Red Wings' defense will take different shape as season progresses

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser dealt with injuries last season, but when healthy played some of the best hockey of his career.

This is the second of a three-part series examining the state of the Red Wings' organization at every position. Monday: Goaltenders. Today: defensemen.

Detroit — Get ready for some change on the Red Wings’ roster.

Specifically on defense, where the opening night lineup isn’t likely to look the same at the trade deadline.

And, then, even slightly more different to begin the 2020-21 season.

No position group on the Wings is likely to undergo as much change as the defense, where contracts, age and maturation of some recent draft picks all will conspire to force a new look.

The Wings are waiting to see what veteran Niklas Kronwall will do.

Kronwall, 38, hasn’t yet told the Wings  whether he will retire or play one more season.

Kronwall played 79 games last season despite chronic pain in his left knee, and performed well enough where returning for another season became a viable consideration.

Both the front office and coaching staff have said they’d welcome Kronwall back. On this particular roster, Kronwall’s leadership and status carry influence on an evolving roster.

Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green are all in the final year of their contracts.

None of the three veterans appear to have a future with the organization, and all three — after dealing with injuries last season — are likely to be moved at the trade deadline if the Wings are out of playoff contention.

For the Wings to trade them, they'll have to remain healthy.

Danny DeKeyser and Patrik Nemeth are two veterans whose futures are expected to extend beyond this season.

Niklas Kronwall

DeKeyser, 29, has three years left on his contract at a $5 million salary cap hit. DeKeyser dealt with injuries last season, but when healthy also played some of his best hockey.

Nemeth, 27, signed a two-year contract worth $6 million the first day of free agency, providing a buffer in case Kronwall retires.

Both are stable, defensive defensemen who should get a lot of minutes this season.

Then, there’s youngsters such as Filip Hronek — expected to have a significant role this season — Madison Bowey, Dennis Cholowski and Oliwer Kaski, who’ll compete for NHL jobs.

Hronek, 21, is likely to be a huge factor this campaign after an impressive second half of last season. Hronek followed that up with even a better performance for the Czech Republic at the world championship tournament.

Cholowski, 21, and Kaski, 24 (on Sept. 4), are wild cards. Cholowski began last season with the Wings, but was sent to Grand Rapids near mid-season as his confidence and defensive play slipped.

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Kaski is an undrafted Finnish free agent signed after the world championships. An offensive defenseman, Kaski will likely need work in Grand Rapids adjusting to the North American game.

Bowey was acquired at the trade deadline for defenseman Nick Jensen in February.

Bowey, 23, is waiver-exempt, meaning he can’t be sent down to Grand Rapids without being exposed to other teams. It’s difficult to imagine the Wings taking the risk of losing Bowey for nothing.

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Then, there’s this summer’s first-round draft pick, Moritz Seider, whom the Wings surprised the NHL by selecting sixth overall. The 6-foot-4 defenseman played in Germany last season but where Seider lands this term is unclear.

Starting the season in the NHL is a long shot, but the Wings could choose to put Seider in Grand Rapids or junior hockey (Owen Sound has Seider’s rights)

Joe Hicketts, Albert Johansson, Gustav Lindstrom, Jared McIssac, Alec Regula, Vili Saarijarvi, Antti Tuomisto are just some of the Wings’ draft picks and undrafted free agents from recent seasons who are definitely on the team's radar.

Red Wings defensive depth

Madison Bowey: Showed potential after arriving at trade deadline.

Dennis Cholowski: Regressed as season went on, likely needs more seasoning in Grand Rapids.

Trevor Daley: In final year of contract, Daley future with Wings looks hazy.

Danny DeKeyser: Top-pairing defensemen in this lineup.

Jonathan Ericsson: Longtime Red Wing in final year of contract; likely trade bait at deadline.

Mike Green: Would be an intriguing piece for contender at trade deadline.

Filip Hronek: Progressed rapidly over course of last season.

Oliwer Kaski: Undrafted European free agent was impressive in Finland.

Niklas Kronwall: Long time warrior debating whether to retire, play another year.

Patrik Nemeth: Free agent from Colorado a dependable defensive defenseman.

Moritz Seider: June’s first-round pick has loads of potential, skill; where will he play this season?

Twitter: @tkulfan