4 Directions for the Red Wings’ Roster

For the Detroit Red Wings, this offseason certainly feels different than previous years.

Steve Yzerman is now the general manager, which still feels strange to write now weeks after his hire. But there’s also a different aura around the rebuild – the future is starting to take shape. There’s a solid foundation in place, with the late-season emergence of Detroit’s young guns as concrete evidence.

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman.
Steve Yzerman and Christopher Ilitch, president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings, Inc. after Yzerman is introduced as the new executive vice president and general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

With that being said, there are still a bunch of unknowns in Hockeytown. What kind of front office will Yzerman build? Who will the Red Wings choose with the No. 6 pick in the 2019 draft? And what will the roster look like come September?

The first two items will likely be addressed within the next few weeks. The latter question, however, will take some time to fully answer.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at a few approaches for the 2019-20 roster and see which makes the most sense for Yzerman, Jeff Blashill, and the Red Wings. But first, a few ground rules:

  • This roster is supposed to represent the team at the start of the 2019-20 season. At some point there will be changes – this is simply the opening night lineup.
  • Detroit’s first-round pick will not begin the 2019-20 season with the Red Wings.
  • Injuries can happen, of course, but we’ll leave those out of the roster projections.

Okay, now let’s dive into this maddening exercise.

Red Wings Roster: Minimalist Strategy

After evaluating the roster, Yzerman may like what he sees and prefer the status quo. In the short term, the Red Wings could be headed for another top-10 draft pick, but would also lean on their young players to take another step forward.

Anthony Mantha Dylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Taro Hirose Andreas Athanasiou Darren Helm
Justin Abdelkader Frans Nielsen Michael Rasmussen
Jacob de la Rose Luke Glendening Christoffer Ehn
  Dominic Turgeon  
Danny DeKeyser Mike GreenJimmy Howard
Jonathan Ericsson Filip HronekJonathan Bernier
Dennis Cholowski Trevor Daley  
Joe Hicketts Madison Bowey  

First off, you’ll notice that Evgeny Svechnikov, Joe Veleno, and Filip Zadina are not on the roster. Your eyes are not deceiving you. All three could benefit from additional time in Grand Rapids before making the jump to full-time NHL duty.

Evgeny Svechnikov of the Detroit Red Wings.
After missing all of the 2018-19 season, starting out in Grand Rapids wouldn’t be the worst thing for Evgeny Svechnikov. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Otherwise, nothing else has really changed from the end of the 2018-19 season, apart from players getting healthy. No more $30 million injured reserve list. No signings or trades during Yzerman’s initial summer as head honcho in Hockeytown.

Two small tweaks are adding Joe Hicketts and Dominic Turgeon to the 23-man roster. The two will need waivers to be assigned to the Grand Rapids Griffins, so the Red Wings will either need to keep them or risk losing the diminutive defenseman and gritty center for nothing. I’m guessing they’ll opt for the former.

Red Wings Roster: Summer Shoppers

“With great power, comes great responsibility,” said no one ever. If Yzerman wants to make a splash this summer, here’s how the roster could look. Please note that this is very unlikely to happen. I just want to give fans a little anxiety before the summer really kicks off.

Anthony Mantha Dylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Pavel Datsyuk Andreas Athanasiou Joonas Donskoi
Taro Hirose Frans Nielsen Darren Helm
Justin Abdelkader Luke Glendening Christoffer Ehn
  Jacob de la Rose  
Danny DeKeyser Erik KarlssonJimmy Howard
Jonathan Ericsson Filip HronekJonathan Bernier
Dennis Cholowski Mike Green  
Joe Hicketts Madison Bowey  

To recap:

  • Signed Pavel Datsyuk to a one-year, $5 million contract.
  • Signed Joonas Donskoi to a three-year contract with a $3 million AAV.
  • Signed Erik Karlsson to a seven-year contract with an $11 million AAV.
  • Traded Trevor Daley to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2021 third-round pick.

Believe it or not, this team would come in under the salary cap after Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen are moved to long-term injured reserve.

Adding Erik Karlsson to the back-end would greatly improve Detroit’s defense. Having a Karlsson-Filip Hronek pairing on the top power play would be lethal, especially with how the former has been setting up Brent Burns during the playoffs and the latter has been dominating the 2019 World Championships for the Czech Republic. And remember, Yzerman almost acquired Karlsson when he oversaw the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks
Erik Karlsson would give the Red Wings their first true top-pairing defenseman since Nicklas Lidstrom retired. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Up front, Pavel Datsyuk and Joonas Donskoi would add secondary scoring that the Red Wings desperately lacked last season. Datsyuk, in particular, could fill Zetterberg’s old shoes as a mentor in Detroit and help Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, and Anthony Mantha step their game up another level.

