Krupa: Red Wings place their future in draft’s ‘crapshoot’
Detroit — Rebuilding a roster has its ups and downs.
The Red Wings experienced them this week in the two days before the trade deadline, getting good return in two deals and some disappointment in a third.
More of both outcomes are likely again in three months, before the NHL Expansion Draft, June 18-20, and the NHL Entry Draft, June 23-24.
The Wings hope to participate vigorously in the trade market then, too.
As they hover around the bottom of the Eastern Conference a nearly-impossible long shot to make the playoffs, nine points out with 21 games left, the Red Wings were in the unusual position of being sellers at the March 1 deadline.
They are likely considering another tactic unusual in their recent history for both transaction windows in June: trades that amount to salary dumps.
The expansion draft will send a number of teams scrambling to unload players before having to expose them to the expansion franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights. NHL rules provide methods for protecting certain, but not all, players.
The Wings could well use that trading period to relinquish some of the more expensive, longer-term contracts signed in recent seasons. The deals make compliance with the salary cap and critical roster moves more difficult.
The two trading windows also provide an opportunity to make progress on their most urgent priority, rebuilding the corps of defensemen.
The Red Wings sorely need a puck-moving defenseman or two who can provide a boost along the blue line. For two seasons the corps has had trouble with coverage in its own zone and puck possession, let alone clearing the zone.
Push from behind
The next step is launching the offensive attack with what was once the Wings primary offensive weapon, the lightning-quick transition from defense to offense.
It is now a rare occurrence.
But the likelihood of more ups and downs in their rebuild on the fly, which this week took on some of the appearances of a flat-out rebuild, is apparent.
The Wings got good return for Tomas Jurco (2017 third round pick from the Blackhawks) and Brendan Smith (2017 third-round pick from the Rangers and 2018 second-round pick).
But the third-round pick they received from the Panthers along with a minor league defenseman for Tomas Vanek fell short of expectations.
Perhaps too much was expected. Three years ago, when Vanek was traded from the Islanders to the Canadiens, the Islanders received a second-round pick and a minor-league player from Montreal. Vanek, 33, did not play well in the playoffs.
Then, he went to the Wild and disappointed.
Vanek’s 38 points with the Red Wings and team-leading 15 goals was not enough to attract a second-round pick this time. The defenseman, Dylan McIlrath, a 2010 first-round pick of the Rangers who has played in fewer than 50 NHL games, was assigned immediately to Grand Rapids.
Useful, but not a considerable haul.
But, in an indication of the straits of the franchise, Holland said acquiring another draft pick was important enough to pull the trigger.
“It was the very best offer I could get for Thomas,” Holland said. “I’ve been at it for a week.
“I was looking for future assets. I looked upon this year as an opportunity to acquire some draft picks, which are not only to pick players at the draft. Maybe some of these picks somewhere down the road could factor into a future trade.”
It is also possible, although perhaps not likely, for the Wings to sign Vanek as a free agent after the season.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings now have 11 picks in the 2017 entry draft, including four picks in the third round and two in the second.
They also added to their stockpile of nine for 2018, when they have two second-round picks and two in the sixth.
Between the two entry drafts, the two trade periods coming up this June and the one before the 2018 Entry Draft, the Wings hope to stock considerable assets for the reconstruction of their lineup, and a return to playoff prominence.
If they decided to dump salaries, by definition their return would be slight for players once considered integral to their future. The point would be to acknowledge the disappointment and sustain the harsh cost of jettisoning players to create salary cap and roster space to rebuild.
Beyond the potential salary dumps are the high risks of both the trade market and the entry draft.
It is the route the Red Wings must travel to become Stanley Cup contenders, and they clearly began the initiative in a far more earnest way, this week.
The process is likely to include a significant number of roster moves over the next two years, and may not bear full fruit for several seasons
“We’re trying to stay in the mix with the teams in our division,” Holland said of his desire to compete while rebuilding.
“At the same time, I am hoping that with these picks, it’s going to tee the franchise up for the next six, eight, 10 years. Now, obviously, it depends what we do with these picks.”
Gathering a raft of picks for each of the next two entry drafts also increases the Wings’ chances for success in what Holland describes as “a little bit of a crapshoot,” selecting 17 year olds in the hope they develop into Stanley Cup players.
Good moves and bad likely lie ahead.
Holland, who has one year remaining on his current contract, will be judged by whether he manages well enough, so the good outweighs the bad.