Detroit — The Red Wings’ front office headed out of town to figure out a plan. But if Ken Holland & Co. needed a map, Jeff Blashill’s team certainly pointed them in the right direction Tuesday night.
A 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars at Little Caesars Arena offered another reality check for anyone still entertaining the notion that this team is a playoff contender. The Red Wings mustered a season-low 15 shots against a team playing the second game of a road back-to-back, and notwithstanding the phantom penalties that left everyone on the home bench crying foul Tuesday, they didn't really deserve much better.
That's two losses in three games coming off a bye week, and as Holland gathers his staff and the Red Wings' scouts for organizational meetings the next few days, the short-term course should be pretty clear.
Detroit is now eight points out of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, with at least three teams to climb over just to get there. The Red Wings’ general manager won’t say it publicly, but surely he can see where this is headed.
Back in early December, Holland essentially gave his team a month to give him a reason not to be a seller at the Feb. 26 trade deadline. Since then, the Wings have gone 7-7-2, and even after a brief post-holiday surge, Holland admitted last week, “We haven’t won enough.”
Just don’t say they can’t win for losing. Because they still can this winter, with a little luck and a lot of phone calls.
Among the sellers
Holland showed he was finally ready to sell off spare parts at the trade deadline a year ago. And he’ll have even more to deal this season, perhaps, if he's willing.
The Red Wings currently own nine picks in this year’s draft, including five in the first three rounds, and 17 selections in 2018 and ’19 combined. But they’d like to add more future assets — they need to add more — and they almost assuredly will in the coming weeks. Detroit looks to be one of at least a handful of likely sellers, joining lottery-bound teams like Buffalo, Ottawa, Arizona and Vancouver.
There should be at least one sought-after rental on his roster in defenseman Mike Green, the team’s lone All-Star selection. Green’s production has dropped off after a fast start — just eight points in the last 25 games — and he’s still a defensive liability as a top-four blueliner. He also has a full no-trade clause — one of several on the Wings’ roster — so he’ll be able to control where he’s headed.
But as a power-play quarterback with a right-hand shot, he might yet fetch a first-round pick, provided Detroit’s willing to pick up part of his salary for the remainder of the season. (Green’s making $6 million in the final year of his deal.) Al Avila convinced Chris Ilitch the price was right last summer, and it’ll be up to Holland to do the same, if necessary.
There are other possibilities Holland will need to explore, shopping defenseman Trevor Daley, who had another strong effort Tuesday, and maybe forwards Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar as well. But if the Red Wings are serious about restocking the shelves, they should cast an even wider net by starting in their own.
Why not Howard?
It would behoove the Wings to give Petr Mrazek some more audition starts, particularly after Sunday’s shutout win in Chicago. He’s 25, only a couple years removed from looking like one of the NHL’s top young goalies, and he’ll be a restricted free agent after the season. Of course, he went untouched when Detroit made him available in last summer’s expansion draft, so there might not be much of a market. But if he doesn’t fit in the Wings’ future plans, there’s little sense in hanging on to him, and maybe there’s a team looking for depth and a potential spark.
Likewise, why not seriously offer up Jimmy Howard? It's an idea that’s been tossed around the past couple years. But now that he's nearing the end of that long-term contract, with another year at $5.3 million all that’s left after this season, it's worth a longer look.
Howard endured a monthlong slump starting in mid-November, but rebounded with a half-dozen strong starts, including four consecutive wins and a .952 save percentage before the bye week. He took the loss Tuesday, but he had no shot at stopping the first two deflected goals — the second on a 5-on-3 power play — and couldn't be blamed for the other two, either.
There won’t be many playoff contenders searching for a No. 1 goalie. But there should be at least one, as the New York Islanders desperately try to make the postseason while also trying to convince star John Tavares to sign a long-term extension. The Isles' tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss ranks last in the NHL with a 3.62 goals-against average and .895 save percentage — a shoddy defense has plenty do with that — and GM Garth Snow has extra draft picks to offer. Chicago might be another playoff hopeful in search of a starter, what with Corey Crawford’s season in jeopardy due to vertigo-like symptoms.
But whatever the case, the Red Wings' balancing act has to end soon. They haven't won enough, and though there's still plenty of time between now and a hard deadline, its time to start figuring out where the chips might fall.