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, Kyle Knopp and Jeff Middleton are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
Last week we shared our thoughts on the Detroit Red Wings’ offseason as a whole. Now we’re getting specific.
To recap, the Red Wings have added or re-signed the following players:
- G Alex Nedeljkovic
- F Michael Rasmussen
- D Marc Staal
- F Kyle Criscuolo
- D Brian Lashoff
- F Taro Hirose
- F Sam Gagner
- G Calvin Pickard
- F Pius Suter
- D Jordan Oesterle
- F Tyler Bertuzzi
- F Chase Pearson
Needless to say, it’s been a busy summer in Hockeytown, but which moves stand out the most? Here’s what moves give our Grinders that warm fuzzy feeling inside:
Tony Wolak: Goalies
Goalies – you can’t live with them, can’t live without them. Except for Nedeljkovic and Cossa – they’re great.
Starting with Nedeljkovic, the 25-year-old netminder was lights out for the Carolina Hurricanes last season and finally gives the Red Wings a goalie to build around. While it’s fair to assume some regression will take place, “Ned” is exactly the goalie the Red Wings need to start building for a playoff push. Yes, they’ve reached that stage in their rebuild – playoffs may not happen this season, but 2022-23 could be very interesting.
As for Cossa, the Red Wings haven’t had a blue-chip goaltending prospect since … Chris Osgood? Seriously. Petr Mrazek was a nice find, but was never the long-term answer. Think about that – Cossa is the best Red Wings goalie prospect since Osgood … who retired after a long NHL career in 2011 … when Cossa was only eight years-old.
That said, be patient with Cossa. He dominated the WHL last season with a tremendous team in front of him. Wait until the 2022 World Junior Championship, when he’ll likely be Canada’s go-to netminder. That tournament will be a true test of his talent – playing against the world’s best in his age group. And overall, he’s far from a finished product. Give him a few years to join Nedeljkovic in Detroit’s crease.
Finally, it should be noted that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman turned a clear organizational weakness into a bona fide strength with the acquisitions of Nedeljkovic and Cossa. That’s exactly what you want to see in a rebuild.
Devin Little: Betting on Youth
In a recent article, I closed out by saying that I believe that the objective of a rebuild is to find long-term answers. Sometimes you have to settle for a short-term solution in the present, but the goal should always be to find players that can fill whatever hole you’re trying to fill now and into the future. That’s why drafting and developing is so important in a rebuild. However, there are other ways you can attempt to find those long-term solutions: trading and free agency.
As Tony pointed out, by bringing in Nedeljkovic, the Red Wings have a goaltender that they can potentially lean on now and into the future. While I would have been content with seeing Jonathan Bernier brought back on a short-term deal, I am a lot more excited about the Red Wings’ long-term outlook in the crease now that they have a 25-year-old Calder candidate in “Ned”, as well as an 18-year-old blue chip prospect in the system in Cossa. Make no mistake, Nedeljkovic is far from a sure thing – 29 total games in the NHL is not enough to feel overly confident in his abilities at this level – but I’d rather see Yzerman bet on players with high upside than play it safe and come back with the same group of merry men that won you 19 games last season.
It’s not just Ned, though. I was convinced that Luke Glendening was going to be brought back by the team. Instead, the team brought in an unproven Mitchell Stephens (24 years old) from the Tampa Bay Lightning to compete for that fourth line center position. To fill out their top six forward depth, Detroit went out and signed 25-year-old Suter to a two year deal after he scored just under half a point a game with the Chicago Blackhawks last season. Combined, Nedeljkovic, Suter and Stephens have a total of 129 games of NHL experience, with Suter leading the way with 55. In comparison, Glendening and Bernier combine for 948 games of NHL (regular season) experience.
In short, between Danny DeKeyser, Staal, Gagner, Nick Leddy and Thomas Greiss, the Red Wings have more than enough “veteran presences” in their lineup to help guide the kids. I’m glad to see Yzerman opt to bet on youth and upside to fill the remaining holes on the team. If this team is going to take another step next season, it’ll be because of their youth, not because they signed a savvy veteran to a one-year deal.
