The Detroit Red Wings were one of the NHL’s more surprising teams through the first several weeks of the season. With most pundits predicting they’d be in contention for a lottery pick at the 2018 draft in Dallas, the Red Wings had a rather surprising start to the campaign.
They went 5-6-1 through the month of October. Buoyed by strong goaltending and a great penalty kill — which is admittedly still great — they managed to stay afloat while other teams in the Atlantic Division struggled to gain a foothold in the standings.
However, Detroit has looked like the team we thought it would be since the beginning of November.
The 12 points the Red Wings accumulated last month were fewer than all but three teams in the league — they played 12 games and no one played more than 15 — and the bottom has totally dropped out on the Winged Wheel over the last 10 contests. Detroit has gone 2-4-4 during that stretch. Entering play on Dec. 5, it has lost seven straight.
Odds are good that the 10-1 thumping received at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 2 will mark a low point in the season for a lot of fans, but the last few weeks have told us everything we need to know about the Red Wings. Their defense is suspect, and on nights when Jimmy Howard hasn’t brought his cape to the arena, Detroit has struggled to win.
Sitting eight points out of a playoff spot with five teams to jump, the time has come for general manager Ken Holland to pull the plug on what will surely be another playoff-less campaign. On paper, they have an 11.7 percent chance to make the dance, but that’s as far as the probabilities can erode at this point in the season (unless you’re the Buffalo Sabres, who somehow have a 0.2 percent chance).
The reality is that offloading contracts at this stage of the year has just as much to do with the future as accepting the harsh realities surrounding the team’s current situation. Despite not having much to show for it, Detroit is in ridiculously bad shape relative to the salary cap.
According to CapFriendly.com, the Red Wings have $895,192 in cap space, and are just one of three organizations with $0 projected space for the end of the year.
The first order of business for Holland should be finding a taker for Mike Green. We know that the veteran GM will never undertake a full-on rebuild, and it’s not tough to see why. The Sabres, Arizona Coyotes and Edmonton Oilers have all been perennial bottom feeders, yet have little to show for it in terms of consistent forward motion.
Yet hanging on to the blueliner does the Red Wings no good this season. Retaining him for anything near the $6 million he makes on his current deal would be foolish — we’ll get to why in a bit — so trading him is the correct course of action. Kyle from WingingItInMotown.com believes Detroit could possibly land a first-round pick and a prospect for Green. If a deal like that comes anywhere near Holland, he should say “YES! YES! YES!” and then quickly hang up the phone.
The cap restructuring probably can’t stop following a Green trade either. Detroit needs to re-sign Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Martin Frk and Petr Mrazek this summer. As it stands, Holland will have $12.82 million to work with to get those deals done, and that’s assuming he doesn’t attempt to re-sign Green. Would anyone be surprised if he pursued this course of action?
Regardless, there’s virtually no way Holland can get all five of those players under contract for an average of $2.5 million each, so he’ll need to move even more money in order to have enough cap space to ensure that the few good, young players who are already in Detroit remain there.
That could mean moving Justin Abdelkader, who has rediscovered his scoring touch this year. Perhaps we will finally see the long-speculated Gustav Nyquist trade.
Holland doesn’t need to move contracts in the name of a rebuild that’s never going to happen. He needs to move contracts to ensure the few good players he’s drafted over the last several years stay in town.
Anything positive that the Red Wings do over the next four or five seasons will have Mantha, Larkin, Athanasiou and Frk at or near the core of it. The same can’t be said for Nyquist, Abdelkader and Green. This season was never going to be a fun one in Detroit, and it’s time for Holland to rip off the band-aid while acquiring as much talent as possible and shuffling dollars out the door.