June 21, 2016

2016 Off-Season Game Plan

This week is going to be very busy for general managers across the National Hockey League. A flat cap and upcoming expansion draft have created problems for a number of teams. With only a few days remaining before the NHL Draft a.k.a the second trade deadline, what should Ken Holland be thinking about this summer?

Depending on where the cap ends up, the Red Wings have about 17.7 million dollars in salary cap space after putting Franzen on LTIR. With that cap space the Wings will almost definitely make these five moves, although some may not occur until later in the summer.
  1. Sign DeKeyser (4-5 years @ 4.5 AAV)- He’s the future of the team’s defense and Sami Vatanen set the market last week.
  2. Sign Mrazek (2-3 years @ 3.75 AAV)- Both sides have good arguments so I assume they go with a bridge deal. Talbot (UFA), Allen, Bernier and Jones are all comparable so I would guess a 2 or 3 year deal at over 3.5 million.
  3. Sign Marchenko (2 years @ 1.2 AAV)- Brendan Smith got a 2 year deal at 1.26 million per year and although he had less NHL experience at the time he had more upside than Marchenko so I would expect Alexi gets slightly below that.
  4. Sign Pulkkinen (2 years @ 900k)- He has almost no NHL experience so it’s probably generous to give him the same thing Jurco got last year.
  5. Call up Xavier Ouellet- He’s past waiver eligibility so unless the team makes a move to get another defender he will be the team’s seventh D for next season. 

All of those moves need to be done at some point, so although very few will be finished before the draft and free agency Ken Holland will need to keep them in mind. Assuming the values I have estimated, the team will have with 6.6 million dollars in cap space with three available forward spots.

At this point I haven’t mentioned Jimmy Howard. Despite the team’s desire to move him, there are a lot of good goaltenders available, meaning that even if other team's want Howard the Wings will not get a significant return. I doubt Holland deals him for pennies on the dollar so expect Howard stays in Detroit next year.

At this point Holland has three courses of actions.
  1. Trade Pavel’s contract (with Pulkkinen or Jurco and a 2nd round pick) for cap space and make a run at Stamkos.
  2. Keep Pavel and use the 6.6 million to fill out the roster with depth forwards.
  3. Keep Pavel and call up kids from Grand Rapids.

Of the three options, I believe the best-case scenario is going through a true reload with option three. Nosek and Bertuzzi could play on the 4th line with Glendenning while Jurco and Pulkkinen can alternate in the top 9 with more skilled players. However considering Holland’s recent moves a significant commitment to the future seems unlikely.

Option one is, in Holland’s mind, the only way for the Red Wings to compete right now. By trading Pavel’s contract the team would have 14 million dollars to attract Stamkos. Holland could spend the money elsewhere but teams will match any offer for their young RFAs and a trade would require giving up more assets after already moving assets to get rid of Pavel’s cap hit.

This leads me to the worst case scenario, that Holland makes a deal to get rid of Pavel but misses out on Stamkos. Unfortunately I think it is very likely that Holland moves Pavel and feels responsible to use the cap space to improve the club. As a result he would sign some overrated and aging players like David Backes, Loui Eriksson or Milan Lucic, which would be a disaster.

Despite that nightmare scenario, I think option two is the most likely outcome. Kenny seems reluctant to give up future assets to move Pavel’s contract, and he has already talked about contracts with Miller and Helm. Signing those two will cost the team the rest of the remaining cap space so don't be surprised if we start next year with the only changes being Ouellet for Quincey, Mantha for Pavel, AA for Richards and some other rookie or depth forward for Andersson.

Ladies and Gentleman... your 2016-2017 Detroit Red Wings

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