Patrick Brown: It’s as Easy as Pius
I said it in our most recent episode of The Hockey Writers Grind Line, and I’ll say it again:
Thank you Blackhawks.
Heading into free agency, I honestly didn’t expect the Red Wings to be able to make a move that had potential to alter the direction of the rebuild, but then Yzerman went out and inked Suter to a two-year deal. The team got a player with a high ceiling at a reasonable price, and it was only possible because Chicago failed to make a qualifying offer to the then-restricted free agent.
Suter has impressed at every level, and his first season of hockey in the NHL was no different. His 27 points in 55 games last season were fourth-best on the team, and even earned him some votes for the Calder Memorial Trophy (he finished 11th). Impressive in its own right, he’s also a proven champion, having won an Elite Jr. A (now U20-Elit) championship in 2012-13, an Ontario Hockey League championship in 2013-14, a Swiss Cup in 2015-16, and a National League (Switzerland) championship in 2017-18.
It doesn’t stop there, because he individually dominated the National League in 2019-20. That season he finished with the league’s best plus/minus (plus-23), most goals (30), most points (53), and was chosen as an All-Star. To cap it off, he was chosen — by vote — as the league’s best forward and most valuable player. Simply put, the Red Wings struck gold.
The next two seasons give Suter a chance to entrench himself into a team desperate to find scoring, all while it emerges from a lengthy rebuild. With any luck, the 25-year-old will become part of the team’s DNA for years to come — all thanks to an old rival.
Stats: Elite Prospects
Kyle Knopp: Digging Detroit’s Defense and Depth
Fans cannot ask for a much better start to the offseason than what Yzerman has done for the Wings. We all know that Detroit is still a few years out from being a true contender, so to make a big splash in free agency just for the sake of making a big splash made no sense. Yet Yzerman was still able to make moves that are going to improve this team — not only in the short term but deep into the future as well.
One area was short term relief, and Yzerman did that by addressing the need on the left side of the defense. By going out and acquiring Leddy, the Wings will have two power play quarterbacks — Leddy and Filip Hronek — that can come at you from either side of the point. Leddy also brings offense to the Red Wings’ back end that was lacking with the likes of DeKeyser and Staal on the left side.
I also really liked the additions of Suter and Stephens — as depth down the center was another important need to address. Suter could end up being a future true No. 1 center while Dylan Larkin transitions into the No. 2 role that tends to fit his game more closely. Stephens will likely fight for a center role in the bottom-six and will be a suitable replacement for Glendening in the faceoff circle and on the penalty kill.
Jeff Middleton: Steady Neddy
As the newest member of the TGL crew, writing about new acquisitions hits a soft spot. Coming from the Nashville Predators area, I watched Nedeljkovic play lights out against the Preds in the postseason and even during the regular season. He was a Calder Trophy finalist for a reason. Nabbing Suter is a close second for me, but I can’t pass up the opportunity to speak about how Yzerman got a bargain with Ned.
If I told you the Hurricanes put a Calder finalist on waivers in the same season, I would expect some laughter. It’s certainly hard to fathom. However, that is the 2020-21 story of Nedeljkovic. He went from being unclaimed to what appeared to be the future starting netminder for a young and hungry Hurricanes team. However, management thought differently and sent him to Detroit for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and Bernier, who signed with the New Jersey Devils in free agency. Even Yzerman seemed to be a little shocked with the trade as he said, “you’re going to have to ask them why they’re comfortable doing that.”
Nedeljkovic is an excellent goaltender, and although there might be some doubt due to a small sample size of work, the Red Wings gave up essentially nothing for him. He posted the best save percentage in the NHL among goaltenders with a minimum of 20 games played, and also had the third highest goals saved above expected (GSAx) per Evolving-Hockey in the entire NHL. He’s cost-controlled and a low-risk, high-reward project that could still use some refining. Yzerman did an excellent job with this pickup, and if he can be anything close to what he was last season, a tandem of Nedeljkovic and Cossa might end up being one of the best in the NHL.
What was your favorite addition of this offseason so far? Be sure to share your thoughts down in the comments section, and don’t forget to welcome Jeff to The Grind Line!
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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.