Detroit Red Wings Roster Decisions Imminent

jeff blashill
during the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 14, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.

The Detroit Red Wings roster will undergo a facelift when Thomas Vanek returns from his injury. Vanek, who’s already missed four games to injury, likely won’t be returning until the end of the month.

Detroit Red Wings Roster Decisions Imminent

Vanek Off To A Hot Start

When Vanek came to Detroit, he was under a microscope. There was a lot of buzz around whether or not he could still score in the NHL. The Red Wings were his last shot at resurrecting his career. His one-year, $2.6 million dollar contract was seen as a low-risk, high-reward bargain for the Red Wings. So far, it’s paid off.

Vanek provided a much needed scoring touch for the team in their slow start to the season. He scored two goals in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. From there, he had a three point night against the Ottawa Senators. When he went down to injury, Vanek had a team leading four goals and eight points.

He’s missed four games and still has not been surpassed in goals. Needless to say, Vanek’s scoring touch is sorely missed.

No Vanek, Lots of Problems

Simply put, since Vanek fell to injury, the Wings have suffered.

The powerplay has especially been hurting as Vanek still leads the team in powerplay points, despite missing four games.

The Lineup

So it’s clear that the Wings need Vanek back, but where will he fit in? Who has to sit to make room for him? What will the Red Wings roster look like?

Last night against the Winnipeg Jets, here’s what they iced:

Gustav NyquistFrans NielsenDylan Larkin

Tomas TatarHenrik ZetterbergJustin Abdelkader

Andreas AthanasiouDarren HelmRiley Sheahan

Drew MillerLuke GlendeningSteve Ott

The obvious decision here is that Ott sits, but Jeff Blashill has not always made the obvious decision. For the purpose of this exercise though, let’s assume that he does and look at a lineup where Ott is out and Vanek is in:

Nyquist – Nielsen – Larkin

Tatar – Zetterberg – Abdelkader

Athanasiou – Helm – Sheahan

Miller – Glendening – Vanek

Funny how much better the forward unit looks when one name is switched out. Still, these are not the best lines that this team can ice. In fact, based on performance, these are not the lines this team should ice. Consider this:

Nyquist – Zetterberg – Tatar

Athanasiou – Nielsen – Larkin

Vanek – Helm – Abdelkader

Miller – Glendening – Sheahan

Why Does This Work?

Nyquist is off to a great start this season with three goals and six assists. Zetterberg isn’t far behind him with two goals and five assists. Tatar is playing amazing, but is snake bitten. The goals just aren’t going in for him. Pairing him with Zetterberg, who sees the ice so well, and Nyquist, who is getting the good bounces, should be the spark Tatar needs to break this curse.

On the second line, you’re killing your opponents with speed. Pairing Larkin with Athanasiou gives one of them the freedom to carry the puck up the ice knowing another Red Wing is keeping up with him. Nielsen provides the defensive responsibility.

On the third line, Vanek and Helm have played well together so far this season. Helm has speed, but no hands. Vanek has hands, but no speed. Since the free agent signee went down, Helm has accrued one point in the past five games. Abdelkader can be that net front presence creating chaos in front of the goalie.

And, finally, on the fourth line, Sheahan brings size and speed that will allow them to break out of the zone much easier. He’s also got a wicked shot. So after grinding in the corner, Miller or Glendening can feed Sheahan the puck and he can wire it on net.

These lines are by no means perfect and nothing will play out the way it’s been laid out here. But they give the Wings their best shot at winning games. Abdelkader has not been playing well enough to deserve a spot in the top-6. He still deserves a spot on the powerplay as the net-front presence, as he’s one of the few Wings who can play that position exceptionally next to Vanek. The same can be said for Sheahan. He just does not deserve to be in the top-6 right now with zero goals and just three points despite being a solid presence along the boards.

Back to Reality

The reality of the situation is that the Red Wings roster is subject to many changes throughout the course of the season. Blashill will even shuffle the lines mid-game.

Even Ott as a healthy scratch is a stretch, as Blashill refuses to admit that Athanasiou can be a full-time NHL player.

“His first half was really good. I didn’t like the second part of the second period. He’s got to make sure he plays complete for the whole time. He’s got to make sure he’s on it. He wasn’t winning as many battles, he wasn’t as engaged, skatingwise, and he wasn’t on the puck.”

(The quote is from an article in the Detroit Free Press, which can be found here).

Anyone watching Athanasiou sees that he belongs in the NHL. Sure, he makes mistakes, but he’s a rookie and is learning from them. Not to mention he is one behind the team lead for goals. Larkin is also still making mistakes. He’s spent thirteen more minutes than Athanasiou has in the penalty box this season and he’s not getting this feedback from the coach.

What About Tomas Jurco?

You forgot about him, didn’t you? Well, this is something that Red Wings management should already be thinking hard about. After off-season back surgery, Jurco has started to skate and will be integrated into full team practices next week.

Blashill and Ken Holland have a few options here:

  1. Waive Jurco. If they do this, he will be picked up. There’s no question about it.
  2. Waive either Ryan Sproul or Xavier Ouellet. One them will also be picked up and gone forever.
  3. Send Athanasiou to Grand Rapids. On the surface, this seems like a bad idea, but it might not be. Athanasiou is the only player on the roster who is waiver-exempt. If Jurco can get a couple of good games in and drum up some attention around the league, maybe Holland can unload him in a trade.
  4. Waive Steve Ott. Seriously, nobody will take him and less than a million dollars of cap would be buried in the AHL. Just do it.
  5. Make a trade. With Vanek and Jurco back, the Red Wings will be two players over the legal roster size. Packaging Jurco with Sproul or Ouellet in a deal at least ensures you get something instead of losing anyone for nothing to the waiver wire.

Red Wings Roster Decisions Imminent

As great of a general manager as Ken Holland is, he can’t slow down time. The clock continues to tick and as these players return from injury, these very hard lineup decisions have to be made. Will they make the right ones?

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Nice write up.

    I think Blash needs to relax on AA a bit here. It’s seems like every other day I hear how he could be better and he doesn’t do this or that. I mean yeah, I agree with ya Blash but he’s also out there scoring goals and works hard when he gets out of position to get back in play. And there’s a few vets on our team that make similar and worse mistakes, yet here they are in the top 6. He’s arguably one of our best forwards right now.

    Keep the kid on the team, Jeff.

  2. Nicolas, as a native winsorite (like Ott) I thought you might want to keep him in the lineup just to enjoy watching him play. But I can see that you do your analysis with your head and not your heart. Well done. Remember forever “The Joe” and the memories you have of it. Keep writing.

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