Krupa: Red Wings roster shuffle might stymie Filip Zadina

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
The Red Wings' recent signings could make it more difficult for this year's first-round draft choice Filip Zadina to make the roster out of training camp.

Detroit — By the spring of 2013, Mike Babcock coached a makeshift Red Wings lineup.

“We’re in flux,” Babcock said two years before decamping for the Toronto Maple Leafs, where personnel riches, most recently John Tavares, settle on him like manna upon the Israelites.

Five years later, the Wings are still in flux.

Over the past 10 days, they evaluated prospects in development camp, re-signed a veteran defenseman and signed two veteran free agents.

The 2018-19 Wings look like a placeholder, amid ample demand for change.

The roster will be much the same as last season, with a couple of potentially invigorating additions, before 2019-20 heralds the possibility of an overhaul, abetted by significant cap space.

Expect a narrative like the last two seasons.

Key events are likely to concern only the development of hoped-for stars.

The corps of defensemen will perform unsatisfactorily.

Close games will say as much about a lack of talent as pluck.

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When the Red Wings fully execute the process, they might win. Otherwise, forget about it.

They will sell at the trade deadline, accepting all-the-more draft choices as payment.

And, at the end of the season, they are likely to bid adieu to Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall, unless Zetterberg’s back forces him to long-term injury reserve status before then.

The Wings remain in flux, and are about to lose the aging leadership to which Babcock referred a month before left.

Judged by actions, Ken Holland, Jeff Blashill and their staffs continue to make plain they believe too many prospects cannot play at the NHL level to consider a wholesale shift to the apprentices.

So, last week, the Red Wings gave Mike Green another two seasons and brought back Thomas Vanek.

They provided no-trade clauses that Holland said were required to extend Green, who turns 33 the first week of the season, and return Vanek, who is 34, now.

And, they replaced their one-time goalie of the future, Petr Mrazek, with a journeyman, Jonathan Bernier.

At an average of about 30.8 years, several years into a self-described rebuild-on-the-fly, and two years after Holland said he really began to emphasize the transition, the Red Wings will be one of the top two or three oldest teams among the 31 NHL franchises.

Add some pizzazz

And that is only one reason Filip Zadina intrigues.

Holland, Blashill and their assistants clearly know they could add some interest to an unpromising season by keeping the 18-year-old first-round draft choice in the lineup.

Unfortunately, the Wings might have made it too difficult.

Zadina is prospectively the 14th forward on the depth chart, behind Michael Rasmussen, whose matured body and more narrowly-defined skill set likely spell an earlier appearance on the roster.

The Wings last week signed Andreas Athanasiou, 23, through 2019-20, at $3 million for each season.

It leaves them with about $10 million to sign the restricted free agents Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, who currently are essential to the Red Wings’ plans.

Both, almost certainly, will be signed by training camp.

Holland said this week he believes he has the money.

Roster rundown

That gives the Red Wings 12 forwards, without Rasmussen and Zadina.

Keeping Green, they have seven defensemen: Kronwall, Trevor Daley, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Nick Jensen and Luke Witkowski.

With Bernier and Jimmy Howard, that is 21 of the 23 players.

Unless the Red Wings pass on the opportunity to add a young defenseman, or another roster move, Zadina would be out.

And the Wings certainly should add a young defenseman.

Holland knows it.

When he said, in April, he intended to add “two or three” players to the lineup next season, he also called his defense “old.”

And then, with a puck-moving defenseman the top personnel priority for several seasons, the Wings passed on several prospects in the draft, in favor of Zadina and the forwards Joe Veleno and Jonatan Berggren.

The arguments are strong, and old, for moving more than one young defenseman into the lineup.

But the Wings clearly do not trust theirs.

Instead, in consecutive offseasons, they acquired Daley and kept Green. 

Adding Filip Hronek, Libor Sulak, Joe Hicketts or another young defenseman seems the minimum they can do.

It could cost Zadina a spot on the roster.

And, it leaves Evgeny Svechnikov and Dominic Turgeon, two young forwards who arguably should have seen significantly more ice time in Detroit last season, as odd men out yet again.

Their week of backfilling the roster with veterans is perhaps both an admission of failing to draft and develop, and unnecessary timidity.

It would be useful and to a large extent only logical, while the Wings are mostly holding place for another season, to see what the 18-year-old Zadina can do in the NHL.

He does not strike one as a person who becomes bashful when things get difficult.