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Krupa: Wings' Holland pulls off major coup

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit – It has not been a good few seasons for Red Wings GM Ken Holland.

The three-year, behind-the-scenes drama with Pavel Datsyuk, the future member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, made it even worse than we quite realized.

But with the 11-time Stanley Cup winning franchise in decline, a historic playoff streak perennially at significant risk, a great coach gone to Toronto, a cupboard bare from two decades of trading draft choices to augment the cup runs and quality free agents continually finding somewhere else to play, it was already pretty darned tough.

And then came the 2016 NHL entry draft in Buffalo, and a long, long pause as the clock hit 0:00 on the Red Wings 16th pick in the first round, their second highest pick in 25 years.

Holland sat there, a blank look on his face.

But he was playing poker and he had good cards.

Wings trade Datsyuk's contract , draft D Cholowski

The Flames had already made their move for a goalie, and it did not result in taking Jimmy Howard off the Wings hands as many had hoped for months to avoid a prospective $10-million logjam at goalie, on rebuilding roster constrained by a salary cap.

The Canadiens, the Wings’ renewed, ancient rivals, had already made two productive trades.

The transition Holland has called “rebuilding on the fly,” is sputtering, after a disappointing season.

Then suddenly, movement.

In a blink, the conundrum Datsyuk presented the Red Wings by resigning one season early and leaving his cap hit on their ledger was gone.

Did it cost a prospect and the mid-round draft choice many thought it might?

No.

Did it cost the roster player and the draft choice many thought it might?

No.

But Holland and the Wings bid adieu to Datsyuk’s $7.5-million cap hit, more than 10 percent of the total team salary for next season, regardless.

When he showed his cards, he had given it and the 16th pick to Arizona for the 20th pick – that is right, just four choices later – in return for the Coyotes second round pick, 53rd overall, and a 30-year-old forward named Joe Vitale, who has 44 points in 234 career NHL games.

It hardly seems possible, even now.

To get it done, the Wings passed on two promising young defensemen available with the 16th pick, Jakob Chychrun, of the Sarnia String in the Ontario Hockey League, and Dante Fabbro, of the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.

And they could not have gotten it done, still, unless the Coyotes were so sold on Chychrun over Fabbro they were willing to make the deal.

It was not easy, and it will not be anytime soon for the Red Wings.

They may or may not get Steven Stamkos, who with Alex Ovechkin is among the finest pure goal scorers in the league, with the cap space they just created.

But removing Datsyuk’s flotsam is a big accomplishment, and the Red Wings needs are many.

Doing it for such small cost, and getting some return other than just clearing some debris, is rabbit-out-of-the-hat territory.

Most of Holland’s critics are unlikely to be deterred, and I will hear from them, certainly.

But my sense of the guy, having asked him questions for seven seasons and witnessing how he operates, is that he does not much care, as long as the club is on path in their rebuild on the fly.

And Holland just removed a big obstacle, at little cost.