Krupa: Salary dump is in order for Red Wings

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Thomas Vanek

Detroit — The Red Wings are busy talking trades, as GM Ken Holland said was likely before the trade deadline, if their disappointing performance continued.

A self-described “rebuild on the fly” is in peril, because the Wings are not flying.

Expect action in the next six days before the March 1 deadline.

Another, more significant opportunity pops up before the NHL Expansion Draft in June. Franchises confront something unseen in many seasons: The possibility of losing good players, almost entirely at someone else’s choosing.

Offered an alternative, general managers will want some say. Any return is better than nothing.

Expect trades, perhaps a flurry, before the Las Vegas Golden Knights get their way.

And then there is the annual period of somewhat more robust trading before the NHL Draft later in June.

Holland has opportunities.

But how to get it done?

There are assets to protect, too many assets in goal and assets fading.

And there are liabilities, including leaden contracts weighted by both cash and term, as well as too little space under the salary cap.

The assets to protect are three young players who appear capable of stardom, Anthony Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou.

Given the Wings' draft history, that is the full list.

Captain should stay

They should not be moved unless the return is bountiful, and perhaps just like them: Young, talented players ready for a great leap forward, if their knowledge of the NHL game ultimately matches their ability.

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The Red Wings also should not move Henrik Zetterberg, their only current star, and one recently faded, Niklas Kronwall.

Zetterberg is their heart and remains their best forward.

Kronwall currently has a no-trade clause and deserves to discern his fate, despite his debilitating knee injury. This soldier knows to remain in the barracks when he can no longer patrol.

Mike Green improved offensively this year and the demand for scoring defensemen for the playoffs is so high that he might bring a healthy return. But if offers are not impressive and Green is amenable to less than his $6 million after his contract expires next season, the Red Wings should keep the 31-year-old who provides their only offense from the back end.

Unrestricted free agents Thomas Vanek, Brendan Smith and Steve Ott provide opportunities to shake loose advantageous acquisitions over the next six days, including draft picks.

Vanek has been a revelation and would be sorely missed.

But the 33-year-old’s potential to fetch a solid draft pick and maybe more, is an alternative too attractive to relinquish, especially with Vanek likely seeking a premium deal and the Wings needing better control of their cap space.

Ott-man out?

They will ask Smith what he is seeking in a new contract. But clubs are likely interested enough in Smith, as a potential upgrade for their third pairing and a possible fill-in on their second, to offer something worthwhile.

Brendan Smith

Despite his selection in the first round, Smith, 28, has never separated himself from the pack of No. 3 through No. 7 defensemen the Wings have in the lineup and Grand Rapids.

Trading Ott would bring less. But he is the sort of playoff-experienced “rental” player that may provide more worth in a trade than on the ice. Drew Miller, in Grand Rapids, is similarly situated.

They have too many assets in goal. They have three goalies and can protect one in the expansion draft.

That is likely to be Petr Mrazek.

Jimmy Howard’s 17-game stretch of brilliance was heroic. But for the second time in three seasons, Howard’s fine play yielded abruptly to injury.

He is 33 in a month. Mrazek is 25.

The Wings can protect only one goalie in the expansion draft. They should get some return for Howard, unless an offer for Mrazek is so impressive that it makes more sense to keep Jimmy.

By contract, Howard can limit the Wings' options to 10 teams.

Regardless, Jared Coreau should be the goalie the Red Wings expose.

Two seasons ago, Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist looked ready to replace some of the offense that would eventually be lost when Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk retired.

Now, they are fading assets.

Tatar and Nyquist have slumped badly enough that their return value is diminished. Holland should not fail to pull the trigger if an offer hold a promise of improvement, even if only long range.

Nyquist may go first. His no-trade clause kicks in next season.

The rest of the lineup contains no untouchables.

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Several contracts are problematic because of expense and term. But a salary dump is in order.

A trade that opens up roster space, even with scant return, might be a good deal.

Justin Abdelkader, Jonathan Ericsson and Darren Helm would have to waive full no-trade clauses and Frans Nielsen a no-movement clause.

If equitable deals are available, they should be approached.

Advantageous offers for the rests — including the possibility of jettisoning cap hits, while improving the Wings’ entry draft position — should be accepted.

Holland and the Red Wings have ample opportunities and some assets.