Detroit Red Wings Protect Or Not to Protect: The Seventh Forward Bubble

Riley Sheahan
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Welcome to a new summer series on Last Word On Hockey. In preparation for the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21st, LWOH’s Detroit Red Wings Department will be going in depth on every Wing that is eligible to be picked by the newest NHL squad, the Vegas Golden Knights, who will begin play in the fall. The team will likely follow the seven forward, three defensemen, and one goalie format of protecting players. This series will also follow that format. For a brush-up on the expansion draft rules, click this link. Without further adieu, we will continue this series with the last forward spot up for grabs as eight more are available, three regarded (by the team) as full-time, experienced NHLers.

Here is the protection list as it stands for forwards. Each link will lead to an article on why that forward was protected. The same goes for the exposed forwards.

Updated Protection List
Forwards:
Henrik Zetterberg (May 25th)
Frans Nielsen (June 1st)
Gustav Nyquist (June 3rd)
Tomas Tatar (June 6th)
Anthony Mantha (June 8th)
Andreas Athanasiou (June 9th)

Exposed:
Justin Abdelkader (May 27th)
Darren Helm (May 30th)

Luke Glendening, Riley Sheahan, Drew Miller, Mitch Callahan, Ben Street, Tomas Nosek, Eric Tangradi, and Martin Frk are the remaining available forwards. Callahan, Street, and Tangradi are now likely to be full-time AHL players, so the remaining five will be evaluated based on their likelihood of getting selected, and provide a condensed review of their play with a verdict on their protection or exposure. We will start with Glendening.

Luke Glendening

Center/Winger, Shoots Right
5’11”, 199 lbs
Age: 23 (This Past April 28th)
Cap hit: $1.8 million, four years remaining

Glendening has been a favorite of head coach Jeff Blashill for his grittiness and the highly popular topic of compete level. He has taken spots in the top six at times and holds down the fort on Detroit’s fourth line, sometimes moving into the third to provide an edge. Ken Holland rewarded his hometown marketable with a four-year contract extension last summer after his eight goal, 21-point season, much to the chagrin of many pundits as another chunk of money given to a player that doesn’t match the value of the dollar. He has already undergone ankle surgery this off-season and will be expected to miss 3-4 months, making him questionable for training camp.

Though Glendening provides all of your “heart” argument, he’s regarded as one of the worst forwards in the NHL analytically. His offensive output won’t amount to much and he’s constantly hemmed in his own zone at even strength, ranking last on Detroit in Corsi-for (42.89) and against (56.61) per 60 minutes. His Corsi-for per 60 is second-worst among all skaters in the NHL who have played at least 700 minutes. He’ll be a penalty killer (699 shorthanded minutes the last three seasons) and win face-offs with a 54% victory rate to his name, but he took just 568 draws this season compared to over 900 in each of the previous two seasons.

Verdict

Expose

Drew Miller

Left Wing, Shoots Left
6’2″, 183 lbs
Age: 33 (This Past February 17th)
Cap hit: Unrestricted Free Agent, Coming Off Of One Year, $1.025 million contract 

With the glut of depth forwards coming up in the system, the Wings no longer have a need for Miller, who has declined in his own right over his Detroit career. After a 2015-16 season plagued by a broken jaw and knee surgery that limited him to 28 games (two points), his production was not much better this season scoring five goals and seven points in 55 games, getting waived by Detroit in January and playing seven AHL games. With Nosek and Tyler Bertuzzi likely graduating this season to the NHL, Miller’s role has been filled.

It didn’t help that at even strength his Corsi-for percentage was a straight up awful 43.1% this season, allowing 58.65 attempts per 60 minutes, last on Detroit in a minimum of 400 minutes of ice time. He’s been a regular on the penalty kill, but his declining even strength performance has offset his effectiveness shorthanded. He’ll be available during Vegas’ short free agent period, and will not be back with Detroit, so leaving him exposed doesn’t hurt anything.

Verdict

Expose

Martin Frk

Right Wing, Shoots Right
6’1″, 194 lbs
Age: 24 (This October 5th)
Cap hit: Restricted Free Agent (Coming off of Three Year ELC, $639,167 AAV)

Frk looks to be Teemu Pulkkinen lite. He has been a consistent AHL scorer recently, with 27 in each of the past two campaigns, but hasn’t been able to earn a call-up with his one-dimensional style of play that includes no substantial amount of defense. Offensively he’s got a cannon of a shot and it’s utilized effectively on the power play, with 23 man advantage goals the last two seasons to finish in the top ten among all AHLers each campaign. There’s just no room for the former second round pick on the roster to play a meaningful role that plays to his big strength-pure offense. The Red Wings lost him to waivers once this season, only to reclaim him when the Carolina Hurricanes dumped him for the same reason. There shouldn’t be a worry of Vegas claiming him and if they do, the Wings have plenty of forward depth coming up the pipe.