Red Wings Roster: Prospect Frenzy

I could have easily named this the “#HockeyTwitter Approach” given the excitement around Detroit’s prospects and endless demands to move the veterans out. Well, here you go, social media.

Anthony Mantha Dylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Taro Hirose Andreas Athanasiou Filip Zadina
Joe Veleno Frans Nielsen Michael Rasmussen
Evgeny Svechnikov Luke Glendening Christoffer Ehn
Justin Abdelkader Jacob de la Rose  
Danny DeKeyser Filip HronekJimmy Howard
Dennis Cholowski Mike GreenJonathan Bernier
Joe Hicketts Madison Bowey  
Libor Sulak    

While an opening night roster like this is highly unlikely, there’s nothing wrong with having a little fun.

Let’s say Yzerman was able to trade Daley and Darren Helm in separate deals and buy out Jonathan Ericsson. And, instead of bringing in outsiders to fill their roster spots, he promoted from within. This Red Wings team would have plenty of cap space for in-season trades and the following summer.

Jonathan Ericsson of the Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings need to play their defensive prospects over Jonathan Ericsson. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Clearing the deck on defense would go beyond ice time. With Libor Sulak reportedly considering a return to Europe, giving him a clear path to make the Red Wings should certainly dissuade him from such a move.

But if it doesn’t, there’s another prospect who could take his spot: Oliwer Kaski, who was just signed as an undrafted free agent out of Finland. Some seasoning in Grand Rapids may be needed, but the Red Wings might have found a diamond in the rough in Kaski.

This roster is also a near carbon-copy of the group that played out the final dozen games of the 2018-19 season – and won eight of those contests. Could they have similar success in 2019-20? Maybe, but finishing with the fourth-worst record again seems like a more plausible outcome, though.

Red Wings Roster: Little Bit of Everything

Last, but not least, the Red Wings could opt to add a couple depth components here and there. Nothing splashy, just building toward a better tomorrow.

Anthony Mantha Dylan LarkinTyler Bertuzzi
Filip Zadina Andreas Athanasiou Ryan Callahan
Taro Hirose Frans Nielsen Brett Connolly
Justin Abdelkader Luke Glendening Darren Helm
  Jacob de la Rose  
Danny DeKeyser Filip HronekJimmy Howard
Jonathan Ericsson Mike GreenJonathan Bernier
Dennis Cholowski Trevor Daley  
Joe Hicketts Madison Bowey  

A few have pegged Ryan Callahan as a potential trade candidate for the Red Wings. In a recent article for The Athletic Detroit, Max Bultman was high on the prospect of bringing Callahan to Detroit and shared an interesting tidbit from Joe Smith, one of his colleagues who covers the Lightning:

The Lightning have had talks with Detroit previously about Callahan, and there’s no doubt those could continue now that Yzerman is the Red Wings’ GM.

(from ‘Three hypothetical Red Wings trades to make them better now and in the future’ – The Athletic Detroit – 5/15/19)

Another player with connections to Yzerman is pending unrestricted free agent Brett Connolly. Playing on the third line for the Washington Capitals, the burly right wing registered 22 markers this season, with all but one coming at even strength. For comparison, his 21 five-on-five goals while flanking Lars Eller in D.C. would have ranked third on the Red Wings, trailing only Athanasiou (27) and Larkin (25). Signing the 27-year-old to a three-year contract with a $3.5 million AAV wouldn’t break the bank or handcuff the team far into the future.

Other than those two acquisitions, the Red Wings would stay put and wait until the trade deadline to move others out. At that point, Callahan, Daley, Ericsson, and Mike Green could be dealt as rentals to contending teams if Detroit once again falls out of the playoff picture.

Name Game

Growing up, I had a subscription to The Hockey News and read the publication cover to cover each week. One of the obscure sections that I enjoyed was a themed lineup toward the end. Each name tied back to one central connection, be it colors, names of fictional characters, verbs, or other descriptions.

With that being said, it’s time to resurrect those lineups. Moving forward, all of my articles will conclude with a new theme for the Name Game, with at least one former Red Wing on the team. For this piece, we’ll go on a tour of Europe with the 2019 World Championships underway in Slovakia.

F – German Titov
F – Dutch Reibel
F – Peter Holland
D – Deryk Engelland
D – Roman Polak
G – Roman Cechmanek

Which Detroit Red Wings lineup do you like best? Comment below.