Florida Panthers have two young centers that they will likely have to decide between, Sam Bennett and Alexander Wennberg, that could be plugged into the lineup for fairly cheap. Andrew Copp of the Winnipeg Jets is a big bodied center that could fit in on the Wings top line, or — if the Wings want to explore a big splash in the free agent market — Detroit has the cap space to go after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, injecting a bona fide superstar into an offense that desperately needs scoring power.
What is your offseason hot take? Share it down below!
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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.