The obvious answer is, of course. Trades can always happen, especially at the deadline when I expect the Wings to be out of contention. More pressing, however, is can Steve Yzerman make a significant move that will raise up the entire organization? This is one of those trades that will cost you. Someone is going to head out that could potentially become a difference maker somewhere else and make you look really bad if the return wasn’t worth it. I was stunned in the mid 90s when the Red Wings shipped out Paul Coffey. They brought in Brendan Shanahan. If you watch the old championship films you’ll hear the phrase “a little less pretty, a little more gritty.” Shanny proved to be the missing ingredient. It was a high price for the highest prize. Shanny was part of 3 Stanley cups.
Here’s the good news. Detroit doesn’t have Paul Coffey 2.0. And there isn’t a Brendan Shanahan for sale. The transaction won’t have such high stakes because we’re not talking about the one missing ingredient for a championship. We’re talking about contention. Still difficult, but not nearly as exacting.
My ideal trade, since Carolina drafted 2nd overall in 2018, is to send Evgeny Svechnikov to Carolina and try to get a defenseman. It’s a “feel good” trade. However, Evgeny missed last year and is at a very low trade value. He’d never fetch Hamilton but Faulk may become available more and more if it looks like Carolina can’t or won’t resign him. Still, it would require multiple pieces and becomes a losing scenario quickly for both sides. If Evgeny breaks out this year, we’ll revisit it.
We have a small set of forwards who could garner a lot of attention this year. Larkin has a chance to score 30 again, Mantha could score 30. Those two are staying. Bertuzzi will probably score 20ish but will be an assist maker for the other two. Every other forward we have is in “prove it” mode except for one. Athanasiou. 30 goals last year, and he will be on the wing this year. He could, hypothetically, outscore Larkin. He’s fast, strong and has good hands. If he plays with a good center every night, he should be noticeable nearly every night. Even when he doesn’t he seems to get 2 breakaways per game. One more item, it’s a contract year.
My last column touched on the fact that between the NHL and AHL we have nearly 20 free agents at the end of this year. That’s a lot. In Detroit, Mantha, Bertuzzi and Athanasiou are all RFAs. They will all be looking to have career years, and raises. I believe Mantha and Bert will be more easily signed. They love the line they play on and want to build it up. A.A. Will be tougher. He held out into training camp last time. If he does outscore Larkin, he probably won’t hesitate to ask for more money than the future captain. Larkin is at 6.1 right now and that looks pretty good.
Athanasiou should probably be considered untouchable, but the return could be substantial. Is this what Buffalo would want for Ristolainen? Could you pry a top defenseman from another team with speed and scoring? It would hurt. A lot. But Defense is where it feels like Detroit needs help outside of the draft. A trade for a younger D with a high ceiling makes a lot more sense than a 28 year old free agent right now. However, you’re sending out a player that could embarrass you when you play them again. A player that could score 30+ goals annually for someone else. Ouch.
However, at the moment, he is the most valuable and “realistic” card that Detroit has. I think Yzerman is wise to enter the season with what we have. If Rasmussen or Svechnikov can have a good showing through December, it is good news for the organization. We have assets with “potential” and it would be a huge lift to see that come to fruition. We need kids to “take” jobs from veterans. Force the coaching staff to scratch or waive someone. Hockey is still a “meritocracy” and we have huge contracts that aren’t going anywhere without a significant push