The first expansion draft in the salary cap era is over and the Detroit Red Wings made it through without losing more than a prospect. Last night the Vegas Golden Knights selected Tomas Nosek from the Red Wings as opposed to Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, or Petr Mrazek, all of whom were bafflingly left unprotected. To be frank, Ken Holland dodged more bullets than Neo did in The Matrix. Detroit went with the 7F, 3D, 1G protection model, which I think was the smart thing to do (coming up with 3 defenseman to protect on this team on it’s own is hard enough). They chose to protect Zetterberg, Nielsen, Athanasiou, Mantha, Tatar, Nyquist, Abdelkader, Dekeyser, Green, Jensen, and Howard.
What followed was veritable sh**storm of people freaking out over Howard being protected instead of Mrazek (myself included), so much so that most people didn’t even acknowledge the other two blunders on the list in terms of protecting Abdelkader and Dekeyser as well. Opinions in many of the mock drafts all flipped to taking Mrazek from Detroit and trying to figure out what to do with him later. Pieces on his attitude problem came out and suddenly we have a whole other section of fanbase worried that he won’t be taken. Then Craig Custance reported that Nosek was taken and I, at least, breathed a sigh of relief. Detroit made it through, unscathed.
Now that the smoke is cleared and we’ve made it through a day of trades from Vegas, I want to take a look back on the way Detroit handled this situation illustrates the biggest problems I see consistently from Ken Holland and the Wings Organization.
The risks could have been avoided
Honestly the most frustrating part through all this was that there was a clear path forward that could have minimized the risks. The three most valuable players exposed, in my mind were Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, and Petr Mrazek. Sheahan had an AWFUL season that was marred by a terrible streak of luck that a lot of fans have pinned directly to him. Most NHL forwards would have to try to not score on over 100 shots. Couple with him being one of the younger centers available and a decent contract, he was at risk of being taken. A risk that didn’t need to be taken, if you don’t protect six years Justin Abdelkader’s giant contract instead. Xavier Ouellet looks like he is shaping up to be a serviceable middle pair defenseman which is also not the kind of resource you give out like candy on Halloween, but he was also passed over in exchange for five more years of Danny Dekeyser. And worst of all, Petr Mrazek is exposed after one bad season in favor of a higher paid, older, more injury prone Jimmy Howard.
The problem with all of these protections is they speak to a fundamental problem I have with Ken Holland’s treatment of veteran players. All of those players had built in protections via their huge contracts, and if by some chance that Vegas had wanted to take them then you let them. I have nothing against those players but that’s the business side of things coming into play. You gotta make the tough choice, even if it means maybe losing a good ole Michigan boy to protect a younger player with potential.
Petr Mrazek is done in detroit
I don’t know if it’ll be before the draft tomorrow, before the end of the weekend, before the season starts, but most likely before 2017-2018 trade deadline, Mrazek will not be playing for Detroit. I don’t see a way forward for him and the team after everything that happened this week, which is really disappointing. There are a lot of conflicting opinions on this with regards to his attitude and work ethic, but at the end of the day when teams move players for personal reasons rather than playing reasons it usually works out to be a mistake. Tyler Seguin, Phil Kessel, PK Subban. Beyond that, what about him being cocky ruins his ability to be a good goalie? Patrick Roy hotdogged like crazy and definitely was a little bit insane. I don’t care if you think your crap is gold if you stop pucks. Mrazek had a bummer of a season last year but two solid ones before that. He’s been successful at every stage of his career before the NHL. Why give up now when there’s no risk in giving him another season’s chance?
I’m not saying that Mrazek doesn’t have an attitude problem and I’m not saying that he’s the goalie of the future for Detroit. But I have a lot of issues with publicly crucifying your goalie through border line hit pieces in the media after leaving him on the table for free, when you don’t have a clear replacement in line. This is the other problem I have with Ken Holland and the Red Wings organization: the way they treat young players. Other successful teams are maximizing the most out of their young players on ELCs (coughGuentzelcough) while Detroit is publicly abandoning theirs in favor of their veterans whose days our numbers. How many times did Mantha or Athanasiou get their ice time cut or healthy scratched while Sheahan got to play?
Where are the red wings headed?
Nothing bad happened to the Wings in the expansion draft, but nothing good happened to them either. We weren’t able to move any contracts or gain any significant pieces. At the end of the season I would have thought we were finally headed towards the rebuild, but at the expansion draft Holland clung to his old standbys instead of embracing the future. What’s the path forward? Before last season I would have said we should build around Mrazek, but now I don’t know where we start. Our defensive prospects seem nice, but we’re weak up the middle and in net (apparently). One way or another Holland needs to stop running this team like a family and he needs to update the leaderships idea of how to use young, cheaper hockey players. If he doesn’t, I don’t see how the Wings move forward to being a cup contender again.
On October 5th the Red Wings will open Little Caesar’s Arena. Maybe by then we’ll have a better idea of where the Red Wings are going, because right now I just don’t know.