Detroit — The drama and intrigue surrounding the Red Wings’ roster, and the decisions that need to be made, continued after Monday’s practice, with the situation not getting significantly clearer.
There was one bit of news that will impact the lineup at some point, but not this week.
Forward Jakub Vrana will stay in Grand Rapids through the end of this week, completing a two-week conditioning stint with the Griffins.
Vrana played three games last week with the Griffins, with no goals or points, as he returned from a two-month period in the NHL/NHLPA players assistance program.
The lack of playing that long was apparent, and Vrana agreed he needed a few more games to get his conditioning and timing to NHL level.
“Ultimately, (general manager) Steve (Yzerman) put it on him and what he wanted to do — and credit to him, he wanted to get more touches down there,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “Jakub is going to extend his conditioning stint and going to use the full two weeks, which is good. He felt good about his last game and, (he’ll) play three more games this week.”
While Vrana won’t be ready, the Wings are likely to return forward Robby Fabbri to the lineup Wednesday when they host New Jersey.
Fabbri has yet to play this season after knee surgery for a torn ACL late last season (his third such surgery in his career). Fabbri has been skating and increasing his work in practice for several weeks, and he is likely to be cleared in time to play against the Devils.
“It’s been a while, but I’ve been here before (recuperating from knee surgery) and I know you have to take that time to make sure everything is right,” Fabbri said. “I feel like I am where I want to be and it’s exciting. One more step and we’ll be there.”
Getting another accomplished offensive player like Fabbri is a plus, but the Wings will have to take a player off the 23-man roster to fit in Fabbri.
“If Fabbri is available and ready to play, we want him to play,” Lalonde said. “He’s an important part of our team both on the ice and in the room. So, if that’s the case, post-practice (Tuesday) we’re going to have a tough decision.”
Three young forwards, Jonatan Berggren, Elmer Soderblom and Joe Veleno, are all able to be sent to Grand Rapids without threat of being claimed on waivers, but the three have steadily improved and keyed Saturday’s victory over Ottawa.
The way Lalonde talked Monday, it’s doubtful any of the three young players will be headed anywhere.
“We’ve talked a lot on it over the last couple of days and we’ll talk again (Tuesday after practice),” Lalonde said. “Those young guys have made it hard with their play of late. Berggren, Veleno, Elmer, I do not see me taking one of those out at least on Wednesday.”
The roster decision could come down to either goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic or Magnus Hellberg, as the Wings whittle down from three to two goalies, and decide on a backup to Ville Husso.
The Wings have won three of their last four games, and Hellberg has been in net for two of those victories. Nedeljkovic hasn’t played since December 8 and has two starts since Nov. 30.
Along with Fabbri and Vrana, forwards Tyler Bertuzzi (hand) and Filip Zadina (foot) are getting closer to returning to the lineup, although likely another week, or two.
“They’re a little further out,” Lalonde said. “Inching closer, but they’re a little further out.”
Still, when those two forwards return, that’s two more lineup spots to consider. Two more difficult choices (if no one else gets hurt) with a team that has increasingly more depth throughout the lineup.
First things first will be figuring out the roster by the start of Wednesday’s game.
“We will need a roster spot for Wednesday, and even with the roster spot, we would have to pull one of our current 12 forwards who’ve all played fairly well of late for Fabbri,” Lalonde said. “There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s going to be a tough decision.”