If we’re being honest with ourselves, nobody is truly safe for a rebuilding team under Steve Yzerman. Anthony Mantha seemed to be as safe as you could imagine when he signed a four-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings last Fall, and yet not even a year later, he’s getting ready for his first training camp as a member of the Washington Capitals. Professional hockey is a business, and rebuilding teams are almost always open for it.
Entering the 2021-22 season, the Red Wings are riding high after an offseason that saw them bring in help at all three major positions. They’ve got a new goaltender, a couple new defensemen, and a few new forwards that should help propel this team to a better win-loss ratio than last season. That being said, unless expectations are defied throughout the lineup, Detroit looks to be on the outside looking in once again, with a bottom-10 finish the most likely outcome. This means the Red Wings should be among the league’s sellers in the trade market, and boy do they have some interesting pieces to dangle.
While Yzerman is certainly not beholden to this list, it should not surprise anybody if the names on this list appear in trade rumors as we make our way through this coming season. Whether they actually get dealt or not is another story, but these are the players you can expect the Red Wings’ general manager to receive some call about throughout this season.
One of those new defensemen the Red Wings added is Nick Leddy. Yzerman acquired him from the New York Islanders on July 18 for Richard Panik and the 52nd pick in the 2021 draft. The move was hit with a lukewarm response from fans as many thought that Detroit paid too high of a price for a player that the Islanders were in a position to lose for nothing in the Seattle Expansion Draft. Regardless of how you feel about the deal that brought him to Hockeytown, Leddy is a Red Wing now, and he should provide a number of things to the mix.
Leddy averaged .47 points per-game (P/G) over the last seven seasons with the Islanders, a stretch of 518 regular season games. Assuming he can maintain roughly the same scoring pace with the Red Wings, you should be able to pencil him in for anywhere from 30 to 40 points over 82 games this season. He should be able to play well over 20 minutes a night, and he’ll bring a Cup ring from his time with the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks. At 30 years old, he’s not going to transform the Red Wings’ defense, but he should be able to add a few elements that Detroit’s blue line has been lacking.
Of course, all of this is why he could make for an attractive asset on the trade market as the calendar flips to 2022. Assuming good health, Leddy is the kind of defenseman that a contender might view as the “missing piece” on their blue line. While his $5.5 million salary is a bit pricey, especially for teams up against the salary cap, the Red Wings could retain half of the hit – how attractive is Leddy at $2.75 million to a team that wants to add a quality veteran blue liner to their group? It is also important to note that this is the final year of Leddy’s deal, so he fits the description of a “deadline rental” that a lot of contenders seek out in the days leading up to the trade deadline.
This one might be the only one that has some traction behind it already. Early in the offseason, Tyler Bertuzzi’s name was thrown out in the rumor mill, with the Toronto Maple Leafs being the team primarily linked to the snarly forward. While the Red Wings eventually re-signed the 26-year-old forward to a two-year deal with a cap hit of $4.75 million, it’s fair to wonder whether those trade talks will pick up again once we’ve made some progress into the season.
First and foremost, Bertuzzi needs to reestablish himself in Detroit’s lineup after playing in just nine games last season. Back injuries can be tough to come back from, and while “Bert” is still firmly in his 20’s, you have to wonder if the injury mixed with his full-throttle style of play has already left a mark on his body. It is in the team and the player’s best interest to make sure that he gets back up to speed and returns to form sooner rather than later.
If he does return to form (through 208 games, he has a P/G of .61, so around a 50-point pace) you can bet that those same teams that were asking about Bertuzzi before will be knocking on Yzerman’s door again. If Detroit is going to move him, this may be the best year to do it; with another year left on his deal, he’ll fetch more of a return than he would if his deal were set to expire. Of course, this could all be moot if Yzerman decides that what Bertuzzi provides to the Red Wings’ lineup is too important to part with.
If the Red Wings’ top forward prospects, such as Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren and Lucas Raymond, prove that they are ready for the NHL, Yzerman will have to make room for them somehow. One player that stands out in this regard is Vladislav Namestnikov, who joined the Red Wings prior to last season on a two-year deal that costs the team just $2 million towards the salary cap. The 28-year-old Russian forward has already been dealt three times in his career, and he may be just days, weeks or months away from the fourth time.
