Author: Christian Schwartz

The Red Wings Drafted Michael Rasmussen and Nothing Has Changed

Michael Rasmussen is huge. (Photo David Banks USA Today Sports)

Last year during the 2016 NHL Entry Draft’s first round, I took fellow Wheelhouse contributor Zac to the bar to eat jalapeno poppers and watch the Red Wings make their pick. Zac was just starting to get into hockey for real around this time, so we were going to make an event out of the first NHL draft of his fandom. While we stuffed ourselves with too many caloriesmand tried to deal with the fact that the one tv we could see was a few seconds behind the one behind us, I kept getting more and more excited as Jakob Chychrun fell closer and closer to the Red Wings. “I think they’re going to actually get a shot him. That would really help their back end really soon,” I said. But then the clock struck 0:00 and the Datsyuk trade went through, sending Chychrun to Arizona. I ate my cheesecake and mulled over the Cholowski pick a few rounds later. I remember thinking I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse.

Fast forward to the end of the 1st round after two players I wanted the Wings to draft fell to their lap. I keep telling my wife “I think we might actually get Vilardi or Liljegren.” She doesn’t recognize their names but she knows I’m excited. And then Ken Holland picks Michael Rasmussen and I’m left thinking once again I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse.

Michael Rasmussen is a billion feet tall and weighs almost 16 stone, which I assume is somewhere close to the Mountain in Game of Thrones. He scored 55 points, 32 goals and 23 assists, in 50 games last season with the Tri-City Americans. The season before he had a respectable 18 goals and 25 assists in 63 games. He’s a center who loves to crash the net and from all account plays a responsible two-way game on top of it. I’ve heard his playing style compared to Ryan Getzlaf (hair loss and face punching comparables still to be determined), which sounds great. I know if someone was handing out young Getzlaf’s for your team I’d be lining up. So why am I disappointed?

If you take away Rasmussen’s powerplay points you’re left with 17 goals and 12 assists in 50 games in the WHL which isn’t known to be a defensive powerhouse of a league. That level of 5v5 production is concerning. You can look at it two ways: Rasmussen will be a boon to the Red Wings sagging powerplay numbers, or Rasmussen’s production might be brought down by the Red Wings truly awful powerplay. Obviously it’s too soon to tell which of those will be true (please be the former), but Rasmussen feels like more of a gamble than we needed to make at the 9th overall pick with arguably more stable options on the table. The Wings need a top line scoring center and a top pair defenseman probably more than anything else in the world right now. Gabriel Vilardi and Timothy Liljegren were both on the board and I feel were much more safe picks to fill those roles.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Vilardi’s skating really was a bigger detriment than we knew. Maybe Liljegren’s slump wasn’t just because he was recovering from mono. Maybe Rasmussen will be a dynamic #1 C in a few seasons. Pro scouts know a lot of facts I’m sure the general public isn’t aware of. But then I hear Holland mostly explain it was his size and that the Wings are gonna try and push for the playoffs again, and my brain again says I’m disappointed but I guess it could be worse. 

Missing the playoffs hasn’t changed anything for the Red Wings. Like every draft, all we can do is hope.

The Detroit Red Wings Survived the Expansion Draft (Somehow)

The Vegas Golden Knight’s draft board somehow didn’t include the players we thought would be taken from Detroit (Photo credit Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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.

Dollars and Sense: How did the Red Wings Contracts Pay Off? Part 1

(Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

One of the things that I, and probably just about everyone else that follows the Red Wings more than casually, complain about is the contract situation we have going on now. Now that the regular season is over and the Red Wings have not made the playoffs, the stats for our players for the season are set in stone. I thought it would be fun to sit down and see exactly what Ken Holland paid for this season, and how that compares to other contracts in the league, and what contracts were the worst value for us this season.

It is impossible for us to determine whether a contract is good or bad from just one set of numbers because there’s so much more to a player than points: points are year to year, different positions and usage on the ice will affect points. On top of that, you need to take into account term. But from these numbers, we can establish a reasonable baseline for what a good value contract was for the season.

Before we get into it I’d like to point out that while I did all of this myself using a spreadsheet, I found out later that Capfriendly has a fantastic tool that not only calculates all of this but lets you search by team, position, etc. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I recommend you check it out.  I would also like to thank Brad Krysko from the Winged Wheel Podcast for letting me bounce some ideas off him (if you’re not listening to their podcast and you’re a Wings fan, you’re missing out).

