Examining 5 groups of Red Wings on roster, in system

Detroit has list of strong prospects, a sparse burgeoning corps, loads of question marks

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 27: Members of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate a win against the Chicago Blackhawks with Jonathan Bernier #45 at the United Center on February 27, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 5-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

When the topic of midseason grades for the Red Wings came up this past weekend, I started to wonder what in the world that even means for a roster that is in such transition.

Instead of meaningless grades, let’s zoom out a little further and look at each player’s status on this team, including some contracts and trade targets.

5 groups of Red Wings

It’s difficult to evaluate a player’s performance on a roster like this through the course of just 26 games played. Many of them haven’t even played close to that many games. It’s not impossible -- obviously the stats are there to do so -- but it’s definitely not advisable. I fear there is a lot there to mislead us. And let’s face it: No one is getting a good grade except the goalies.

Compounding this problem of a shortened season is the nature of the roster right now: Some players are fighting to secure a roster spot in the NHL (Givani Smith, Evgeny Svechnikov), others are trying to help develop a young corps (Dylan Larkin) for the future, others are working to bring up their own value so they can be traded at the deadline and/or sign somewhere else in the offseason (Luke Glendening, Bobby Ryan, Marc Staal, etc.), and then there are veterans running out of time in their careers but still under contract (Frans Nielsen).

There are five types of Red Wings right now, four of which are on the actual roster, meaning we are watching something that’s less of a team and more of a group of guys trying to figure out what’s next. How can we accurately grade such a cluster?

It pains me to write this, but we must admit from a purely objective perspective that most of the players on the Red Wings right now must be more concerned about their personal statistics and growth as individual pro hockey players rather than the team’s overall performance. This is where we’re at, and there’s no way to ignore it and act like we’re watching anything else.

Believe me, I hope this changes sooner than later, and I think it will. But let’s try to understand how this is the case right now by sorting these players into their respective groups so we can get a better view of where the rebuild is and what comes next.

The five types of Red Wings at this moment:

1. The prospects playing in Europe 🇸🇪

This includes Moritz Seider, Joe Veleno, Albert Johansson, and goalies Filip Larsson and Victor Brattström. Notice I did not list Lucas Raymond here. That’s because, unlike the others who are on loan to European clubs, Raymond does not actually have a real contract with the Red Wings right now. He’s not on loan or anything, he’s just a draft pick playing on the other side of the pond. The same goes for Jonatan Berggren.

In any other year I suspect most of these names would be playing in Grand Rapids. We wouldn’t be talking about loans to Europe, and perhaps someone like Raymond would already have a contract. But that’s not how it worked out amid the pandemic. The question now: Will any of them make it over to North America before the season’s end? We’ll see.

Moritz Seider reacts after being selected sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings on June 21, 2019 in Vancouver, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

This group is performing great -- I linked to all of their Elite Prospects pages there for you to review the stats. Remember, Raymond has been recovering from an injury, so his stats might be a bit less impressive. The Hockey Writers did a nice piece on what each could bring to Detroit -- you can take a look at it here.

Note: Gustav Lindström was on loan to Almtuna IS in Sweden, but now he’s with Grand Rapids. He had 11 points through 20 games with Almtuna before jumping over to join the Griffins.

The bottom line: The prospects are pulling their weight. You’re looking at a list of some of the most exciting NHL prospects playing in Europe right now, and they’re ALL Red Wings prospects. What’s more to ask for?

That’s an easy group to identify. It’s the next three where things get a bit more unclear ...

2. Playing for NHL job/contract 💵

There are more than enough players on this roster who fall under the “trying to get a steady job/contract in this league” category:

  • Taro Hirose -- trying to prove he belongs in the NHL and looking for a contract beyond this season (RFA).
  • Christian Djoos -- trying to stay in the NHL and looking for his next contract beyond this season (RFA).
  • Givani Smith -- trying to earn a consistent spot in the NHL lineup, and also looking for a contract beyond this season (RFA).
  • Michael Rasmussen -- he’s an RFA at the end of this season, too. I would slot him into the next group -- the “burgeoning corps” -- but that remains to be seen.
  • Mathias Brome -- this is his first season of pro hockey in North America -- will he stay here or go back to Sweden? He’s not carrying much trade value, so what’s his next step? He is under a one-year contract, then becomes an RFA.
  • Adam Erne -- another player set to become an RFA at the end of this season.
  • Evgeny Svechnikov -- yep, another RFA after this season. It’s a shame he’s in this group still and not the next one.
  • Dennis Cholowski -- RFA at the end of this season. He’s developing in Grand Rapids, working to become a well-rounded defenseman and a piece of a power play unit. I think we should still have high hopes for 23-year-old Cholowski.

Are any of these players listed above actually part of the next group? I know a lot of fans wish these were the players in the lineup each night instead of the ones you’ll see coming up in groups 4 and 5.

But first ...

