Over the past three seasons, the Detroit Red Wings have been rebuilding their roster. During that period, they’ve placed emphasis on restocking with promising young talent.
Questions abound regarding the future of general manager Ken Holland. Currently under contract through 2019-20, there’s speculation he could be replaced, perhaps as early as this summer, by former Red Wings Hall-of-Famer Steve Yzerman, who built the Tampa Bay Lightning into a league powerhouse. Holland’s also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the GM job with the Edmonton Oilers.
Holland, however, doesn’t appear concerned about his future with the Wings. Following the trade deadline, he said he was in a good place in his life and remained focused on returning the club to its former glory.
Head coach Jeff Blashill’s ongoing tenure behind the bench has also become a frequent topic of conjecture. Holland recently sang Blashill praises, adding he’ll meet with this coach at season’s end to discuss his future. There’s an expectation Blashill will receive a contract extension, which could also bring an end to the rumors over Holland’s future.
At the very least, it appears Holland will be completing the full term of his contract. That’ll leave him in charge of what could be a pivotal point in the Red Wings’ rebuild.
For starters, the Wings are in a good position to win the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery on April 9. If the standings remain as they currently are, the Wings would have an 11.5 percent chance of winning the first-overall pick. Failing that, they should be in a position to pick up a potential impact player in the top-five.
Big-bodied winger Anthony Mantha (20th overall, 2013) has struggled with injury and consistency. Still, he possesses the ability to become a 30-goal scorer.
Dennis Cholowski (20th overall, 2016) showed promise this season as a future top-pairing defenseman. Right wing Filip Zadina (sixth overall, 2018) showed flashes of offensive brilliance during his brief recent call-up.
Potential power forward Michael Rasmussen (ninth overall, 2017) made his NHL debut this season with 17 points in 60 games as of March 17.
A couple of later-round selections also made notable strides this season. Speedy Andreas Athanasiou (110th overall, 2012) is enjoying a career-best 26-goal, 44-point campaign and seems to be settling in as their second-line center. Agitating winger Tyler Bertuzzi (58th overall, 2013) could reach 20 goals and/or 40 points for the first time.
In recent years, Holland’s been a seller in the trade market, shedding older players or those that didn’t fit into his rebuilding plans. While he’ll likely stick with most of his promising youngsters next season, perhaps he’ll be tempted to peddle one or two this summer for immediate help to accelerate the rebuild.
The Wings currently have over $69.3 million invested in 21 players for 2019-20. That gives Holland some salary-cap space to work with this summer.
Nearly $10 million is tied up on all-but-retired forwards Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, Both will be on long-term injured reserve next season, providing Holland with some extra wiggle room. He could also bundle the rights of either guy with a draft pick, a young player, or a prospect and send them to a budget club in need of reaching the salary-cap floor (hello there, Ottawa Senators) next season.
Holland could set his sights on a club with limited salary-cap space. Last week, TSN’s Darren Dreger suggested the Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers could dangle offer sheets to young restricted free agents on cap-strapped clubs like Tampa Bay or Toronto.
The Wings GM could be reluctant to go the offer-sheet route. However, he could attempt to use his depth in prospects and young talent as trade bait to pry away a budding star like Brayden Point from the Lightning or a second-tier talent like Kaspari Kapanen from the Maple Leafs.
Holland also has a long history of making significant unrestricted free agent signings. While he’ll likely use some of his cap space to re-sign goaltender Jimmy Howard and perhaps defenseman Niklas Kronwall, he could explore his options in this summer’s UFA market.
It’s unlikely the Wings will be among the preferred destinations of big-name talent like Columbus’ Artemi Panarin or San Jose’s Erik Karlsson. Nevertheless, Holland could take a dip into the market for an affordable veteran defenseman or forward.
Time will tell what moves Holland makes this summer. Those decisions could prove the most consequential in determining the outcome of the Red Wings’ rebuild.