Red Wings stung by Nyquist trade; Athanasiou moves to center

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Andreas Athanasiou

Detroit — They all knew it was likely to happen, but when the Detroit Red Wings players heard Gustav Nyquist had been traded, it still stung.

Nyquist had been with the Wings for eight seasons, was a respected veteran, and was enjoying one of this best offensive seasons.

But with no contract for next season, and the Wings in rebuilding mode, Nyquist was shipped to the San Jose Sharks late Sunday night for a pair of draft picks.

“It’s tough,” said goaltender Jimmy Howard of the Nyquist’s trade. “I definitely call him a friend. In one point you’re sad to see him go, but definitely you’re happy for him because he has a chance to make a playoff push here, and hopefully win it for him.

“Seeing it as a friend, it was tough. But you wish him luck.”

Nyquist is having an outstanding season, with 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 62 games.

Nyquist and Dylan Larkin had formed a prolific chemistry playing on the Wings’ top forward line.

“It’s part of where we are right now, part of the business side of hockey,” Larkin said. “I’m going to miss him a lot. He’s a great teammate, great worker, and I had great chemistry with him. He’s going to help that team a lot.”

There had been speculation Nyquist would be interested to returning to the Wings in the summer, if he enters unrestricted free agency.

Larkin is hopeful that’s the case.

“I hope he would explore that; it would be great to have him back,” Larkin said. “But we’re going to miss him.”

Coach Jeff Blashill spoke with Nyquist late Sunday night, and talked with Sharks coach Pete DeBoer Monday morning.

Blashill believes the Sharks are an outstanding fit for Nyquist.

“Gus has given me everything on a consistent basis,” Blashill said. “He’s a winner of a person and player and somebody you want on your hockey team, and someone who has done tons for the teams I’ve coached, and I told him that.

“He’s going to a situation in San Jose where they have a legitimate chance to win the Stanley Cup. In style of play, where he fits in, he can really help them.”

Athanasiou to center

Blashill is making one lineup change among the forwards for the remainder of the season: Andreas Athanasiou will move to center.

Athanasiou will be between Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Zadina for Tuesday’s game against Montreal, while Larkin will center Anthony Mantha and Darren Helm.

“We need to get some depth of scoring in our lineup – depth of chances I should say,” Blashill said. “If Double-A can be an elite-level center, that will help us in our organization, so we’ll see if that’s the case. He’ll go out and play against hard matchups and play good minutes, and ultimately we’ll see if we’re a better team with him at that position.”

Blashill made a similar move with Larkin two years ago, and it helped Larkin at that point in his career.

“A lot of people didn’t think Larkin was quite ready for the defensive responsibilities of it, and in the end, because of Larkin’s approach and drive, and his ability to continue to improve, he’s become a top-line center,” Blashill said. “I’m hoping putting Double-A in that spot can ultimately produce for us a top-two line center, and if it does, we’re a better hockey team.”

Filip Zadina

Long memories

Zadina, as Montreal and Ottawa fans so deliciously remember, was quick to say at the NHL Draft in June that those two teams would regret passing on him, and he’d fill the net with goals against them.

The Wings host Montreal Tuesday, so it’s not like he’ll be playing at Bell Centre, but the Canadiens’ players are likely to be reminded of the quote.

Zadina said fans from those cities have long memories.

“I mean, 100 percent,” Zadina said. “They are fans, but every single day on the internet. But it’s fun to watch.

“I’ll try my best and see what is going to happen. It’s a huge game. Obviously we want to win.”

Would it more special for Zadina to score his first NHL goal against Montreal than another team?

“It would be a special night, but it would be my first NHL goal, so it wouldn’t matter what team you score against,” Zadina said. “But it would be perfect.”

Ice chips

Blashill said forward Thomas Vanek (hip flexor) wouldn’t play Tuesday and may not be ready for the two-game trip to Arizona and Colorado.

… Blashill said defenseman Madison Bowey, acquired in the Nick Jensen trade Friday, would likely play against the Canadiens.

… Howard (flu) is likely to be available, though Blashill wasn’t sure who would start in net.

Canadiens at Red Wings

Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Little Caesars Arena

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: Montreal is in a spirited battle for one of the wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference. … Former Red Wing LW Tomas Tatar (21 goals, 46 points) is having a fine season, along with C Max Domi (34 assists).

Twitter: @tkulfan