Krupa: Red Wings might be in sell mode soon

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Thomas Vanek, signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal, is a prime candidate to be traded at the deadline.

Detroit — When a little hot streak in mid-January modestly improved their playoff chances two Saturdays ago, CBC broadcaster Ron MacLean said, “Good to see the Red Wings back in it.”

When a team is pitied on “Hockey Night in Canada,” it is in trouble.

The Wings are in trouble.

Seven points out of the playoffs with three games in hand on the Bruins, they have 11 games before the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

Making up ground will be tough: Only one game is against a division or conference rival for the playoffs. Five are opponents in a class above, the Blue Jackets, Capitals and Penguins.

Management should consider it an opportunity to pursue a better future.

And the real future is in the entry draft, not so much free agency and, even less so, trades. It certainly is not in the false promise of a marginally better team playing next October “in the first season of the new building.”

The fans will come. They are Red Wings fans, and it is the new home where, presumably, one day a Stanley Cup will be won.

But they are vastly more interested in the shortest line to that point than winning in the new digs.

Given the progress of the five-season-old rebuild on the fly, that should define the interest of management, too.

The argument “we are about winning,” is moot, when they are losing.

Stars wanted

Bitterly disappointed by the performance of the team last season, which surprised them, Red Wings’ management is emerging from the All-Star break of what is evolving as the worst season in a generation.

The team is once against performing worse than they anticipated. Changing course to one more determinedly in pursuit of a promising future than reassembling parts for a shot at the 2018 playoffs is required.

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The Wings need stars. They have an ample supporting cast.

Replacing several players not performing with big time, perennial achievers would restore the Red Wings to contention.

With 20 losses in regulation at the All-Star break after a disappointing season, developing young talent and obtaining more are priorities.

The stars are far more likely to come through drafting and development than free agency or trades.

Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou should be off limits, unless the player or draft choice they obtain is clearly a better alternative.

They might be future stars.

Expendable players

Henrik Zetterberg is routinely the best forward and should be retained, unless he agrees to go and the return is significant.

The idea that Nick Kronwall would play for anyone else, especially with as much discomfort as he plays, seems far-fetched.

Danny DeKeyser

Frans Nielsen wanted to play here and seems unlikely to want to waive his “no movement” rights.

The unrestricted free agent Thomas Vanek, 32, would re-sign for a considerable raise above his $2.6 million salary.

But, despite a performance integral to the Red Wings occasional success, if trading Vanek provides a significant return, preferably better position in the entry draft, and frees up the $4.5 million it might take to retain him, the best option is clear.

Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist were prime trading assets until their production declined beginning about one calendar year ago. But assets they nonetheless remain.

All of the other forwards are clearly in the mix for leveraging, too.

But some of their overly-generous contracts clearly prevent movement.

The logjam at goalie, however, is ripe for it.

Jimmy Howard’s stock was well up before his injury, and considerably improved still. Petr Mrazek’s is down. Jared Coreau’s, not even listed at the start of the season, is attractive.

But, considering the possibility of losing one of the three in the expansion draft, the Wings having major cap space invested in both Howard and Mrazek, and Coreau’s eye-opening play, the problem of having too many should be examined for the best opportunity to hasten the pursuit of stars.

On defense, all are expendable.

Mike Green is an attractive acquisition for a playoff team looking to boost scoring on the blue line.

Brendan Smith, 28 on Feb. 8, will be an unrestricted free agent. Danny DeKeyser, 27 March 7, is not playing most nights like a No. 2 defenseman that his $5 million cap hit normally supports.

Jonathan Ericsson, 33 on March 2, is playing his third consecutive disappointing season and has three more at $4.25 million.

DeKeyser and Ericsson are nearly impossible to move, and that could cost the Wings Smith.

The Red Wings dearly hope Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Nick Jensen and Ryan Sproul develop into No. 1 or No. 2 defenseman. But the greater likelihood is all four are at best middle pairing guys.

But even if they improve markedly, their disappointing play for the last season and a half increasingly suggests the advisability of a determined shift to investing current assets in a longer term future, not the whimsy of attending to near-term playoff contention. @GreggKrupa