By: Will Burchfield
As the Las Vegas Golden Knights construct their roster ahead of their first season in the NHL, it’s believed they’ll be willing to take on some cumbersome contracts from opposing teams if they receive draft picks as compensation.
Such a deal would figure to appeal to the Red Wings, who have a number of unwieldy contracts on their payroll. But don’t expect Ken Holland to pursue it.
“I don’t believe that we want to trade valuable future assets to try to move a contract that you think or I might think is a bad contract. We’re hoping to use those valuable future assets, whether they’re young players or relatively high draft picks, to eventually impact this team three or four years down the road,” Holland told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.
The Wings GM admitted last month that his team has “a contract or two that is maybe a little out of whack.” (“Many teams do,” he added. “It’s the cost of doing business.”) Justin Abdelkader, 30, will make $4.25 million through 2020 and is coming off a season in which he scored seven goals. Jonathan Ericsson, 33, will make $4.25 million through 2019 and has clearly lost a step (if not two). Niklas Kronwall, 36, is owed $4.75 million through 2018 and hasn’t had a positive plus-minus (for what it’s worth) since the 2010-11 season.
But Holland has visions of competing for a playoff spot next season and is a firm believer in the value of a strong veteran presence in the locker room. Whatever statistical production the aforementioned players may lack, he feels, they make up for in their positive influence on younger players.
“In the short term, I want to try and see if we can make our team better to compete and get in a playoff spot. Five teams that made it last year (from the East) are out, and five teams that were out are in. I’m hoping that we’re one of those that gets back in,” Holland said.
(Of course, by unloading an overpaid veteran Holland could free up money to upgrade his roster through free agency, thus improving the team’s odds of accomplishing it’s short-term goal. But that’s for another time.)
The NHL’s current landscape makes it very hard to acquire top-notch players from opposing teams. That has placed a premium on high draft picks, which Holland did his best to load up on at the trade deadline last month.
“It’s a little different time right now because of the salary cap and everything that goes on. Players hit free agency younger, they get locked up by other teams younger, less high-impact players are hitting the market via trade. But we’ve gotta make sure that we hang onto our assets for the future. That’s how the Red Wings are going to wake up one day and be a real, legitimate, high-end, elite team. It can’t be by trading assets now to try to shed a contract — what does that do?”
It’s hard to reconcile Holland’s stated intention to contend in the short term with his disinterest in freeing up cap space by trading picks. He’s trying to dance two jigs at once even though they follow entirely different beats. The fear among Wings fans, it seems, is that Holland will get tangled up in conflicting aims and neither will come to fruition.
(More irony here is that, just last month, Holland downplayed the value of draft picks when discussing his decision not to blow things up at the deadline. “You can’t play with picks,” he said. “At the end of the day you can have all the picks you want, but you’ve got to put a team on the ice.”)
The Wings also have a decision to make ahead of this summer’s expansion draft regarding their goaltenders. Between Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard, they can only protect one. The former is younger and less expensive; the latter was objectively better in the 2016-17 season. If Holland is concerned with the present, Howard’s his guy. If he’s committed to the future, it’s Mrazek. We’ll find out soon enough — the team must submit its protection list by June 17.
“I think we have a big decision to make in goal,” Holland said. “Obviously we’ve got a young goaltender in Petr that’s 25 years of age, who’s shown flashes of brilliance…and we’ve got a veteran guy who had a great year and unfortunately got hurt.”