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.
Whether general manager Ken Holland returns to the team or not, the Detroit Red Wings have a lot on their offseason checklist with a bulk of draft picks, handful of free agents to re-sign and a few trades likely in the works.
Right now, the organization looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet on one plate. Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Martin Frk are all restricted free agents (RFA) this summer. Mike Green, who is rumored to come back, is a pending unrestricted free agent.
With little cap space, there are a lot of questions to be answered. It likely means Holland will look to move other contracts to fit in the youth, but with a plethora of no-trade clauses, it’s easier said than done. Who could be on the outside looking in?
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Jacob Messing: Martin Frk
A second-round pick in 2012, Frk took the long way to the NHL as he bounced between the ECHL and American Hockey League (AHL). The 24-year-old earned a spot out of camp in Andreas Athanasiou’s absence and has been in the lineup with moderate regularity this season, as he owns 11 goals and 22 points through 58 games.
A wicked, yet inaccurate, shot has helped him net five power-play goals, but a lack of defensive awareness (minus-13) and rough skating has kept him in a reserved, fourth-line role. It’s relatively easy to see him as a slightly more effective Teemu Pulkkinen.
The major difference is Frk’s 6-foot-1 frame and overall greater willingness to use his body and not shy away from contact. Pulkkinen, an elite AHL producer, yet poor NHL contributor, was claimed by Minnesota off waivers, later traded to Arizona and then taken by Vegas in the expansion draft. Teams were still interested in what he had to offer.
Frk offers more and at the young age of 24. He’s been able to back up his booming, right-handed shot with other qualities. As a pending RFA, he could be moved for future considerations or a mid-to-late round draft pick. Cutting down the list of RFAs would go a long way this summer.
Another team would be willing to take a chance on him at a price they get to negotiate and with prospects knocking on the door, the extra cap space (albeit little) and roster spot could go to better use.
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Tony Wolak: Trevor Daley
If Holland or another general manager decides to accelerate the rebuild this summer with a few more trades, Trevor Daley could net the Red Wings a nice return. While the defense was probably Detroit’s weakest point this season, Daley was the best blue-liner and has a coveted skill set.
The veteran defenseman likes to join the rush, plays the right side, and doesn’t try to be too fancy exiting his own zone. Daley’s nine goals—eight of which at even-strength—ranks first on the Red Wings and tied for 24th in the NHL – one more than Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson in as many games.
With a cap hit of only $3,166,667, Daley’s contract is the most palatable among Detroit’s veteran defenders. He’s inked through the next two seasons and, with the upper cap limit expected to rise over the next couple of years, should be playing to his percentage-of-salary-cap contract value through its expiration. Unless other trades are made, Detroit would also have the ability to retain salary of Daley was dealt. In return, the Red Wings could expect a third-round draft choice, possibly with some games played and team performance conditions.
Daley does provide value on and off the ice for the young Red Wings. Considering Henrik Zetterberg’s recent comments about their uninspired, “poke-and-hope” efforts, having the veteran defenseman around to guide the likes of Dennis Cholowski, Joe Hicketts, Filip Hronek, and other prospects may be in Detroit’s best interest. However, blueliners would need to be moved to allow those up-and-coming players adequate ice time and Daley is the most appetizing for trade partners.
Griffin Schroeder: Nick Jensen
With a restructuring of the defense core on the horizon, Jensen doesn’t seem like he’s a candidate to stick around for the long haul. At 27 years old, his ceiling as an NHL player is more or less known and he doesn’t bring anything different from the rest of the Wings’ blue line brigade.
However, this doesn’t make him necessarily useless to the rest of the league.
As the tired cliché goes, there is no such thing as having too much depth on the blue line. The St. Paul native fits the bottom-pairing role to a tee and routinely rotates in Detroit’s top-four by default due to the Wings’ lack of riches in terms of rear guards. This indirectly has allowed him to showcase for a depth role on an interested squad.
He only has 13 points this season (all assists), but has been able to stay on the positive side puck possession-wise. He actually leads the team in Corsi-against-per-60 minutes (51.23%) and is second to Niklas Kronwall in even-strength shot suppression (29.25 shots-against-per-60).
The former fifth-round pick can also charge up the ice with the puck and has made that fact evident in recent weeks starting rushes all by himself. With the league getting faster, the bottom-pairing defenseman has shifted from the traditional bruiser to a skater that can move the puck and extend the team’s attack. In this, Jensen provides value.
He is not the strongest weighing in at 6’0” and 194 pounds, which can lead to him getting out-muscled behind the net by fore-checkers. However, he will likely have more help and structure on a contender that could plug him in against weaker competition.
The Wings simply will not have much use for Jensen now that Cholowski, Hicketts, Hronek, Vili Saarijarvi and another potentially promising defensive prospect from this year’s draft are gunning for the roster in the coming years.
With another year of control on an ultra-friendly $812,500 deal, the Wings should shop around and see what they can get for their homegrown defender as an under-the-radar trade chip.