By: Will Burchfield
In dealing Tomas Tatar to the Golden Knights on Monday afternoon, Ken Holland achieved two of his main goals at the trade deadline.
He added to the team’s growing pile of draft picks and he created a pathway to the NHL for one of the organization’s up-and-coming forwards.
“The reality was, if you want to try to create opportunity for some of the younger people in our organization that are banging on the door, I had to create an opportunity. I had to move somebody, so that’s how this deal comes,” Holland said.
He pointed to the trio of 18-year-old Michael Rasmussen, 21-year-old Evgeny Svechnikov and 23-year-old Tyler Bertuzzi. They’re “ready,” Holland said.
Bertuzzi has played with the Wings for a large chunk of this season, but in a limited role. Svechnikov, the team’s first-round pick in 2015 who put together a terrific rookie season in the AHL last year, endured a sophomore slump early on but has found his game of late. And Rasmussen, the team’s first-round pick in 2017 who impressed in the preseason, has 24 goals and 49 points in 37 games in the WHL.
To open a spot on the roster next season for at least one of these players, Holland knew he had to clear out a winger. (Rasmussen is a center by nature, but Holland foresees him initially playing on the wing in the NHL, much like Dylan Larkin.) He subtracted Tatar, mostly because of what the Golden Knights were willing to pay for him: a first-round pick in 2018, a second-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2021.
Holland is intent on rebuilding the Red Wings through the draft, and he now has four picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft. That can become five based on the conditions of the Petr Mrazek trade.
“This was an opportunity to acquire some picks, to build our team for the future. Certainly our goal is to build a team that can contend for the Stanley Cup, and it’s really going to happen through the draft,” Holland said.
Another benefit for the Wings is the clearance of Tatar’s $5.3 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season. That will make it easier for the team to re-sign the likes of Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou this summer, all of whom will be restricted free agents.
But Holland said that wasn’t much of a concern to start with.
“I wasn’t worried about the cap. Had Tats stayed I think we were going to be able to squeeze everybody in if we had to,” Holland said. “This is more about looking toward the future and creating opportunity for some younger people in the organization.”
Holland’s discussions with Golden Knights GM George McPhee began about two weeks ago when he made it clear the Wings were looking to move a proven NHL player to acquire future assets. McPhee identified Tatar as a target for his team, currently in first place in the West, and talks heated up over the weekend. The two GMs spoke again Monday morning, and then McPhee made a formal offer around 1:30 Monday afternoon.
They made a few tweaks and came to an agreement about 10 minutes before the 3 p.m. deadline, Holland said.
“I was hoping to try to find a deal where we were going to get a high draft pick and a good, young prospect. Ultimately, we got the deal that we did, and I feel good about it,” said Holland.
The Wings were engaged in conversations about a number of different players, but Holland wasn’t inclined to blow up his roster. He believes strongly in the value of a strong veteran presence in the locker room, particularly on a team that’s beginning to get younger.
“I wanted to keep a hockey team. We’re going to play hockey again in October and we have to try to be better, we have to try to be more competitive. As we’re moving some young people onto our team next year — and I’m anticipating that we’re going to have three, four young players on our roster next year from our system — it’s important to have veteran leadership, role models in that locker room,” he said.