With just 17 points in 53 games last season, Namestnikov failed to really move the needle for Detroit, though it’s debatable whether that was ever the objective of bringing him in. He did bring surprisingly strong defensive play, seeing some time on the team’s penalty kill last season, and his ability to play any of the three forward positions gave the coaching staff options as they filled out the lineup. The versatile forward projects to start this season on the Red Wings’ third line, probably alongside Michael Rasmussen and one other player.
When the Ottawa Senators traded Namestnikov to the Colorado Avalanche ahead of the 2020 trade deadline, they acquired a fourth round pick in the 2021 draft. A similar return likely awaits the Red Wings if they opt to move out Slava Kozlov’s nephew, but the real upside of moving a player like him out is the prospect of who would move in to his spot on the roster. Detroit may have to make a couple moves like this depending on how their prospects perform during preseason, as well as the opening months of the NHL and American Hockey League seasons.
When you want to know how a team feels about a specific player, pay attention to how they handle that player. In the case of defenseman Troy Stecher, the 27-year-old was a healthy scratch on a couple different occasions this past season despite his analytics (and my own player evaluations) suggesting that he was one of, if not THE best defenseman on this team last season. To top it off, the native of British Columbia was left unprotected ahead of the Seattle Expansion Draft, with the Red Wings opting instead to protect 22-year-old Gustav Lindstrom, who has just 29 games of NHL experience to his name.
As great of an addition as Stecher was to a barebones defensive group, it seems clear that he is not a part of the Red Wings’ long term plans. Much like Namestnikov, this is a player that could be moved out to make way for a younger player. In fact, if Lindstrom has a strong training camp, Stecher could become the odd man out, and Yzerman could send him out in exchange for a third or fourth round pick (possibly even less).
With one season at $1.7 million left on his deal, the Red Wings could do a lot worse than let Stecher play out the season in Hockeytown. That being said, he can be a good rental target for a contending team that is up against the salary cap – bonus points if that team also embraces analytics when building their team. Of course, a lot can change in a short amount of time, and a good showing early on in the season could change things from the Red Wings’ perspective. This player is young enough that he could still play a role for Detroit in the coming years.
The easiest way to get a grip on which players may or may not be available this season is to look at the Red Wings’ salary page and identify each player that is entering the final year of their deal. While there are some potential surprises lumped in (namely Bertuzzi), the players on expiring deals should be the main targets of teams looking to do business with Yzerman and the Red Wings. There’s a real chance that the player that will garner the most attention ahead of the trade deadline is one of Yzerman’s best additions since joining Detroit: Robby Fabbri.
Through 82 games with the Red Wings, Fabbri has produced steady offense. With 24 goals and 49 points, he has a P/G rate of .60 while playing primarily in the team’s top six. He has averaged 17:16 in ice-time since joining the Red Wings, and that playing time shouldn’t deviate too much as he looks to once again be a key piece of Detroit’s top six. After playing just 30 games last season, it will be very important for him to maintain a clean bill of health, especially considering the team has been starved for goals over the last couple of seasons.
If he can stay healthy and remain productive, Fabbri could present the Red Wings with an interesting choice to make. At 25 years old, he still fits the age profile for this team moving forward. There’s also the fact that when Pius Suter was brought in this offseason, everybody immediately pointed to his connection with Fabbri and Bertuzzi from their time with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. If that trio displays some chemistry together, does it make sense to break it up? The realistic answer is that it depends entirely on what offers are out there.
…And Many More!
Realistically, Yzerman likely has a very small “untouchables” list when it comes to this roster. If the Mantha saga taught us anything, it’s that all it takes is the right offer coming across Yzerman’s desk for the GM to take action. If players like Suter and Jakub Vrana don’t seem to be fitting in over the course of the season, would it be that much of a surprise if a change were made?
With that in mind, other players to keep an eye on include Marc Staal, Sam Gagner, Thomas Greiss and Adam Erne. As is the case with Namestnikov and Stecher, the play of the team’s prospects below on the depth chart could force the issue (and that is ultimately what the organization and their fans are hoping for, right?) There is a lot of hockey to play between now and the 2022 trade deadline, but make no mistake: big moves could be coming soon for the Red Wings.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.