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. Jacob Messing, Griffin Schroeder, and Tony Wolak are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The dust has now settled after a flurry of last-second activity at last week’s NHL trade deadline. While significant names like Evander Kane and Ryan McDonagh ended up on the move, the Detroit Red Wings joined the fray and made a splashy transaction themselves before 3:00 p.m. EST.
In dealing a player as notable as Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights, general manager Ken Holland made one of the more progressive and honest trades in recent franchise history. The move may be just the tipping point of what Detroit can expect in the near future as the team gradually shifts toward a rebuild.
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team shares their thoughts on what the next significant move for the franchise could be. While the offseason is still just over one month away, it is never too early to ponder what Holland may have up his sleeve.
Griffin Schroeder: A Gustav Nyquist Trade
The second of Detroit’s former cornerstones will have a new address in 2019.
A pending unrestricted free agent next summer, there was no shortage of interest in Gustav Nyquist last week. A 20-goal scorer that you can stick in your top-six for the stretch run and all ofnext season sounded appetizing enough for a contender. In the end, a deal never materialized, but don’t expect that interest to fade as the summer nears.
Whether it be at this upcoming draft or at next year’s trade deadline, Nyquist will be on the radar for teams looking for scoring depth. A similar package to the Ryan Hartman or Tatar deals would have to be attractive enough this year, but Holland’s patience in not moving the 28-year-old may pay off in the long-term.
Post-deadline, the University of Maine product has the opportunity to play his way onto a contender as early as this summer with a strong finish to the final quarter of this campaign. He’s four goals away from 20 and will slot in on the top line for the rest of the season with Henrik Zetterberg. A strong performance could lure a team at the draft to bid for his services.
Even if the former fourth-round pick doesn’t light it up down the stretch, he has all of 2018-19 to maximize his value. This provides even more motivation for prospects like Michael Rasmussen and Evgeny Svechnikov to make the organization move Nyquist out for them to earn spots.
This move will be significant in that it will mark the end of a short-lived era with unrealistic expectations. Legends like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were never going to be replaced as leaders, though Nyquist gave that impression early on with strong success.
He will indirectly benefit Detroit as a trade chip, however, giving the Wings a better chance at drafting that elusive elite talent.
Tony Wolak: A Revamp of the Defense
Holland has stated that he wants a younger lineup heading into next season. We’ll certainly see that on offense with Svechnikov and Rasmussen expected to push for spots in the lineup. But what about the defense – a group that’s already older than the forwards?
For starters, we already know that the Red Wings want to re-sign Mike Green and that everyone’s favorite prospect—Joe Hicketts—will need waivers to be assigned to the AHL next year.
Let’s say both blueliners are with the Red Wings in the fall. Since all other defensemen on the roster are signed through next season, something has to change – and we haven’t even talked about Filip Hronek’s standout rookie season with Grand Rapids.
Over the summer, Holland will have two opportunities to move a defenseman. The first will come at the 2018 NHL Draft the other in the waning days of activity after free agency.
There’s been some interest in Danny DeKeyser, though the Red Wings would likely need to retain some salary if they can find a taker and DeKeyser agrees to waive his no-trade clause. The same goes for Jonathan Ericsson, who—despite a gaffe here and there—has quietly put together a respectable 2017-18 season alongside Trevor Daley.
Alternatively, the Red Wings could part with a younger defenseman to open up a roster spot.
Xavier Ouellet could use a fresh start somewhere after an abysmal season. In addition, Nick Jensen will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. Neither has a particularly high ceiling, but are serviceable defenders for the third pairing. However, Detroit has plenty of defensemen who would be best suited for the third pair.
The best case scenario would be Detroit parting with two defensemen, including one with a larger contract. If you add in Green on a short-term contract in addition to Hicketts, your Red Wings defense could look like this next season:
- Niklas Kronwall (final year of contract)
- Trevor Daley
- Jonathan Ericsson or Danny DeKeyser
- Nick Jensen or Xavier Ouellet
- Mike Green
- Joe Hicketts
- Filip Hronek (or a rental defenseman to flip at the deadline)
This is progress. A complete purge is not going to happen. Let Holland trade players when he can get the most in return for them. Hicketts, Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, and Vili Saarijarvi won’t over-ripen in the meantime.
Jacob Messing: An Andreas Athanasiou Trade
It’s a move that wouldn’t sit well with many Red Wings fans, but Holland’s next big deal will be a “hockey trade” that sees him ship off Andreas Athanasiou for defensive help.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, the 23-year-old has shown flashes of elite offense, but for every pro in his game, there’s a noticeable con. While he’s among the league’s fastest skaters, he fails to show commitment to the defensive side of the game. He has slick hands and a finishing ability but lacks consistency on the scoresheet. Too often a multi-point game is followed up with an extended multi-game drought.
A significant number of fans already want Holland gone, and dealing Athanasiou could be the tipping point for the others. However, his unique skillset and untapped potential would create a nice return, notably on defense, where the Red Wings drastically need help.
The former Barrie Colt’s attractive skillset could bring back a reliable top-four blueliner and also alleviate his free agency status and arbitration rights after a holdout saw him miss the first ten games of 2017-18. The Wings already have a busy summer planned with Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha needing new deals and will need all the room they can get.
Those two would bring back a bigger defensive name in a potential deal, but they’ve cemented themselves as cornerstones and are untouchable. A plethora of contracts will likely make a young forward expendable while other prospects compete for roster spots in 2018-19. Athanasiou will be the odd man out.