3. A burgeoning “corps” 🌱

This is the group of players that you can see Steve Yzerman trying to help foster, invest in and build a team around. These are players you could call “worth keeping” during this rebuild, although the only player I would say is “untouchable,” in terms of not being traded, is Dylan Larkin -- here’s group 3:

  • Dylan Larkin -- he’s pretty much a Red Wings lifer. Naming him captain put a stamp on this.
  • Tyler Bertuzzi -- he’s actually an RFA at the end of this season, but I can’t imagine Yzerman letting him walk, or could I? Bertuzzi did sign that one-year contract through arbitration that raised some eyebrows.
  • Anthony Mantha -- he’s under contract through 2024 ($5.7 million against the cap each season), and although he’s had a rough go as of late (who hasn’t on this team?), he’s part of the corps until something drastic happens. I’d say he could be traded at some point, but then again it was Yzerman who signed him to these four years. I don’t know if he wants to flip Mantha and appear like the loser on this one. Right now, big Anthony is not playing up to the contract.
  • Robby Fabbri -- under contract through next season. He costs nearly $3 million to the cap, but he’s just 25. Does he get flipped at the deadline next season or is he part of this team? We’d all love to know.
  • Filip Hronek -- he’s an RFA at the end of this season, and I would have him in group 2 but I have faith that Hronek, 23, sticks around based on his age alone. We’ll see.
  • Troy Stecher -- he signed a two-year contract, so he’s here through next season ... unless he’s also traded before then.
  • Vladislav Namestnikov -- he’s another player under a two-year contract. However, he’s older (28) and cheaper ($2 million against the cap) than Fabbri.
  • Filip Zadina -- he could have ended up in group 2, but I think he’s looking like a future NHL goal scorer right now. Let’s hope he is a cornerstone of this teams sooner than later.

Are you getting the picture here? I just listed six players under the “corps” group, and almost all of them -- except Larkin and Zadina, and perhaps Hronek -- have an extremely unclear future with the Red Wings.

Furthermore, I think this is showing us the “Yzerplan” timeline and how the pandemic may have set us back a year by not allowing the Red Wings/Griffins access to a list of prospects.

4. Trade bait 🎣

This next group is exactly what the title implies: These are the players that could fetch the Red Wings draft picks/prospects at the deadline (April 12):

  • Bobby Ryan -- when he signed the $1 million, one-year contract with Detroit in October, I think it was understood he would be flipped at the deadline. So, let’s hope it happens and Ryan can fetch a decent draft pick.
  • Luke Gelending -- the faceoff king needs to be traded not only for the team’s sake but his own. Let Glendening go help an actual team in the playoffs. He’s a depth right-handed center who can kill penalties. We’ve been talking about this for what feels like several seasons now. He will be a UFA at the end of this season. Now is the time.
  • Marc Staal -- he could have ended up in group 5 (I guess he still could), but he’s showing he’s capable of being in a team’s 2nd or 3rd pairing. Staal has been drawing trade interest in what could be described as a renaissance season for him. He’s part of the reason the Red Wings have an actual defense this season. Trading the 34-year-old Staal at the deadline would be amazing.
  • Sam Gagner -- really unclear if he’s tradable, but it would be worth trying. He’s cheap and he’s a UFA at the end of the season.
  • Jon Merrill -- he’s 29 and can add depth to a blue line. He’s cheap and he’s a UFA at the end of the season. He checks a lot of trade bait boxes.
  • Thomas Greiss -- he’s 35 and could fill in nicely on a playoff team that needs a starter or someone to split the crease. The problem is he’s under a two-year deal, $3.6 million against the cap both years. I mean, that’s not a huge contract or anything, but we’re talking about a team likely having to commit to having Greiss on the roster next year.
  • Jonathan Bernier -- he’s 32 now, and he somehow has a .910 SV% on this team. Moreover, he’s cheaper than Greiss ($3 million against the cap) and is a UFA at the end of the season. The problem is the Red Wings still need a serviceable NHL goalie, not just Calvin Pickard. I don’t know if this is something to mess with right now, unless someone is in desperate need of a netminder and is willing to mortgage their future and send Detroit something very nice in return -- 2nd and 3rd rounder?
  • Alex Biega -- he’s 32 and is a UFA at the end of the season. He’s a right-handed defenseman. I have no clue who would need him or what they’d give up for him, but why not. He’s on the list. Maybe he can be part some other deal.
  • Darren Helm -- he almost ended up in group 5 but I am convinced he could help a contender. Helm is now 34 and in the final year of his five-year contract ($3.85 million on the cap). I’m not sure if he gets another NHL contract, but I know he can help add depth to a playoff team. That’s a decent cap hit, unfortunately. Regardless, stay healthy.

5. Headed toward the end 🔚

  • Frans Nielsen -- he’s under contract through next season. In fact, he costs more toward the cap next season at $5.25 million. He’s 36. He’s not getting traded, clearly. Is he bought out ahead of next season or what? I could see that happening.
  • Danny DeKeyser -- he’s $5 million against the cap this year and next, then he’s a UFA. He’s 31 now and battling just to stay healthy. He needs to find a way to stay healthy and perhaps earn another contract. He’s clearly not tradable thanks to that cap hit and the injury problems.
  • Patrik Nemeth -- is he tradable? He’s 29, a UFA at the end of this season and he plays decent minutes some nights. I think he could be moved to group 4, but that depends on who has room for $3 million against the cap this season, or how much the Red Wings would be willing to retain just to ship him out. Sadly, Detroit cannot trade everyone -- still need to ice a team.
  • Valtteri Filppula -- $3 million against the cap, then a UFA at the end of the season. He’s 36 and he’s not at like the Val Filppula we knew in 2007-12. I can’t believe he was on this team way back then and is somehow still on it today. No one picked him up on waivers.

I left some players who are in the organization out of these groups -- defenseman Joe Hicketts and Dylan McIlrath, for instance, or even center Chase Pearson (23). There had to be a cutoff.

Note: Don’t forget about the Seattle expansion draft (July 21) when the new Kraken franchise will be able to select unprotected players. We can talk about this more later, but I bring it up now because Yzerman is not going to trade a player he could otherwise let go in the expansion draft. Keep that in mind.

This will take time

In a very weird way, this is an exciting time to pay attention to the team. Put the losing aside, things are about to get very interesting. We’re going to watch Yzerman build a hockey team. He’s just now getting started, and he would be further along if not for the pandemic that upended the world and the sport of hockey.

About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.