Justin Abdelkader

Detroit Red Wings: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Detroit Red Wings.

Robby Fabbri has had a nice bounceback in Detroit

It was just four years ago that Fabbri looked like he was on his way to becoming an outstanding top-six player for the St. Louis Blues. Then an unfortunate run of devastating injuries completely crushed the early part of his career and left him as the odd man out in St. Louis.

The Red Wings, in need of talent anywhere they can find it, took the low-risk gamble on trading for him earlier this season.

The early returns have been promising.

Fabbri has been one of the Red Wings’ most productive offensive players since arriving in Detroit earlier this season with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in his 52 games with the team. That’s a 20-goal, 50-point pace over 82 games and a nice bounce-back for a once promising player whose development was sidetracked through no fault of his own.

Jimmy Howard‘s tough year

Howard has been a rock in the Detroit crease for parts of 14 seasons now, and just last season was one of their few bright spots. All of that is what makes his 2019-20 season so hard to watch.

In his 27 appearances this season Howard has an .882 save percentage — the worst mark in the NHL by a fairly significant margin — to go with a 2-23-2 record.

Here is the complete list of goalies that appeared in at least 25 games in a single season and won two or fewer games:

  • Jimmy Howard (2019-20 Red Wings)
  • Jeff Hackett (1992-93 San Jose Sharks)
  • Michel Dion (1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins)
  • Wilf Cude (1930-31 Philadelphia Quakers)
  • Daniel Berthiaume (1992-93 Ottawa Senators)
  • Michel Belhumeur (1974-75 Washington Capitals)

Howard is one of the most accomplished goalies in franchise history, sitting in the top-four of games played (third), wins (third), save percentage (third) and shutouts (fourth) but not even he was immune to the struggles the rest of the team faced this season.

Another injury for Anthony Mantha

Mantha has played like a bonafide top-line power forward the past two seasons when he’s been healthy and in the lineup. The only thing that has slowed him down are the injuries that robbed him of 43 games since the start of the 2018-19 season.

It’s so disappointing because it’s probably robbed him of a couple of 30-goal seasons.

Over the past two years he has scored at 30-goal, 65-point pace while posting outstanding possessions numbers (better than 53 percent shot-attempt share) on a team that has been completely dominated at even-strength. He is an outstanding player in the prime of his career, and one that probably does not get a lot of attention due to the circumstances around him as well as the fact he has missed so much time to injury.

The continued offensive declines of Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader

Age and injuries continued to add up for two of Detroit’s biggest remaining contracts, at least when it comes to their offensive production.

Nielsen and Abdelkader count nearly $10 million against the salary cap for each of the next three seasons (while Abdelkader has a fourth year remaining on his deal) and combined for just four goals (all belonging to Nielsen) and 12 total points this season. With both players having already celebrated their 33rd birthdays there is little reason to believe those downward trends offensively will rebound in the coming seasons.

You can’t really blame the players themselves because it’s certainly not for a lack of effort and they didn’t offer themselves the contracts. They can also still contribute quite a bit defensively with both being among the Red Wings’ best performing defensive forwards. The disappointment just comes from the fact that their biggest long-term investments are with players that can not really drive their offense in a meaningful way.

More:
Looking at the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings
What is the Red Wings’ long-term outlook?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Which NHL players might be considering retirement?

NHL players considering retirement Marleau Thornton
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When the coronavirus outbreak started to ratchet up in mid-March, hockey fans received at least one bit of soothing news. It turns out Joe Thornton doesn’t rank among the NHL players who might be considering retirement as the season hangs in the balance.

TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Thornton responded to a question about playing next season by texting back, “I have years to go!” If you’re like me, triumphant music might as well have been playing while you read that. (My choice: the “victory song” from Final Fantasy games.)

Check out LeBrun’s tweet. It’s been a while, so maybe you already saw it anyway, and could use a reason to smile?

Sweet, right?

A couple days later, The Athletic’s James Mirtle put together a thorough list of players who might have played in their final NHL games (sub required). I thought it might be useful to take a look at this group of aging veterans and wonder: should they have played their last NHL games? As we know, plenty of athletes don’t get to make the final call on retiring, instead being forced to fade from the glory because they couldn’t find any takers.

Forwards

Other aging forwards give Joe Thornton company when it comes to wanting to be back in 2020-21, and possibly beyond.

How many of them bring something to the table, though? Using Charting Hockey’s handy tableaus (which utilize Evolving Hockey’s data), here’s how some prominent aging forwards stack up in Goals Against Replacement:

NHL players considering retirement forwards GAR

 

Frankly, quite a few of these players should be of interest to someone, and I’d figure the biggest stumbling block might be fit. Would these players only suit up for a contender?

If there’s some flexibility, then many would make a lot of sense. There were some rumblings that the Sharks found a taker for Patrick Marleau because he’s still a pretty good skater, while a more plodding Joe Thornton made for a tougher fit. Similarly, some coaches will be more willing to overlook Ilya Kovalchuk’s defensive lapses than others. The Maple Leafs made an analytics-savvy move in adding Jason Spezza, and he remains an underrated option. Especially since he’s probably not going to break the bank. Justin Williams is likely poised to call his shot again, and justifiably so.

Someone like Mikko Koivu figures to be trickier. Koivu seemed to indicate that he wasn’t OK with being traded from the Wild, so if he remains Wild-or-nothing, that could get awkward.

