Finding the Fit for Fabbri

Winging It In Motown

For the first time in what feels like a decade, the Detroit Red Wings have roster depth.

There’s a lot to love about the team’s forwards. New head coach Derek Lalonde will have plenty of opportunity to mix and match players like Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, Andrew Copp, and David Perron. Factoring in names like Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, and Dominik Kubalik further complicates things. As far as problems go, this is a good one for an organization to have. More depth means more scoring, and more scoring means a spread-out system where any line could conceivably make an impact.

But, in all the depth conversations, one name is consistently left out: Robby Fabbri.

The forward, who was obtained in the Jacob de la Rose trade, ended last season on a rough note, tearing his ACL and sidelining him until January 2023. He finished the season with 17 goals and 30 points in 56 games, traveling up and down the lineup as a sort of militiaman on the roster. Fabbri just signed a three-year, $4M/year deal with the Wings. When he returns, he’ll almost certainly garner a roster spot for himself. But where will he play? Who will be forced down the lineup as a result? Will Yzerman have to trade a player to make room for Fabbri?

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at the roster so far:

Bertuzzi-Larkin-Raymond

Vrana-Copp-Perron

Kubalik-Suter-Zadina

Erne-Rasmussen-Sundqvist

There’s a lot to like about this projected lineup, but the current makeup leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Michael Rasmussen played out of his mind near the end of the season. That level of play doesn’t warrant time on the fourth line — if anything, he should be on the third. Filip Zadina, another roster enigma, needs more time around the team’s top-six to really make a name for himself. In fact, Yzerman specifically called him out as “being on the right path” to becoming a good player. Can he do so with limited third-line minutes?

What about Perron? Sure, he’s 34, but he just finished a career season in goals and points. Is relegating him to a depth role good for the roster, or bad for the team? Dominik Kubalik, another free agent signee,

To say there are more questions than answers is an understatement. As the season rolls on, the picture will become a little clearer, but for now, it’s fun to speculate on how the roster will shake out. If the team is well-oiled machine by January, Fabbri will be the wrench that throws the whole thing off-balance. If it’s a total mess, he may very well be the piece required to answer a positional need.

While NHL.com has Fabbri pencilled as a center, he’s played the majority of his time in Detroit on the left wing. Where he plays when he comes back will depend on two factors: performance, and injury. The latter is simpler, as Fabbri can easily slot in if Vrana, Kubalik, or Rasmussen sustain an injury. The former is where things get complicated. Do you demote Vrana if he isn’t able to keep up with last year’s numbers? Is Kubalik relegated to the fourth line if he can’t get things going in time?

The puzzle becomes further complicated when you factor in potential rookie Jonatan Berggren. The 22-year-old had an outstanding season for the Grand Rapids Griffins, putting up 64 points in 70 games in the AHL. According to the Griffins’ roster, Berggren is a LW/RW, meaning he plays on either side of the line. Before the singings of Kubalik and Perron, he looked to be a lock for the lineup. Now, with so much depth, it remains to be seen whether or not Berggren will carve a full-time spot for himself this season.

Here’s a hypothetical for you: let’s say Kubalik underperforms or is hurt early on and Berggren gets the call up. In his limited time with the roster, he shines, putting up over half a point-per-game in 20-something games. In fact, he’s done so well that he’s locked in a role within the team’s middle-six. What happens when Fabbri goes back? Is Berggren forced to return to the AHL? Would the team need to make a trade?

What’s important with hockey (and all things, really) is keeping things realistic. You might be thinking to yourself “if everything is fine, why don’t they just trade Fabbri?”. Consider an outsider’s approach to such a trade. Here’s an oft-injured middle-six forward on a long-term deal. He might help with production, but he’s struggled staying healthy. What price would a team be willing to pay for a 26-year-old with a history of long-term ACL injuries? Trading Fabbri would likely require the Red Wings to retain salary — and, even then, at best, they’d secure a middling draft pick in return.

As far as utility goes, it’s much better to just keep a guy like Fabbri around. He can contribute to the offense, plays a solid two-way game, and only takes up a small chunk of the salary cap. Fabbri is the kind of player you want to have around when you’re on the hunt for depth scoring.

The Red Wings have the following already pencilled in on their opening night roster:

  • Tyler Bertuzzi
  • Jakub Vrana
  • Michael Rasmussen
  • Joe Veleno
  • Dominik Kubalik
  • Adam Erne

If Fabbri were healthy on, say, opening night, he’d comfortably outlast Erne, Rasmussen, Kubalik, and Veleno. This would place him on the third line wing, playing with Pius Suter and one of Filip Zadina or David Perron. But, with Fabbri in, his replacement would need to take over duties on the fourth line. This move would likely push Kubalik down to the 4LW role, kicking Adam Erne out of the lineup.

Whether this sort of move is good for ex 27-goal-scorer Kubalik remains to be seen, but, as of right now, it appears to be the only course of action that would give Fabbri an appropriate place to play to his strengths. A $4M fourth-liner simply can’t exist anymore. The days of Justin Abdelkader-esque contract mishandling are in the past.

Conclusions, or, a good problem to have:

There aren’t many teams in the position the Red Wings will be come January. Fabbri’s return provides an almost immediate upgrade to the team’s already exciting depth. Additionally, it opens up the possibility for trades as well as creates a sense of competition within the roster. It’s been years since the Red Wings have had such staunch internal battles over roster spots.

Heck, if everything works out, Fabbri might need to battle to get his own role back.

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