Under usual circumstances, this is one of Ryan Martin’s favorite times of the year.
He and his colleagues in the Detroit Red Wings’ hockey operations department — including general manager Steve Yzerman, fellow assistant GM Pat Verbeek and a slew of scouting and development staff — would be in Traverse City, ready for the annual prospects tournament that precedes the start of Wings training camp.
“I’m going to miss that,” Martin, a Red Wings assistant GM, told the Free Press. “To me, it’s the best hockey that I see all year, other than the American league, that’s not the NHL. People describe it as better than the World Juniors.
“I think it’s an incredible tournament.”
The Wings and seven other NHL teams field their best young players (the age limit will be raised from 23 to 24) in a round-robin tournament. Squads normally include teams’ most recent picks.
“It’s a huge lost opportunity, but it’s the world we’re living in,” Ryan said.
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This year’s event has been scrubbed because of COVID-19, as has training camp in Traverse City. The NHL is eyeing a December start to the 2020-21 season, and the Wings plan to hold camp at Little Caesars Arena.
The arena remains closed since the NHL paused the season March 12 but players have been working out and skating where possible. Teams are subject to offseason rules and can’t monitor players, but some staff can have contact with them.
“You can’t tell them what to do, but our development people have been in touch with our players and they’re in good spots training,” Martin said. “If they don’t have access to something they need, we help them, at their expense.”
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The Wings have loaned six players to teams in Europe: Defenseman Moritz Seider, Mannheim (DEL); defenseman Filip Hronek, Mountfield HK (Czech); forward Filip Zadina, HC Ocelari Trinec (Czech); defenseman Gustav Lindstrom and goaltender Filip Larsson, both Almtuna (Swe-2) and forward Mathias Brome, Orebro (SHL).
They will be recalled when Wings get the go-ahead to start training camp. There has been talk that perhaps the seven teams that were not part of the “return to play” bubble (the Wings, Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils) might be allowed to convene a week or so early to counteract not having played hockey for more than half a year, but a decision has not been announced.
Martin did not anticipate any more Wings players being loaned overseas. There had been talk of Joe Veleno joining fellow 2018 first-round pick Zadina in the Czech Republic, but Veleno is enjoying his training in the Montreal area.
“I think Joe is having a phenomenal offseason,” Martin said. “He likes where he is and he sees the advances he is making, so I don’t think he wants to go anywhere else.”
The NHL returned to play in early August in a 24-team playoff format, without fans in the stands. While that is feasible for the NHL, the AHL is a different story — the lower league relies on ticket sales for revenue and is unlikely to function without fan attendance.
“For that reason alone, I’m concerned,” Martin said. “Certainly the NHL has the financial means to sustain itself on less of a fan base. Minor leagues do not. That’s another piece of the puzzle. We’re going to have to work through that.”
At the moment, the Wings are focused on preparing for the draft, which is scheduled for Oct. 6-7. Free agency is pegged to start at noon Oct. 9.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Detroit Red Wings will be published in October by Triumph Books. To preorder, go to Amazon.