Let’s be honest: the Detroit Red Wings, early on in the 2021-22 season, are still figuring out what they have with the players on their roster and down in the minors. It would probably take an absolute whopper of an opportunity for them to make a move that would shake up their current mix, especially considering the team hasn’t been that bad to start the season. Still, with the Jack Eichel saga now concluded, you can’t help but look around and start to wonder where that next trade might come from….
Despite their promising start, the Red Wings are not without their flaws. The team’s center depth is both a short-term and long-term concern that needs to be addressed sometime between now and when the team hopes to start contending in the Eastern Conference. Three of the four left-handed defensemen on their roster are on expiring contracts, and they can’t take it for granted that prospects like Simon Edvinsson and Albert Johansson will be ready to join the team next season. There’s also the simple matter that the Red Wings still lack the kind of depth that would insolate them from losing games while some of their best players are injured or otherwise not in the lineup.
Luckily, there are plenty of interesting options available out there as the season enters it’s second full month. While a move is far from a given, it certainly wouldn’t hurt the Red Wings to check in on what it could take to lure these players to “Hockeytown.”
Travis Dermott – Defense
With the arrival of both Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren, the Toronto Maple Leafs suddenly have an abundance of NHL-caliber defensemen. In fact, that abundance is especially evident on the left side. With Sandin, Dermott, Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie, the Leafs have to be looking to balance things out by adding a right-handed defenseman to their group.
It’s worth noting that Dermott, a veteran of over 200 regular season games in the NHL, isn’t playing like some extra defenseman that a team can pick up for chump change. In fact, after a disappointing couple of seasons, he has really put himself back on the map this season through nine games.
Alas, Dermott finds himself on the outside looking in as a victim of the numbers game. The Maple Leafs have made it clear that they want to move either him or Justin Holl. In return, the thinking is that they would either like a right-handed defenseman or something else of value (like a draft pick) that they could package in a deal to acquire that right-handed defenseman.
The Red Wings currently have four right-handed defensemen on their roster, and only one of them (Moritz Seider) is untouchable in a potential trade. The rest of that group includes Filip Hronek, Gustav Lindstrom and Troy Stecher. Hronek has too big of a cap hit for the Maple Leafs to absorb, and he’s too important to the Red Wings at this point to move him in exchange for a player like Dermott. That leaves 27-year-old Stecher and 23-year-old Lindstrom as the likely candidates in this trade.
Going back to the Seattle Expansion Draft, the Red Wings opted to protect Lindstrom ahead of Stecher, signaling that Detroit’s front office likely views the Swedish defenseman as more of a long-term piece for them than the native of British Columbia. To his credit, Stecher was an analytical darling last season, and I named him as Detroit’s top defenseman in last year’s player evaluations. There may need to be a draft pick added on one side of the deal or the other, but would a Stecher-for-Dermott swap make sense?
Dylan Strome – Center
“This is indisputable. He belongs in the lineup. It’s time to stop coming up with excuses to bench him and to simply let him fail or succeed on his own merits. Free Dylan Strome,” Mark Lazerus writes in his latest article over at The Athletic (From “Lazerus: It’s time for the Blackhawks to free Dylan Strome”, The Athletic, 11/4/21) To his point, the third pick of the 2015 draft has played just four games this season as of this writing. Meanwhile, Strome’s Chicago Blackhawks sit near the bottom of the league with a 1-8-2 record while recording a goals per-game rate of just 2.27.
This is a 24-year-old center who is just two seasons removed from recording 38 points over 58 games – a points per-game (P/G) rate of .66 – and three seasons removed from recording 57 points over 78 games (a P/G of .73.) Make no mistake: Strome is not going to become the top line center that the Arizona Coyotes thought they were getting when they drafted him two spots after the Edmonton Oilers called Connor McDavid’s name, but he also isn’t the fringe forward that Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton seems to think he is.
There is some buyer beware going on here, though. Through 208 regular season games in the NHL, Strome has yet to post a positive Corsi-percentage at even strength, with his best rate (49.3%, per Hockey Reference) coming during the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 season. Furthermore, if you check out THW’s Blackhawks show, Blackhawks Banter, their scouting report highly suggests that he can’t produce unless he’s skating alongside Alex DeBrincat, who was his teammate in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters. As cool as it would be for the Red Wings to add DeBrincat, who is a Michigan-native, that’s simply not going to happen at this time.
All that being said, the Red Wings do have a need down the middle, and a new start could invigorate Strome to become the second line center that Detroit needs right now. As an added bonus, the Red Wings already have Pius Suter – a teammate of Strome’s with the Blackhawks last season – and pairing them together could form two-thirds of an effective line. If nothing else, Strome should be able to be acquired on the cheap given that he’s not playing right now, and his career face-off win percentage of 47.2 is a lot better than Suter’s current career rate of 42.1.
Erik Brännström – Defense
What’s a list like this without a little Swedish flair, am I right? Originally drafted 15th overall in the 2017 draft by the Vegas Golden Knights, Brännström now practices his trade with the Belleville Senators of the American Hockey League (AHL). The problem, of course, is that the Ottawa Senators, after acquiring him in the deal that sent Mark Stone to Vegas, were likely hoping that he would be in the NHL lineup by now. While Brännström has played in 63 NHL games, he’s averaged just 15:40 in ice time, and he’s been a turnover machine with 55 giveaways.
Usually when a defenseman has such eye-popping turnover numbers like that, it’s a sign that that player is more of an offensive-defenseman that is trying to create plays with limited effectiveness. That is indeed the case here as Brännström has always been a defenseman whose skills are best utilized in the offensive end of the ice. At the AHL level, he’s been able to produce to the tune of 29 points through 39 games in that league. The trick for him is to be able to translate that offensive ability at the NHL level without hurting his team too much on the defensive side of the puck.
Like Brendan Smith and Dennis Cholowski, the Red Wings would absolutely preach a two-way game to Brännström if they were to acquire him. Realistically, developing that aspect of his game could be the key to him sticking in the NHL; no coach in the NHL is going to put a player in the lineup whose turnovers outweigh their takeaways and point total by a ratio of 2:1. This would be a bit of a project pick-up from the Red Wings’ perspective, but the upside is certainly there given that he was listed as one of the most dynamic defensemen available in that 2017 draft.
While the Senators don’t seem to be as high on him as they were when they acquired him two years ago, their asking price is anybody’s guess. This is still just a 22-year-old defenseman whose potential is easy to see down in the AHL. He still has upside as a middle-pairing guy that can become a catalyst on the power play, with an outside shot that he hits his stride in a new environment and realizes the potential that made him such a high pick four years ago. The Senators could probably use a right-handed defenseman, just like the Maple Leafs, but the dynamics are different than the Dermott scenario. This is a tricky situation, and ultimately that’s why it’s doubtful a move actually comes to fruition. If the Red Wings are looking for a player to roll the dice on, however, this is one of the better cases to take a flyer on.
Red Wings in No Hurry to Make A Change
The most important thing for the Red Wings at this point in the season is to stay healthy and figure out where the players they have fit the best. Bringing in external help is always an option, but there is a time to be aggressive about this sort of thing and a time to sit back and let the chips fall where they may. Right now falls into the latter.
That being said, the players listed here are still worth keeping an eye on not only because they could fill a need in the short-term, but all three of them could potentially become long-term fits as well. For a team like the Red Wings that is still rebuilding, that’s the name of the game.
Plus it is kind of fun to think about, right?
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.