June 20, 2017
Ch-Ch-Changes are coming,
and the Tigers are not alone
By KEITH GAVE
While all the talk lately has been about an imminent and dramatic deconstruction of one of the most expensive rosters in baseball, two other professional Detroit franchises may soon be grabbing headlines for similar makeovers.
Because the NHL is adding the 31st team, the Golden Knights in Las Vegas, the Red Wings are obliged to begin retooling their roster this week. It will start Wednesday when they lose one of their players in the expansion draft.
Smart money has Vegas selecting either Petr Mrazek, who started last season as the Wing’s No. 1 goaltender, defenseman Xavier Ouellet, who quietly became a regular on the Detroit blue line last season, or forward Riley Sheahan, who a few years ago looked as though he would develop into the prototypical second line center the Wings desperately need.
This represents a hard fall for Mrazek, who a year ago was rewarded with a two-year, $8 million contract. Then he couldn’t stop a beach ball when it mattered and lost his starting gig to veteran Jimmy Howard, who when he wasn’t injured was posting some of the best numbers of his career.
After watching Jared Coreau lead top minor league affiliate Grand Rapids to the franchise’s second Calder Cup in five seasons, Wings general manager Ken Holland can feel comfortable about Detroit’s goaltending depth even without Mrazek, should the Golden Knights claim him. Coreau was also left unprotected, but his inexperience at the NHL level would make him a risky choice for the expansion franchise.
Each of the NHL’s other 30 teams will lose one player. The new franchise must take a minimum of 14 forwards, nine defensemen and three goaltenders.
Holland has announced he will not make any side deals with Vegas to avoid losing a player the Wings would like to keep. Other players left unprotected by Detroit include regulars like forwards Darren Helm, Luke Glendenning and forwards Jonathan Ericsson.
The Wings’ protected list: forwards Justin Abdelkader, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Frans Nielsen, Gus Niquist, Tomas Tatar and Henrik Zetterberg; defensemen Danny DeKeyser, Mike Green and, in somewhat of a surprise, Nick Jensen; and Howard. First and second-year professionals, such as Dylan Larkin, are exempt, meaning the Red Wings did not have to protect him.
So the Wings will lose one player this week, but the horse-trading around the league is just beginning. They have the ninth overall pick in the first round of the NHL entry draft this weekend in Chicago. That represents their highest selection since they took right wing Martin Lapointe with the 10th overall pick in 1991.
They have 11 picks in the seven-round draft, considered among the weaker talent pools in the last several years. There are no generational players topping the list, like Auston Matthews last year, or Connor McDavid the year before. And the talent drops dramatically after the top 20 players – so not every team in the opening round will even get a player considered a bona fide first-rounder in most other years.
So while it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see Detroit deal some assets to move up few slots to ensure they get the defenseman or center they hope to build around in a few years, it would be shocking to see them move down. Holland’s biggest task is to rebuild the blue line. The Wings have one of the weakest defense groups in the league. He wants a top-pair, puck-moving defenseman, but so does everyone else – so the price will be ridiculously high.
The NHL draft starts Friday and concludes Saturday.
Meantime, if the rumors are true Stan Van Gundy is willing to pull the trigger on a deal involving either of the two biggest names on his team: forward Andre Drummond and point guard Reggie Jackson ahead of the NBA draft next week.
“Would we like to make changes this summer? Absolutely. Is it a priority to be out trying to make changes? Absolutely. We need to make improvements,” Van Gundy told a Detroit radio interview last month. “The part where I stop short is saying we’re committed to making changes. You need partners to make those deals.”
In other words, as much as the Pistons would like to make a deal like that and – like the Wings – create some excitement and momentum going into the new Little Caesars Arena this fall, it won’t be easy.
The Pistons, who like the Wings failed to qualify for the post-season, select 12th in the NBA’s draft next Thursday in Philadelphia. They won’t likely get a household name who can create the kind of buzz they’re looking for, but they should be able to get a good piece to the puzzle as Van Gundy strives to build a winner.
The Tigers need a good month of June to fend off the wolves willing to pick the bones of a team that so far has been a confounding disappointment. They’re not having it. They’re 7-8 for the month, 3-7 in their last 10 heading into seven-game road swing out west through Seattle and San Diego, four games below .500, fourth in the five-team Central Division and, most alarmingly, 4 ½ games behind Cleveland, which has gotten a bit of a roll lately.
Clearly, changes are coming – and not just to the Red Wings and Pistons.