Because it’s the Cap: Detroit Red Wings

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:27 am by Adam Laskaris

Pavel Datsyuk really messes this whole salary cap thing up, eh? It’s really hard to say what the Wings future holds, especially when they might be saddled with the cap hit of Datsyuk without actually having him on their roster.

While they did extend a 25-year playoff streak this season, honestly, just making the playoffs was a near-miracle in itself. And in an improving Atlantic Division, it might be another year of just making it… or 2016-17 could be *GASP* the year the Wings finally miss the playoffs. 

Last Season

The Wings lost to the Lightning in five games in the first round. When a team exits in the first round, it’s not always, but usually, the sign of being a little… under-prepared for the playoffs. Which usually means you’re not very good. In their four losses, they were outscored 12-6. They didn’t really stand a chance.

If the four losses in five games in the playoffs didn’t sell you the Wings weren’t ready for the playoffs… maybe the regular season did.

They made the playoffs because of a tiebreaker with the Bruins and lost their last two games of the season. If the results of the regular season didn’t tell you that the Wings weren’t really ready or good enough to go far in the playoffs … maybe this chart will.

Goals For Goals Against Even Strength Goals For % 5v5 Corsi For % 5v5 save percentage 5v5 shooting percentage 5v5 PDO
209   219 48.3 51.7 92.63% 6.83% 99.6
23rd 17th 21st 8th 14th 23rd 22nd

If none of the above did, you might be overly optimistic.

Sure, the Wings had the 8th best possession team. But if Helm, Richards, and Datsyuk all leave, they’ll lose three of their top ten possession players (one of which is arguably the best two way forward of his generation.) Hrmm… 

Roster Analysis

This pair of charts from Carolyn Wilke, and one from Sean Tierney (both of Today’s Slapshot) have some very telling stats about Detroit.

Detroit didn’t, or more accurately doesn’t, have an awful team. But they don’t really have a great one either.

I don’t get the fascination with Justin Abdelkader, really. To be fair, I don’t think anyone really gets it either. 

Dylan Larkin is great. Just an incredibly fun player to watch. But he’s probably not going to be a franchise guy. Which is fine, you can’t force him into something he’s not… as long as Detroit finds someone else to fill that void. Currently, Larkin’s the best they organization has for the future, with Zetterberg heading into his twilight years and Datsyuk running around confusing everyone as to where he’ll be..

Andreas Athanasiou is pretty good. Among the best in the league in points/60, even. His stats tend to point to him being a very good NHLer. But he might be the only really solid forward 

Gustav Nyquist is a lock for about 50 points a year. So is Tomas Tatar. But can they reach above that level? It hasn’t really happened yet.

Cap Situation

The Wings come into the 2016-17 offseason with a lot of cap space. $17.6 million, in fact. But they come without Petr Mrazek under contract, who will want starter quality money if he’s being played like one… and seven other free agents, excluding . Even if he takes a team-friendly contract to a degree, he’ll still be coming into the offseason wanting to get paid as he deserves.

And I hate do beat a dead horse, but Pavel Datsyuk, man. If he really does return to Russia, and go to the KHL, he enters “worst contract in the NHL” territory, at least for one year.  

Screenshot 2016-06-11 at 6.40.49 PM - Edited

Offseason plan

The offseason plan for the Wings is one they’ve forced themselves into. 

$17.6 is decent cap space to head into an offseason in, but without a #1 goalie signed that knocks off a bit of your flexibility. 

They have to re-sign Petr Mrazek. I’d assume that’s the top offseason priority. RFA contract negotations are long and tedious. They probably won’t get the deal done for a while. There’s probably an offer sheet coming in from another organization… maybe Calgary?

Then they have to try to move Jimmy Howard, because they can’t pay two number ones and play one. Then they’ll fail to move Jimmy Howard.

Then they’ll try to sign their four other RFAs, all of who will probably be looking for a raise. 

Even if they get those four signed for… say, a combined $10 million cap hit, that leaves them just $7.6 million left to sign Mrazek, and three more players. In all likelihood, they’ll probably retain all four RFAs, but it won’t be as cheap as they’d like. If they sign those players for an average of $2 million each, they’re still looking at $9.6 million, and still no Mrazek. Unless GM Ken Holland pulls some voodoo out and grabs some short-term, $1-1.5 million deals out, it certainly won’t be easy for the Wings this offseason.

After doing the math, can the Wings realistically sign Stamkos for his projected $10-11 million cap hit and have any other players on the roster? No way, dude.

If the Wings want to clear up space, they need to trade a larger contract away for picks or assets(Zetterberg? Abdelkader?), but it’s unlikely considering Ken Holland’s transaction history and general conservatism towards team building.

If they don’t make some splashes, they’ll really be setting them up for a difficult offseason.

In short, the Wings need to sign eight players: three defencemen, five forwards, and a goalie. Likely five RFAs, and three UFAs. Can they do it with $17.6 million, assuming they don’t make any trades right now? That’s just an average of 2.2 million per player. For a team that barely made the playoffs… they’re going to have to find some great deals to make this thing work if they want to continue the streak.

Next season

I don’t really know, man. 

Jeff Blashill barely pulled this team into the playoffs. It’s one thing to be optimistic, but… it’s another thing to ignore some major issues that will happen in the future without massive overhaul happening.

Andreas Athanasiou should fit into a top-six role comfortably. Maybe a draft pick or two might make the roster, maybe an Anthony Mantha or a Evgeny Svechnikov will fit into the team full time.

But other than that, what’s there to be overly optimistic over? A few more goals from Dylan Larkin won’t cover up the issues this team faces with depth scoring.

A few Petr Mrazek shutouts won’t hide the fact Jimmy Howard’s been below average each of the past three seasons while still taking in top-tier goalie money.

A good game from Zetterberg won’t hide the fact he’s getting older and has a cap hit of just under $6.1 million until 2021.

A few good wins won’t hide the fact this team carried a -10 goal difference over the course of 82 games this year.

And if he really is gone, no two-way player this team holds will ever have the same impact as Datsyuk. They’re really looking at some trouble if things stay the way they are.

Just some quick thoughts on the Atlantic Division moving forward:

  • Buffalo might make the playoffs, with a strong year and a bit of luck. 
  • Toronto’s bringing in three stud prospects (Marner, Nylander, and in all likelihood Auston Matthews) onto their team next season and has the most creative and active front office in hockey. Not to mention Mike Babcock- a damn good hockey coach as Detroit knows.
  • Florida keeps making smart management decisions and quielty won the division. (I see you, Canucks Army)
  • A healthy Carey Price can really be quite the difference in Montreal, even if that difference is a first-round exit.
  • Tampa has no real reason to miss the playoffs, even if Stamkos does in fact find a new team to play for.
  •  The Bruins may be on the decline and have a dumb front office… but they’ve still got talent, and lots of it. The standings may have put the Red Wings in front of the Bruins due to regulation/overtime wins… but few stats otherwise did. They should make a playoff push next year
  • Ottawa is pretty mediocre and will probably miss the playoffs, because they have an internal cap and few good players. Maybe Detroit can finish above them next year.
Where do the Wings fit in there? It’s easy to say they’ll be okay because they’re Detroit and they’ll always make the playoffs. It’s much harder to rationalize that actually happening when you look closely at the problems this team has. In 2015-16, they barely made the playoffs. In 2016-17? For once, they just might not be the “same old Detroit Red Wings”.