Detroit — Those fans who have been expecting the Red Wings to be aggressive sellers at the NHL trade deadline are in for a mild shock.
They’ll definitely see what is out there, and dangle some available players. But general manager Ken Holland is warming to the idea of re-signing some of those potential unrestricted free agents, with an eye toward making a playoff run next season.
Now, the NHL trade deadline is Feb. 25, and much can happen before then.
But it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Wings stand pat, or close to it, at the deadline.
“Much will depend on the market,” Holland told The Detroit News. “How many teams will be buying at that point? How many will be selling? I’ll make phone calls and see what other teams are thinking.
“But as we approach (20)19-20, and we have a summer before then, too (to potentially sign other free agents), and our young players progress and take another step forward, we’d like to be in position to make a run at the playoffs.”
Goaltender Jimmy Howard, defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen and Luke Witkowski, and forwards Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek are potential unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Of that group, Howard, Jensen and Nyquist would appear to be players the Wings are targeting to re-sign.
They would trade any of the three, but the asking price would be a first-round pick for Howard and Nyquist, with Jensen as close to that as possible.
“We have a lot of young forwards in that group of age 19-24, there are young defensemen in the system,” Holland said. “We have to decide whether we’re a better team if we re-sign some of our players, and can they help us compete for the playoffs.”
The development of young forwards Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha and Michael Rasmussen (plus Filip Zadina in the minor leagues), and defensemen Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek, give Holland optimism thinking about next season.
Another positive sign is the Red Wings’ performance this season with a full, healthy roster.
The Wings began this season 1-7-2, due largely to injuries to defensemen Trevor Daley, Mike Green, Jonathan Ericsson and Niklas Kronwall.
When the veteran defensemen returned, the Wings went on an 11-4-1 run, igniting discussion about a possible playoff push this season.
But, injuries to Green, Danny DeKeyser, and Daley in December, again struck the Wings and has dropped them deep down in the standings.
“If you take away four defensemen from any team, it’s going to hurt a team,” Holland said. “When we have our full lineup, we’ve shown we can play with many teams. I don’t know if there’s a team out there who’ve played as many one-goal games the last couple seasons as we have.”
The Wings have 10 picks in this year’s entry draft, giving them 30 over the last three years.
“We have a lot of young players on the way,” Holland said. “I’m hoping next year at this time, we’re in a position where we are in the hunt for the playoffs.”
Keeping some of the prospective unrestricted free agents will, theoretically, strengthen this roster.
Howard, who’ll be 35 in March, is putting together one of his best seasons (14-13-5, 2.76 GAA, .916 SVS) and has expressed his desire to stay with the Wings — the only organization with which he’s played.
With no ready prospect in Grand Rapids, the Wings are likely to re-sign Howard for a short-term deal close to the trade deadline.
But if a playoff-contending team sees its starting goaltender get injured in the next month, Howard’s name will be out there as an extremely intriguing rental.
Nyquist, 29, is angling toward a career-best season with 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists). His previous best is 54 points.
With the expectation of many big-name wingers available at the trade deadline, it’s likely the Wings aren’t going to get a good enough return for Nyquist to be willing to trade him.
Jensen, 28, has had one of his best seasons, and is viewed as a reliable, low-cost option at a position where the Wings are likely to get younger.
On the block?
These are the Red Wings’ prospective unrestricted free agents, and the likelihood of them being dealt before the February 25 trade deadline.
►Gustav Nyquist, forward: He’s putting together his best offensive season, and players like this are always desirable for contenders. The problem is, there are many players like him available. Chances of being dealt: Possible.
►Jimmy Howard, goaltender: The Wings don’t have any prospect ready, and Jonathan Bernier hasn’t inspired enough confidence to be a No. 1 starter. Keeping Howard is the best option. But if a contender suddenly loses its starting goalie, all bets are off. Chances of being dealt: Doubtful.
►Nick Jensen, defenseman: The Wings could get quite a few calls about this durable and versatile defenseman, who likely will be brought back. Chances of being dealt: Unlikely.
►Niklas Kronwall, defenseman: He won’t be traded. Kronwall will retire as a Red Wing, as he should, after a fine career. But, after having played well this season, does Kronwall come back for one more season? Chances of being dealt: None.
►Thomas Vanek, forward: Vanek has a no-trade clause, but would likely waive it to go a serious contender. But interest in Vanek has been tepid during the last two trade deadlines, and he hasn’t played as well this season as the last two. The market might not be there. Chances of being dealt: Unlikely.
►Luke Witkowski, forward: Teams, generally, aren’t looking for physical enforcers at the trade deadline. Chances of being dealt: Unlikely.