The Grind Line: Casualties of the Red Wings’ Rebuild

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 unfortunate part of any rebuild is that, eventually, fan-favorites are probably going to be traded away to accumulate future assets. That theme should continue in the coming days as general manager Steve Yzerman looks to accumulate picks and prospects ahead of the April 12 trade deadline.

With the Detroit Red Wings’ rebuild now three or four years deep (depending on who you ask), Hockeytown has bid farewell to more than a few players that were once the toast of the town. But which players do we miss the most? Our panel shares their picks:

Tony Wolak: Petr Mrazek

I have no objections with the decision to trade Petr Mrazek. Wrong time, wrong place. But part of me wishes the netminder was still in Hockeytown.

The Red Wings don’t really have a goalie of the future. Mrazek filled that role previously, but struggled to adapt to the ups and downs of NHL life. Now he’s in Carolina as the Hurricanes’ starting goalie. It won’t be long until he takes them deep into the playoffs.

There are a lot of ifs coming, so bare with me. If Mrazek learned how to share the crease earlier, if he could handle the rigors of a rebuild, and if the Red Wings opted to keep him, Detroit’s question mark in net would be an exclamation point. But instead, we’re here hoping Keith Petruzzelli or Filip Larsson can be the goalie of the future, while Mrazek and the Hurricanes pile up wins.

Related: Red Wings Mock Trade Deadline: 4 Players Shipped Out

Devin Little: Mrazek, Part Deux

I want to first give a shout-out to Gustav Nyquist, who is a strong second for me regarding this topic. I’ll never forget the dread that passed through me on Christmas day back in 2018 when my mom unboxed a Nyquist jersey. I knew “Goose” was going to be set free soon, but she didn’t. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Columbus Blue Jackets are missing him in their lineup.

Now, onto Mrazek. Like Tony mentioned, it’s no secret that the Red Wings are sort of just crossing their fingers that one of their goaltending prospects will take a meaningful step towards becoming their goalie of the future. While they can count on the strong play of Jonathan Bernier when he takes the crease, the long-term picture looks questionable at best. It sure would help to have a 29-year-old bona fide starter in the fold.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While I wouldn’t entirely close the door on a reunion between Mrazek and the Red Wings, it is nice to see him have the kind of success he’s had with the Hurricanes – including a run to the Eastern Conference Final two seasons ago. As a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve got a lot of time and appreciation for the goalie that helped deliver the first Calder Cup championship to my hometown team, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Keep doing what you do, Petr.

Patrick Brown: Missing That Tatar Sauce

Tomas Tatar is the Red Wing I miss most. He was dealt by then-GM Ken Holland to the Vegas Golden Knights back in the 2017-18 season. The terms/rationale of the trade itself made sense, and Detroit came out a winner in the deal (Holland received a first-round 2018 pick (Joe Veleno was selected), a second-round pick in 2019 (Robert Mastrosimone was selected), and a third-round pick this year; Vegas ended up trading Tatar to the Montreal Canadiens after he posted just four goals in 20 games), but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss his productivity in Detroit.

Tatar left a lasting legacy in Detroit – at one point he and fellow forward Nyquist seemed to signify a proverbial changing of the guard … another one-two punch similar to what Yzerman/Fedorov and Zetterberg/Datsyuk brought to the team. At first, things looked that way, but despite the chemistry the two had, the pieces just never fell into place around them, and as the Red Wings fell out of competitive relevance, it was clear there was time to move him and begin rebuilding the pieces in Hockeytown. Still, it’s hard to not miss goals like the below:

After being traded to the Canadiens, Tatar has enjoyed a resurgence of sorts, netting 142 points in 181 games to this point, including two 20-goal seasons. That’s a great sight to see for a former second-round pick, and No. 21 will always have a special place in Detroit lore.

Kyle Knopp: Andreas Athanasiou

Holding true to the Yzerman rebuild, the player that I most miss that has been traded away is Andreas Athanasiou. While he never put up astounding numbers with the Wings, he had so much speed and raw talent that it would have been exciting to watch him mature in Detroit. 

I was at the Traverse City prospects camp game in September 2014 when Anthony Mantha broke his leg. Prior to that happening, I remember watching Mantha and Athanasiou flying up and down the ice in complete control of the game. The two of them on a line was something that I was very excited to see as a fan waiting for the future to arrive in the Motor City. I understand why the move was made, but I do miss what could have been if those two had only continued that initial chemistry. 

Along with Mrazek, as Tony and Devin mentioned, I have to agree with Pat and say that my honorable mention for the player I miss most looking back is Tatar. He only had one 50 point season in Detroit, but since joining the Canadiens he has posted back-to-back 50 point seasons — including 61 points in 68 games last year. Given the return he yielded from the Golden Knights, we are still years away from seeing if this worked out in Detroit’s favor.

What about you? Which rebuild casualty do you miss the most?

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