Detroit — It took until late in the afternoon, but the Red Wings finally pulled off a trade before Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline.
It just might not have involved the player everyone expected it would be.
The Wings traded forward Tomas Tatar to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights in exchange for a 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick and 2021 third-round draft pick.
With the organization stocked deep on the wings, general manager Ken Holland felt it was the right time to make a move, enabling young players to move in next season, and also accumulate draft picks.
“When looking into ’18-’19, I felt we had a lot of wingers on our board competing for spots next year,” Holland said. “Certainly we have wingers, and we had an opportunity to acquire some picks to build our team for the future.
“If you want to create opportunity for some of the younger people in our organization that are banging on the door, I have to create opportunity. I have to move somebody.
“Our goal is to build a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup, and that’s going to happen through the draft. This gets us additional draft picks going forward.”
Vegas is an expansion team that is surprising the hockey world, leading the Western Conference. The Golden Knights had a bushel of draft picks — having accumulated them during the expansion draft — and tapped into them to land Tatar.
Holland and Vegas general manager George McPhee began talking two weeks ago, after McPhee expressed interest in Tatar, and the two finalized terms of the trade Monday.
“Tomas will play very well in Vegas, and it’s a great trade for both teams,” Holland said.
Signed to a four-year contract last summer with an average cap hit for $5.3 million (the Red Wings aren’t retaining any salary) Tatar, 27, has been a streaky goal-scorer capable of getting on long, hot streaks and some long goal-scoring droughts.
Tatar played in 62 games this season with 16 goals and 12 assists (28 points) with a minus-8 plus-minus rating.
Tatar scored a career-high 29 goals in 2014-15 but has never been able to approach that number again, scoring 21 the next season and 25 last season.
Holland fielded calls for many players on the current roster, but talks didn’t advance far.
“We’re looking to the future, to build, but to hang on to a culture and environment where our young people come in and there are pros in the locker room,” said Holland, anticipating three to four young players on the Red Wings’ roster next season (Evgeny Svechnikov and Michael Rasmussen are possibilities). “I wanted to keep a hockey team. We’re going to play hockey in October and we have to try to be better, more competitive.
“When those young people go in there, it’s important we have veteran leadership to guide them.”
The player everyone felt the Red Wings would trade, defenseman Mike Green, went nowhere.
Green, 32, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, has missed the last six games with a neck injury and hasn’t played since he was injured Feb. 15.
Holland said one team requested medical reports on Green, and another expressed interest just before Green sustained his injury, but ultimately teams were scared to commit to a deal.
“Ultimately it’s hard for a team to add a player they weren’t 100 percent sure when he’d come back, and if he came back, the injury would flare up again,” said Holland, who is hopeful Green could be ready to play this weekend, but added it’s an injury that could resurface again. “The teams that had interest couldn’t justify taking on that cap space and spend some assets and ... could Mike play until the middle of June.”
Green had a no-trade clause, but was agreeable to be moved to a contender, said Holland, and didn’t veto any trade, squashing a report Tuesday that Green had nixed a potential trade to Toronto.
Also, with many teams circling around defensemen Ryan McDonagh (traded to Tampa Bay) and Erik Karlsson (not traded) this deadline, Green became a fall-back option for many teams.
Many players talked about hoping management would keep the roster together, given the Red Wings are only five points from a wild-card spot entering Tuesday’s schedule.
“We’re looking toward the future,” Holland said. “We’re five points out, but we have a real tough road to hoe here ahead. Our guys have won a couple of games and hopefully we can dig in on the road and find a way to play our way back into the playoff race.”
The Red Wings now have 11 draft picks in June’s entry draft.