The Grind Line: Are More “Tough Decisions” Coming?

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. Rachel Anderson and Devin Little are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.

The big news of last week surrounding the Red Wings was the waiving of defenseman Jonathan Ericsson. Given the 35-year-old’s contract status and longevity with the team, many thought this move would never come. However, by Oct. 23, Ericsson was making his season debut with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. 

This move begs the question: are similar moves on the way? Has general manager Steve Yzerman just begun to restructure this roster, or was this move an isolated incident required in order to keep the likes of Dennis Cholowski and Madison Bowey in the NHL?

Devin Little: First of Many

It may not be right away, but waiving Ericsson is a signal that change is indeed coming to the Red Wings. When dealing with big-money contracts and players with years of tenure, change seems to come at a snail’s pace. However, Yzerman seems willing to identify a weakness and address it accordingly. (from ‘Red Wings acquire Brendan Perlini from Blackhawks,’ Detroit News,’ 10/28/2019)

What does this mean for players in a similar boat as Ericsson? Well, in the case of Justin Abdelkader, he wears a letter for the team, placing him in a prestige place among his teammates. Offensive output aside, his teammates seem to appreciate his presence on the team, and coach Jeff Blashill still uses him with decent regularity. He may be the one player lumped in this category that won’t be headed anywhere.

Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader
Red Wings left wing Justin Abdelkader (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY)

However, for a guy like Darren Helm, the clock seems to be ticking. With Helm’s recent success, the time to flip him to a contender looking for depth may be on the horizon. He’s played over 600 games for the Red Wings over the course of 13 seasons. He’s not poised to hit the waiver wire, but he is certainly on the chopping block. 

The question now is who will grab the spots that are sure to open up over the coming months. The answers to that question will go a long way to determining the course of this Red Wings rebuild. 

Rachel Anderson: Much More Change to Come

Yzerman isn’t flippant by any means, so the roster decisions shouldn’t be viewed as such. That being the case, choosing to put Ericsson on waivers isn’t an isolated incident – the timing was just convenient. 

Its been pretty clear in the opening weeks of this season, that the Red Wings cannot even think about being a successful team until their roster is revamped. Making some more difficult decisions involving veteran players will be forthcoming in order to not only send a message but also create a more competitive and productive Detroit team. 

Jonathan Ericsson Grand Rapids Griffins
Jonathan Ericsson, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

I spoke with Griffins head coach, Ben Simon, following a recent game about the situation, “E (Ericsson) is in the right mindset being down here. Regardless of whether he wants to be here or not, he wants to play – whether it’s here, in Detroit or another NHL team if a trade is presented… he’s a pro… he’s a good example for our younger guys.” 

There is no official talk of a trade involving Ericsson, but I don’t believe it’s out of the question. Yzerman began the season plainly stating that he is looking at the team with fresh eyes and essentially has no emotional attachment to the current team. All players have to compete for their place and I believe this is inadvertently proving that point.