Red Wings Could Add by Subtraction at 2024 Trade Deadline

The Hockey Writers

With just under three weeks to go until the NHL Trade Deadline, the Detroit Red Wings find themselves in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They still have eight games to play between now and then, so much can still happen that will effect their approach to the NHL’s annual trading bonanza.

To this point in the season, the Red Wings have generally looked improved over last season’s group. Their record from a year ago (26-21-8) isn’t much different from their record right now (29-20-6), but once you get past the big picture, you will find that Detroit is generating much better results on a nightly basis. To that point, they had a minus-7 goal-differential at this point last season, but have a plus-15 goal-differential this season.

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Looking at the Red Wings through that lens might convince you that they should look to add to their roster ahead of the March 8 trade deadline. However, without a firm hold on a playoff spot (they have just a two point cushion on the New Jersey Devils), it probably wouldn’t be wise to go all-in on a playoff run this season, especially considering the team’s decision-makers still say this team is building, and don’t consider this to be a “playoffs or bust” campaign.

With that being said, the Red Wings find themselves in a unique position. Most teams fall into one of two categories at the trade deadline: buyers or sellers. Since 2017, the Red Wings have fallen into the latter category, and many fan favorites have been sent away in return for future fan favorites along the way. This season, however, the Red Wings can choose their path as they have been good enough to jockey for playoff positioning, but also haven’t been consistent enough to suggest a long playoff is in the cards for them this season.

Related: Red Wings: 3 Biggest Needs Ahead of 2024 Trade Deadline

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In a situation like the Red Wings’, most teams would stay put, fearing the risk that comes with both buying and selling. If the Red Wings are serious about building for the future AND pushing for the playoffs, however, inaction is not an option. In fact, they might be the only team currently in a playoff position that would improve by selling off a few pieces.

Red Wings Assembling a Strong Group of Prospects

Throughout the season, Red Wings fans have lamented the lack of opportunity for the team’s top players not currently in the NHL. After general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman added over half a dozen veterans to the team’s roster, players such as Jonatan Berggren and Simon Edvinsson were boxed out of the NHL lineup and have spent this season down in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Grand Rapids Griffins.

With 38 points in 36 games, Berggren has been the Griffins’ top forward this season. This shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, however, considering the Swedish winger set a new Griffins record for points by a rookie (64) during the 2021-22 season, and then played in 67 games with the Red Wings last season.

Edvinsson, on the other hand, has been the Griffins’ top defenseman in his second season in Grand Rapids. The Red Wings’ top selection of the 2021 draft is second in points, trailing only Berggren, and seems to be in on everything the Griffins do this season. His offensive acumen is what made him such a highly-touted prospect in his draft season, but his defensive and physical play this season has really stood out. Like Berggren, Edvinsson seems to be ready to take the next step and begin his life as an NHL regular.

Simon Edvinsson Detroit Red Wings
Simon Edvinsson, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

It’s not just Berggren and Edvinsson pushing for NHL jobs, however. Players like Albert Johansson, Carter Mazur and Marco Kasper have all performed well in the AHL this season, and you can make a case for each of them to get some playing time with the Red Wings. Sooner or later, Detroit will have to make room for their top young players. A team that still describes itself as rebuilding cannot afford to let veterans walk out the door for nothing, and they especially cannot afford to let their top prospects fizzle out because they never had a chance to prove themselves at the next level.

Red Wings Have Valuable Veterans on Their Roster

With an average age of 28.4, the Red Wings are not the young, inexperienced team some folks make them out to be. Their youngest players are Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, both of which are in their third NHL seasons. Their top six is rounded out by players that have won hockey’s greatest prize in the past, including Patrick Kane and David Perron, and their defense is filled with veterans that have hundreds of games to their credit.

Several of the Red Wings’ veterans would garner interest across the trade market if Detroit decided to go the selling route at the trade deadline. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere is on a one-year deal at $4.125 million and is on pace to surpass the 41 points he put up last season with the Arizona Coyotes and Carolina Hurricanes. Teams looking to beef up their power play could see value in adding “Ghost Bear” to their mix; the Coyotes acquired a 2026 third round pick for his services last season, and the Red Wings could receive something better if they are willing to retain salary.

Shayne Gostisbehere Detroit Red Wings
Shayne Gostisbehere, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Perron has also been mentioned as a potential fit for teams looking to add at the deadline. He’s a veteran of over 1,100 games in the NHL and has been a consistent 50-60 point player since 2018. He does seem to be enduring some regression this season, however, as Father Time continues to chip away at his 35-year-old body. If the Red Wings plan on turning him into a future asset, the time is now.

There are certainly other players on the Red Wings’ roster that would interest other teams at the deadline. Kane’s arrival in Detroit a little over a month into the season was met with apprehension and questions about whether the three-time Stanley Cup champion truly intends to hitch his wagon to the Red Wings in the final years of his career. Daniel Sprong is on a one-year contract and his effectiveness as a bottom six scoring option should be of interest to any team looking to increase their firepower.

But with the Red Wings sitting where they are in the standings, it is hard to endorse an aggressive selling approach like what the Red Wings did at last season’s trade deadline. Despite still being in the race at the end of February, Yzerman opted to trade away defenseman Filip Hronek and winger Tyler Bertuzzi, netting two first round picks in the process as well as a few additional assets. This season, the Red Wings seem to be a more legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference, and they would be wise to do whatever it takes to improve their chances of securing a spot in the playoffs.

Addition by Subtraction

In some cases, you could make the argument that some of the Red Wings’ prospects are better than some of the players currently on the NHL roster. At worst, you could argue that some of their prospects are as good as some of the veterans on the NHL roster, but those veterans could yield value in the form of draft picks, prospects, or even just additional cap space if Detroit decides they want to add money to their books for one reason or another.

This gives the Red Wings the unique opportunity of maintaining or even strengthening their roster by trading away players and continuing to build up their youthful foundation. That being said, Yzerman has some things to consider before he can commit to taking such an unorthodox approach to the trade deadline.

Steve Yzerman Detroit Red Wings
Steve Yzerman, General Manager of the Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

First and foremost, “selling” at the deadline could send the wrong message to the Red Wings’ locker room. This is a group, led by captain Dylan Larkin, that has its first real shot at the playoffs since Yzerman took over as GM in the spring of 2019. If anything, they are probably lobbying Yzerman to keep this group together and invest some future assets into this season’s team. Trading away players like Gostisbehere and Perron, among others, would alter the team’s chemistry in a big way, regardless of the talent that would be coming up to replace them.

Second, Yzerman isn’t only focused on a playoff run in Detroit. He is equally invested in seeing the Griffins return to the playoffs and go on a run of their own. With many of the Red Wings’ best prospects on the roster, the playoffs present a grand opportunity for development and chemistry-building. Edvinsson and Berggren are the most-likely players to receive a call-up if the Red Wings sell off some pieces, but what would their absence do to the Griffins’ playoff chances? Not many teams can absorb losing their top two players and still succeed, especially at the minor-league level. Though reinforcements could be coming from Europe and the NCAA near the end of the season, are the Griffins and first-year head coach Dan Watson capable of plowing ahead in the meantime?

All of this is to say that the Red Wings have legitimate depth in their organization. Most teams in the Red Wings’ position would be looking to add veteran rentals to solidify their playoff chances, but they already have those types of players on the roster. To get to the next level, they might have to make the bold and uncommon decision to sell off some of those veterans and promote some of their younger options.

If it makes sense in the long run, of course.

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