After a hot start, the Detroit Red Wings have cooled off significantly, with a 3-5-3 record in their last 11 games including back-to-back losses at the NHL Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden. While the three loser points soften the blow a tiny bit, they don’t obscure the fact that Detroit has lost their last 11 games, pushing them from 2nd in the Atlantic all the way down to fifth, with momentum continuing in the wrong direction.
While there are many reasons for their recent downturn, from lackluster goaltending to cold spells from their star forwards, the reason we’re going to focus on today is the poor play from Detroit’s defensive group. Putting it politely, Detroit has four defensemen who are playing well enough to justify being in the lineup and three who aren’t.
I believe it is time for the Red Wings to call up prospect Simon Edvinsson from the Grand Rapids Griffins, but I don’t believe the team will be willing to do so for several reasons. Let’s dive into those reasons now!
Haves and Have Nots
Detroit’s top pairing of Jake Walman and Moritz Seider has been solid again so far this season, with both players ranking first and second respectively in Corsi For Percentage (CF%) on the team. Olli Määttä and Shayne Gostibehere have been solid this year, though mostly unspectacular (which is probably a good thing).
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Here’s where we get to the troublemakers, Ben Chiarot, Justin Holl and Jeff Petry have been disappointing to start the season. The Red Wings have spent many games with seven defenseman and 11 forwards, and in the games where they only dress six defenders, they’ve mostly been rotating Määttä, Chiarot and Holl in and out of the lineup. These three have had a rough start and I think it’s time to start looking for some other options.
Edvinsson’s Development Continues
The Edvinsson we saw in the 2022 preseason was vastly different from the one who played his first nine NHL games in the Spring. He seemed to mature and grow a lot after spending most of the season in the AHL which was a very positive sign. After Detroit spent another offseason adding veteran defensive depth it became clear that Edvinsson was likely on the outside looking in once again, and he has begun this season in the AHL once again.
So far through 13 AHL games Edvinsson has looked pretty much as expected, leading the team’s defensemen offensively with seven points. Edvinsson is the clear best defenseman on the team, though he still has defensive lapses that remind you he’s still just 20 years old. He is on the top pairing and earns a ton of ice time which is a real positive thing for his development.
I think there’s an easy argument to be made that Edvinsson would be at least the fifth-best defenseman on the Red Wings if he were called up today, but you could convince me he’s the third or fourth best d-man in the organization right now without too much effort. So why not now? Why do the Red Wings seem so hesitant to elevate their best prospect to the highest level of competition?
Left Handed Shots Everywhere
Firstly, the Red Wings are in no need of extra left-handed shots on the blueline, with Walman, Määttä, Gostibehere, and Chiarot all shooting left. All of those players save Walman are flexible position-wise and have spent some time on the right side out of pure necessity at this point, and the team’s depth on the left side is a big reason why Edvinsson didn’t make the cut in the NHL this season.
Who Could They Move?
This is the biggest reason Edvinsson is unlikely to get into NHL action anytime soon in my opinion, as the team would need to clear a spot in the lineup for Edvinsson somehow, which would require them to demote or trade at least one defenseman currently in the lineup.
Määttä is the only Red Wings defender not named Mortiz Seider who has no sort of trade-protection built into his contract at this point but it’s hard to imagine Detroit improving their lineup all that much by trading away one of the few defenders they have that is capable of breaking even on the ice.
If Detroit were to try and make a trade to free up a spot on the left side for Edvinsson, a spot that would afford him enough of a role to be worth having him in the lineup, they would have to get pretty creative. Petry has a 15-team no trade list and both Holl and Chiarot have 10-team no trade lists of their own.
I’m not sure if it’s stubbornness or pride on the management team’s part that they haven’t been willing to demote one of these players (not Petry who has a no movement-clause), to Grand Rapids in order to make space for Edvinsson, but it’s starting to go from confusing to frustrating.
It Goes Against Their Development Plan for Edvinsson
Another likely culprit for why the Red Wings haven’t called Edvinsson up yet is that it could possibly go against whatever plans they have for his development in the AHL. The Red Wings had no plans to be a real contender this year (although fans sure did at the start of October), so I doubt they want to rush him to the NHL if that isn’t what they think is best for his development.
Playing top-pairing minutes in the AHL is a huge win for Edvinsson, but I’m starting to wonder what more he has to prove to the team in order to earn serious ice time in the NHL. Sure, Gostibehere’s deal will expire next offseason, but Walman, Chiarot and Määttä will all still be on the books, so Edvinsson will still have to be elevated above a veteran defenseman sooner or later.
Edvinsson’s NHL Return Likely A Ways Off
In my opinion, the most likely scenario for Edvinsson at this point is for him to stick around in the AHL into the new year while playing a major role for the Griffins. I don’t think he will get a shot in the NHL over the next month or so while the Red Wings scratch and claw to get a hold of a playoff spot again.
Much like last season, I expect the Red Wings to call Edvinsson up when their season is all but over, giving him a consistent spot on the third pairing through the team’s final 10-15 games. This would give them a larger NHL sample size for Edvinsson and help them direct him through his summer training. He is not eligible for an Entry Level Contract (ELC) slide this year so there are no cap reasons to keep him in Grand Rapids and I hope he gets the chance to prove himself in Detroit before this season is out.