The 2016-17 season is coming to a merciful end for the Detroit Red Wings and their fan base. With the team missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 seasons, Ken Holland was active during the trade deadline, moving several pending unrestricted free agents.
He may find himself wheeling and dealing again heading into the 2017 NHL expansion draft, depending on which players he is intent on protecting. While it is impossible to predict his actions on the trade front, we can still take a crack at offering which players Holland should protect heading into the draft.
In this edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team discusses their protection lists, and any changes that may have occurred since we discussed the expansion draft earlier in the season.
Forwards – Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Anthony Mantha, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Andreas Athanasiou & Justin Abdelkader
Defensemen – Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green & Nick Jensen
Goaltender – Petr Mrazek
When the Vegas Golden Knights choose their team this summer, the Red Wings are likely in good shape to protect the necessary players. However, a few things have changed since the fall.
The protected forwards are just about set – it’s unlikely that the team will protect Darren Helm, Riley Sheahan, or Luke Glendening over any of the forwards above. Despite his underwhelming season, Justin Abdelkader will be a Red Wing for the foreseeable future given his contract, role, and the letter on his jersey. Everyone else is essentially a lock.
On the point, Danny DeKeyser and Mike Green are locks to protect as well. DeKeyser has had a trying season, but still has a bright future. And Green is the only Red Wings defenseman capable of generating offense.
Of the remaining blueliners, Nick Jensen appears the best of the group. He’s slowly earned a larger role with the team after being recalled part way through the year. Ryan Sproul still has potential and Xavier Ouellet is a solid defender, but neither have earned the trust that Jensen has.
This could all change if the Red Wings complete a few trades before the expansion draft. Golden Knights GM George McPhee made it clear that if anyone is left unprotected, he’d be willing to pick and trade them away if the right deal is there. Teams like Anaheim, Minnesota, and Nashville are flush with quality blueliners – perhaps Ken Holland could inquire about their cost.
Forwards – Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou & Justin Abdelkader
Defensemen – Mike Green, Danny DeKeyser & Xavier Ouellet
Goaltender – Petr Mrazek
In terms of the forwards on the roster, Nielsen, Zetterberg, Tatar, Nyquist, Mantha and Athanasiou are “locks” to protect in my opinion. Nielsen’s no-movement clause forces the Wings to protect him, but he is worth protecting, even without his NMC.
Though Zetterberg is in the twilight of his career, it certainly does not feel like it. There are a number of reasons why the Wings will protect their 36-year-old captain, and his solid play this season is at the forefront for me. Despite my own concerns over his ice time, Zetterberg has 62 points through 74 games this season – 22 points more than any other player on the roster.
Nyquist and Tatar are in their prime scoring years. While they struggled early in the season, they have played very well over the past 15-20 games. Meanwhile, Mantha and Athanasiou represent the future of the team up front and are no-brainers to protect.
That leaves one spot up front, with the two most likely candidates being Abdelkader and Helm. For the same reasons as Tony stated above, I have to give the nod to Abdelkader to fill the last forward spot.
On defense, both DeKeyser and Green are locks in my estimation. DeKeyser has struggled this season, but he should bounce back next season. Green represents the Red Wings’ most potent offensive weapon on their blue line. With respect to the last spot on defense, I went with Sproul back in December, but he has fallen out of favor with head coach Jeff Blashill. At this stage, Ouellet is the last defender I would protect on the roster.
Finally, while Howard has undoubtedly played better than Mrazek this season, I still have to give the nod to Petr. The Czech-born goaltender is just 25 years old and has too much potential to quit on him just yet.
Forwards – Henrik Zetterberg, Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou & Riley Sheahan
Defensemen – Mike Green, Xavier Ouellet & Nick Jensen
Goaltender – Petr Mrazek
My expansion draft has a few alterations compared to the December version. I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone in his or her right mind protect Riley Sheahan, who has yet to score a single goal this season? Before you tear me apart for even suggesting such a ludicrous idea, let me explain.
Winging It In Motown’s Prashanth Iyer had the idea when speaking on the NHL Numbers podcast last week. His thinking is the Red Wings have a lot of money tied up in some mediocre/deteriorating players, so why give the Vegas Golden Knights a chance to snatch up a cheap depth player? Force them to take somebody like Justin Abdelkader or Darren Helm: depth pieces tied up in multiyear contracts who aren’t cheap. Or, use one of the many draft picks the Red Wings have accumulated and trade a pick to Vegas in return for the Golden Knights promising to take Abdelkader or Helm.
The Red Wings are starting the rebuild, and in order to turn the team around, they’ll need to get rid of some of the bad contracts they have. Trading bad contracts is easier said than done, so see if Vegas will take one off of your hands.
As far as the defense goes, I stuck with protecting Mike Green but changed my other two selections to Xavier Ouellet and Nick Jensen instead of Danny DeKeyser and Ryan Sproul. I like Sproul’s hard, right-handed shot, but Ouellet has been the better defenseman — outperforming him in adjusted shot attempts percentage, goals for percentage and scoring chances percentage — and he’s a year younger than Sproul.
DeKeyser’s awful season coupled with his long and expensive contract means the Red Wings shouldn’t waste a protection slot on him. Instead, use it on Jensen, who is a lot cheaper and a lot more valuable.
In net, Petr Mrazek still is the goalie of the future, despite the success Jimmy Howard has had since returning from injury. Howard is eight years older than Mrazek and will start to decline in the coming years. Mrazek, on the other hand, is just beginning to start his ascent as an NHL goalie.
The Red Wings can’t afford to protect Howard for short-term success when they need to think long-term.