What I’ve done is compare the Red Wings contracts to the Pittsburgh Penguins, reigning Cup winners and the next longest streak of playoff appearances; the Washington Capitals, the winners of the Presidents Trophy; and the Vancouver Canucks, the second worst team in the league. I didn’t want to pick the Avalanche because I don’t think that they are as bad is they performed this season, so I went one up. (Yes this means I do think Vancouver is actually very bad)

If you just want the raw stats I put together for this, you can view them here (you can spy on the defensemen numbers for Part 2 as well). I limited it to players with >20 games played.

Forwards

Here’s the raw numbers for the Red Wings forwards, ordered by Adjusted Cost Per Point from lowest to highest:

No surprises there. Our rookies continue to produce the most value thanks to those Entry Level Contracts. I was surprised to see Luke Glendening so high up there, but then I realized his extension hadn’t kicked in yet, if he was on that his Adj. Cost per Point would more than double. And down at the bottom, we see the new contracts: Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm, and Justin Abdelkader. (And poor Riley Sheahan). When stacked against the team, they really are the worst value contracts we have. But how do the Wings stack up against Washington, Pittsburgh, and Vancouver?

Here’s the top 15:

When you look at the top 15, you can see that a Pittsburgh’s made good with their rookies this season (playing with Crosby will do that). Conor Sheary is a only a whopping $9,368.96 per point, almost of Athanasiou’s. Entry level contracts are huge, the most successful teams are using them to complement their veterans without crushing the cap. It’s the difference between signing depth players to term versus constantly pulling up from your system replacement who can possibly light it up. Chicago does this a lot, with their high price core of Kane and Toews.

Moving down to the next chunk of Red Wings, here’s 19 through 39:

Here’s where we start getting into the big meaty contracts of players like Zetterberg, Crosby, Kessel, Oshie, Backstrom. Tatar’s bridge deal is great, and it is going to hurt when the Red Wings have to sign him this offseason. He’s a better value than Oshie and Williams by the numbers. Next year though, I’ll be surprised if he isn’t looking to make Nyquist money. I also appreciate how good Zetterberg’s contract is now. The term is massive, yes, but we only paid a hair over $6 million compared to Kessel’s $8 million. If we look at Adj. Cost per Point, Zetterberg was almost an identical value as Sidney Crosby’s contract (which, $8.7 million, what a steal). Drew Miller is even a pretty good value for what we paid.

Abby and Helm still haven’t showed up yet though. Uh Oh.

Here’s the bottom 12 players (40-51):

Once again, there’s poor Riley Sheahan. Such a down year for him, but the low cost of his contract saved him. He was dangerously close to a Brendan Gaunce divide by 0 error though. And here we find Helm and Abdelkader. Justin Abdelkader only beat two people: Daniel Sedin, a 36 year old near the end of his star contract (1 year remaining), and Loui Eriksson who had one of the absolute worst seasons of his career after signing a brand new $6×6 contract with the Canucks. Helm, Sheahan, and Nielsen both come in near the bottom, but they have the advantage of being centers, who are generally over paid in the NHL. Helm’s cost per point is pretty high but as a center, he brings more to the table than just points. Abdelkader, as a winger, is all about points. He’s making middle to top 6 Winger money, more than Hagelin and the same as Hornqvist, but being paid $20 and 80k more per point than they are.

For reference, the absolute most expensive player in the league for points, minus Andrew Desjardin’s 1 year $800,000 contract, is Colorado’s Carl Soderberg at a staggering $331,010 per point. He has 4 years left at $4.75m. Other high earners: Corey Perry at $162,736/Pt; Andrew Ladd at $168,765/Pt, Rick Nash at $167,715, and Anze Kopitar at $172,236 (I thought his $10M was too much when he signed it, so far I’m fairly confident in saying I was right))

Conclusions

In today’s NHL, I believe we are rapidly approaching a time where you need 4 lines that can score; as opposed to a top line, a shutdown line, etc. With that in mind, I think we can safely say that, based on how these contracts fell, around $100k or less per point for forwards is a solid number to shoot for in terms of how much you pay. Now, did I just say Ovechkin was overpaid? Maybe for this season. When I think Alex Ovechkin, I certainly think of more than 69 points and 33 goals.

If we do accept $100k as the baseline for a good value contract, then we can definitively say that Frans Nielsen, Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm, and Justin Abdelkader all underperformed based on how much we paid them this season. Even if you don’t accept that number, you can see that when ranked against other successful teams and even unsuccessful ones, they fall in the bottom half.

Next time, I will be going over the defensemen as well, and we can see how good Dekeyser was for $5 million dollars.