The Red Wings Have a Winger Problem

Steve Yzerman wasted no time making noise in his first year as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager. He has made three trades thus far, adding the likes of Adam Erne, Brendan Perlini and Robby Fabbri to a lineup bereft on offense. However, the puzzle that is next season’s team becomes much harder to put together now that these three players factor into the equation.

All three of the new Red Wings are restricted free agents at the end of the season, which means that the Red Wings will hold their negotiating rights unless otherwise forfeited. There are eight winger spots in a standard NHL lineup. With that in mind, here is a list of every winger whose rights the Red Wings will hold into next fall:

Erne, Perlini, Fabbri, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Andreas Athanasiou (granted you count him as a winger), Darren Helm, Taro Hirose, Givani Smith, Justin Abdelkader, Filip Zadina, Ryan Kuffner and Evgeny Svechnikov. (from ‘Here’s what Detroit Red Wings are saying about Filip Zadina’s injury,’ Detroit Free Press, 11/18/2019) That’s enough bodies to fill out an entire offensive lineup, not including centers.

All of this is to say that something has to give.

Changes Are Coming

It’s easy to say that the Red Wings’ lineup next season could simply mirror the one taking the ice this season. However, it’s far from likely. First off, there are waiver situations to consider, especially in regards to Svechnikov. While the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins is an option this season without the threat of waivers, that won’t be the case next season.

Evgeny Svechnikov
Evgeny Svechnikov, Detroit Red Wings, Sept. 2018 (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

This suggests that somewhere down the line, Yzerman may look to move out some of the team’s wingers for help in other areas. The three trades he has already made suggest that he’s not afraid of a reclamation project. Otherwise, a rebuilding team like the Red Wings can always use more draft picks.

It’s not a given that every winger the Red Wings have will deserve a spot in the NHL come next season, so there remains the opportunity to place some of them in Grand Rapids yet again. However, if a player seems ready for the opportunity to play in the big league, it would behoove the Red Wings to see what they could do with the opportunity – there just has to be a spot on the roster for them.

Draft Considerations

The top prize of the 2020 NHL Draft looks to be shifty winger Alexis Lafrenière. With any luck, the Red Wings could find themselves with the opportunity to draft the elite, young talent. However, while adding him to the team’s prospect pool would be a huge boost, it would also complicate the picture on the wing even further.

Team Canada's Alexis Lafreniere
Team Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Codie McLachlan)

It doesn’t stop at Lafrenière either. Other top wingers the Red Wings could select include Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz and Cole Perfetti. While some of these players are closer to the NHL than others, the addition of any of them would affect the Red Wings’ future plan in terms of who stays and who goes.

Furthermore, there are plenty of wingers within the Red Wings’ existing pool of prospects that the team has yet to sign. A majority of them won’t make the jump to the NHL, but the team has to hope that one or two of them turn into something notable for the team’s future.

The Auditioning Stage

The beauty of the team as it currently stands is that nothing is written in stone. The Red Wings roster is very much a platform for players to come in and out of to show their stuff. If management likes what it sees, it can take the necessary steps to tie the player down. If another team likes what they see, they can pry the player away from the Red Wings in return for future assets.

Steve Yzerman, Christopher Ilitch
Steve Yzerman and Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. after Yzerman is introduced as the new executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Yzerman’s plan is to build this team from within, while also looking outside the organization for pieces of value. (from ‘Yzerman rules: Wings GM applies lessons from 14-year Cup drought,’ Detroit News, 10/5/2019) He’s turning pennies into dimes, and dimes into quarters. What this means is that fans shouldn’t get overly attached to players that he has yet to commit to.

Right now the Red Wings look jammed-up on the wings, but that can all change with a simple phone call. Chances are that that is exactly what’s going to happen.