Verdict

Expose

Tomas Nosek

Center/Winger, Shoots Left
6’3″, 210 lbs
Age: 25 (This September 1st)
Cap hit: One year remaining, $612,500

Nosek was signed back in the summer of 2014 as a free agent out of the Czech League and has spent the past three seasons as a role forward for the Grand Rapids Griffins, taking a huge step this season after two 30+ point years of production, scoring 15 goals and 41 points in just 51 games, earning an 11-game stint with Detroit. He’s known for his strong two-way game and penalty killing more than his offense, but has just come alive for Grand Rapids in their Calder Cup run, scoring ten goals and 19 points in 18 games increasing his stock for training camp dramatically. He will likely have a full-time job in Detroit at least to start next season with the departure of Miller and questionable status of Glendening as he’s out of waiver options and not likely to be chosen by Vegas as he is still an unproven NHL player with just 17 games of experience under his belt.

Verdict

Expose

Riley Sheahan

Center/Winger, Shoots Left
6’3″, 226 lbs
Age: 26 (This December 7th)
Cap hit: One Year Left, $2,075,000

The epitaph on his 2016-17 campaign would’ve read, “Here lies Riley Sheahan, he never scored.” However, the Notre Dame product rewrote history on the last day of the season in the final game at Joe Louis Arena, scoring his first two goals of the campaign in his 80th game finishing with a career low of two goals and 13 points. Now, this isn’t guaranteed to happen again, as this is a former first round pick that has had success in the league already from his 36-point year in 2014-15 under Mike Babcock and a 14-goal year in 2015-16 under Jeff Blashill. Let’s delve further into it, as this was a tough call to make.

In his first two years under Babcock, he was the fourth-best possession player on the team, minimum 1000 minutes, largely due to the top six role he had when Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were injured, and he, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar were bursting onto the scene. His Corsi-for per 60 was 56.14 and Corsi-against per 60 was 44.90. The last two seasons under Blashill, both have dipped (49.94) and risen (52.28) respectively.

Sheahan’s also played more with Glendening at even strength than with both of those two on a line, at 405 minutes the past two years, which doesn’t help the possession rating whatsoever. He’s also been statistically Detroit’s unluckiest forward the past three seasons with a 97.89 PDO, and was never able to take on a definitive role for himself this year. Thus, he was shifted through the lineup from the second to the third and fourth lines, where he wasn’t able to utilize a sneaky good wrist shot. One has to think with that size and shot it will come for him eventually if he’s not centering or playing wing with the black holes Detroit has in the bottom six. If it doesn’t, Detroit has options.

Protecting Sheahan will leave a plethora of bad contracts exposed already, along with a few minor league players. With the opportunity to unload some cap space, coupled with the age of Sheahan, the team should not give up on him after just one historically bad season. Detroit could sweeten the pot for Vegas to take one of their contracts with a asset or two to give themselves room. As for Sheahan, the motivation to put last year behind him, coupled with being in a contract year, should fuel his desire to be better no matter where he is in the lineup. If he falters again next year, the interest will likely be there, like it was this season, to get him a fresh start elsewhere and the Wings an asset or two. If he performs and the Wings are out of contention, even better for his value.

Verdict

Protect

Check back this week as the evaluation of Detroit’s goalie situation will conclude this expansion series.

Updated Protection List
Forwards:
Henrik Zetterberg (May 25th)
Frans Nielsen (June 1st)
Gustav Nyquist (June 3rd)
Tomas Tatar (June 6th)
Anthony Mantha (June 8th)
Andreas Athanasiou (June 9th)
Riley Sheahan

Defensemen:
Mike Green (May 26th)
Xavier Ouellet (June 5th)
Nick Jensen (June 7th)

Exposed:
Justin Abdelkader (May 27th)
Niklas Kronwall (May 29th)
Darren Helm (May 30th)
Danny DeKeyser (May 31st)
Jonathan Ericsson (June 2nd)
Luke Glendening
Drew Miller
Mitch Callahan
Ben Street
Tomas Nosek
Eric Tangradi
Martin Frk
Brian Lashoff
Dylan McIlrath
Ryan Sproul

Advanced stats courtesy of Puckalytics.

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