NOTE: The views expressed in this EDITORIAL do not necessarily reflect the views of Detroit Sports Nation or a majority of its writers and should not be misconstrued as such. The views contained within are the views of the author and the author alone.
The Detroit Red Wings are 31 games into the regular season. At this point, we have a pretty good idea of the identity of most teams across the league. The Wings stand at 16-9-6 (38 points) right now, currently good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. While it may seem that the ship is sailing straight at this point, the team’s numbers say otherwise.
Yes, the Wings did record their first regulation loss in 14 games on Monday. But, there are problems that are deeper than the team’s record or position in the standings.
For the season, goaltenders Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have combined to allow 79 goals, tied for 14th best in the league. Contrarily, they have scored only 79 goals, which is tied for 18th best. The Red Wings have the lowest goal differential of currently playoff-positioned teams in the Eastern Conference: zero. In fact, there are two non-playoff teams (Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers) who have a higher goal differential.
Howard (7-4-3, 2.29 GAA, 92.1% save percentage) and Mrazek (9-5-3, 2.37 GAA, 92.5% save percentage) have been lights-out. The real problem has laid in the offensive numbers. Tomas Tatar, Gustav Nyquist, and rookie Dylan Larkin are tied for the team lead in goals, with 11 apiece. Justin Abdelkader has 10 for the year. Following these four players is a substantial drop-off. Teemu Pulkkinen, who is currently out for 6-8 weeks with a dislocated shoulder, is next on the list with six goals on the year. Henrik Zetterberg has five. Pavel Datsyuk (who has only played in 16 games) has two.
We’ve seen first-year coach Jeff Blashill change his team’s line combinations a few times already this year, which has been sporadically effective at times, but not enough to make a big difference.
Enter Steven Stamkos. It’s no secret across the league that Stamkos has not seen eye to eye with upper management in Tampa Bay. It’s also no secret that his contract is up at the end of the year. For his career (524 NHL games), Stamkos has recorded 520 points. He has scored at least 43 goals in four of his eight NHL seasons. Would it take a king’s ransom (or close to it) to acquire him? Yes. But, would it be worth it? In my opinion, yes.
This year, the NHL’s league-wide salary cap stands at $71,400,000. The Wings, by the grace of long-term injured reserve relief from Johan Franzen and Kyle Quincey, are at $73,356,212. Their adjusted cap right now is $78,539,000. Franzen is unlikely to come back anytime soon, so as long as he is on LTIR, the adjusted cap will remain around $4 million above the league threshold.
Stamkos is making $7.5 million in the final year of his contract. Here is a breakdown of current Red Wing salaries:
|Long term injured reserve|
|Buyout history (dead money)|
Assuming Franzen stays on LTIR for the rest of the year, the Wings would not have to make any roster moves when Quincey returns from injury. In fact, they would still have approximately $4 million in space.
It is widely assumed that the cost for Stamkos will be at least one NHL player, one NHL-ready prospect, and a first-round draft pick. I propose that, if they were to offer a trade, the Red Wings offer Tatar, Kindl, Andreas Athanasiou, and a first-round draft pick for the services of Stamkos. Based on the current salaries of Tatar (2.75 million) and Kindl (2.4 million), trading those two would take $5.15 million off the books. Also factor in the approximately $4 million in cap space, and the Wings have $9.15 million in room. Adding Stamkos (7.5 million) would still leave them with $1.65 million in cap room.
After this season, it is also widely assumed that Stamkos’s new contract will come in somewhere in the vicinity of $10.5 million per season. With Joakim Andersson, Brad Richards, Drew Miller, and Quincey being free agents at year’s end, the space to give a big contract would be there. Considering the fact that there is also NHL talent in Grand Rapids (Anthony Mantha, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul, Tyler Bertuzzi, etc…), it is inevitable that some of them will all but have to make the jump to the show next season at entry level salaries.
Would this be a risky proposition? Yes, absolutely. But, considering the fact that the Wings haven’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs in the last six years, it’s time to do something to shake up the current culture in the locker room, We’re talking about the Detroit Red Wings here. The 11-time Stanley Cup champions. The team that has made it to the playoffs in each of the last 24 years. Where winning is a tradition. Simply making it to the playoffs isn’t good enough anymore, it’s time to make some noise in the post-season.