Be sure to visit NBCOlympics.com and NBC Olympic Talk for full hockey coverage from PyeongChang.
This is unique ground for the Detroit Red Wings. They are on the verge of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, something they haven’t experienced since 1983. It’s a new experience for general manager Ken Holland, who is looking toward the future and selling assets, as opposed to bolstering his lineup for the postseason.
Monday’s trade of Petr Mrazek for draft picks isn’t the start of Holland’s overhaul of the roster — he said he doesn’t believe in “massive rebuilds” — it’s just the continuation of a process that he hopes will make the Red Wings contenders again.
Mrazek’s the first to go, and next will likely be Mike Green, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, before Monday’s NHL trade deadline. The Red Wings have a number of players set to become restricted free agents this summer like Andreas Athanasiou, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha, among others, so there could also be some salary shedding in the next six days (Hi, Luke Glendening!)
“I want us to be a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup,” Holland said as he met the media on Tuesday morning. “I want us to be a better team. We’re competitive. We’re not quite where we need to be. In order to be where we want to be, I’ve got to acquire draft picks, and we need to hit on those draft picks. The more draft picks that I can acquire or young players through trades is a better chance that we’re going to wake up three, four, five years from now, two years from now, and start to see the young players coming onto the team and having an impact on the team.”
The Red Wings currently have seven picks in the first four rounds of June’s entry draft and four in the opening three rounds of the 2019 draft. There will likely be more added before Monday, which will help Holland’s plan.
Hitting on draft picks was a huge reason why the Red Wings became a model franchise beginning in the late 1990s. Scout Hakan Andersson is credited with finding franchise pillars like Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, all of whom played big roles in their Cup victories over the last 20 years.
Hitting on draft picks is also very difficult, which is why the Red Wings were so fortunate that many of their draftees turned into backbones of those Cup winning teams. That’s why Holland says he’s open for business and wants more and more draft choices in his possession so his scouting staff can uncover those gems to lead future teams.
“It’s going to happen at the draft table,” he said.
While there’s an eye on the future, Holland says he’s not looking to tear it all down. He also isn’t putting all of his eggs in the draft lottery basket, noting that just because your odds are high doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to have one of the first few choices; and even then, no team is guaranteed a homerun.
If the Red Wings are to be back to the level they once were, fans can expect what Mike Babcock said when he took over the Toronto Maple Leafs’ job: “pain.” Holland noted that, and while he’s trying to accumulate futures, he still wants to have veterans around to guide those young players. And if you look at their salary cap picture and some of the long-term deals he’s handed out, he won’t have to worry about older guys not being around. Some will be there for quite a while still.
But the one thing hanging over all of this is whether Holland is going to be the guy to see this retooling through. His contract reportedly expires after this season and there are those Seattle rumors, plus the Illitch family may decide it’s finally time to have someone else in the GM’s chair.
Maybe Holland gets kicked upstairs after the season and bides his time before connecting with Seattle whenever they enter the league. But for now his focus is the tough job ahead of turning the Red Wings back into a consistent winner.
“We’re not good enough quite right now,” he said. “For me, it’s about trying to acquire pieces that I think can have an impact on this team three, four years down the road in order to build a team that’s a playoff team, that’s got a young foundation.
“That’s the goal. Those are the decisions that I’m making.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.