The Stars made a reasonably low-risk gamble on Corey Perry, but that didn’t really seem to work out. Perry and (possibly AHL-bound) Justin Abdelkader might not have the choice.

Defensemen

Let’s apply the same Charting Hockey/Evolving Hockey GAR experiment to some defensemen who might be teetering:

NHL players considering retirement defensemen GAR

You can break down forwards into “surprisingly useful,” “some warts but probably worth a roster spot,” and then “broken down guys who’d live off of name recognition.”

An uncomfortable number of the defensemen above (Brent Seabrook, Roman Polak, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley) could fall close to that broken down category. At least if you’re like me, and you hope Jay Bouwmeester bows out gracefully rather than risking his health after that scare.

Zdeno Chara stands tall as a “play as long as you want” option. Dan Hamhuis and Ron Hainsey mix the good with the bad, and could probably be decent options for coaches who simply demand veteran presences.

But the forward group is far richer, it seems.

Goalies

This post largely focuses on to-the-point analysis. Is this player good enough? Would they be willing to make some compromises to sign with a team?

But what about the human factor? This coronavirus pause is allowing players to spend more time with their families. For some, that might mean too much of a good thing/fodder for making a chicken coop. Yet, goalies like Ryan Miller might get another nudge out the door.

Back in June 2019, Ryan Miller explained why he came back to the Ducks. In doing so, Miller relayed this precious and heartbreaking detail about his then-4-year-old son Bodhi Miller pleading with him to retire.

“It’s not like he’s a little bit older and understands the full weight of his words,” Miller said to The Athletic’s Josh Cooper (sub required). “He was like, ‘If you aren’t doing that, you could be playing superheroes with me every single day.’”

(Personally, I wonder if Ryan Miller will eventually start playing “Nightcrawlers” with his son. It’s an imagination-based game, you see.)

Miller updated to Mirtle around March 19 that it’s “too soon — can’t even process what’s happening.”

Veteran goalies present their own brand of tough calls. How many of these goalies would be willing to play as backups, or as the “1B” in platoons.

  • Miller adjusted to life as such, but could Henrik Lundqvist accept a lesser role with a different team if the Rangers buy him out?
  • Craig Anderson suffered through multiple rough seasons after once developing a strange knack for rotating elite and “eh” seasons.
  • Jimmy Howard is no spring chicken at 36. After a sneaky-strong 2018-19 season, his play dropped significantly. He’d likely need to take significant role and pay decreases to stay in the NHL.
  • Mike Smith warrants consideration, too. He’s struggled for two seasons now, and is 38.

Closing thoughts on NHL players considering retirement

While family time might nudge some toward retirement, added rest — particularly if play doesn’t resume this season and playoffs – could also revitalize certain veterans.

Overall, it’s a lot to think about regarding NHL players who might be considering retirement. Which players should lean toward hanging their skates up, and who should NHL teams convince to stick around? This list isn’t comprehensive, so bring up names of your own.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Flames land top NCAA free agent; Rielly wins in transition

Flames land NCAA free agent Connor Mackey, Colton Poolman, Morning Skate
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Flames recently signed two NCAA players to bolster their defense: Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman. Frank Seravalli goes into detail on the Flames’ “two-year pursuit” of Mackey. Seravalli deemed Mackey the No. 1 NCAA free agent available this spring, making Mackey quite the get for the Flames. (TSN)

• Oilers GM Ken Holland spoke with Mark Spector about resolving the situation with Jesse Puljujarvi, which will be a challenge whenever there’s an actual chance to address it. In that same piece, Ken Hitchcock praised Puljujarvi as at least a useful third-line type player, while admitting he isn’t sure Puljujarvi will end up being more than that. (Sportsnet)

• Lou Lamoriello answered fan questions on the Islanders website, which meant a lot of Lou-like non-answers, sometimes comically so. (Yes, he even briefly discussed his fascination with lower jersey numbers.) Later on Sunday, we’ll ponder Lamoriello saying the Islanders would match a Mathew Barzal offer sheet. There’s other noteworthy information, though. The Islanders expect Johnny Boychuk and Casey Cizikas back if play resumes this season/playoffs, while Adam Pelech should be ready for training camp before 2020-21. (Islanders)

• Could the Penguins actually keep their first-round pick from the Jason Zucker trade if the season isn’t completed? Pensburgh goes over that, and in doing so, lays out some of the tricky questions the NHL would face if COVID-19 forces more than just a pause for 2019-20. (Pensburgh)

• Helene St. James hands out best and worst awards for the Red Wings. In doing so, St. James posits that Justin Abdelkader will be waived and sent to the AHL in 2020-21. (Detroit Free-Press)

• Steve Simmons went looking for a phone number in an old phonebook, and found himself pausing to remember several names from the past. (Steve Simmons)

• How Malcolm Subban and Brendan Perlini could make strange history for the Blackhawks. Could Subban end up having the shortest “career” with the Blackhawks ever? (Chicago Sun-Times)

• Andrew Berkshire takes a look at defensemen who excel at that transition game, with Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly leading the pack. (Sportsnet)

• Fun 2020 NHL Draft angle from McKeen’s Hockey: the most polarizing prospect from each region, starting with Antonio Stranges in the OHL. (McKeen’s Hockey)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Marchand, Pastrnak come through in Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win against Red Wings

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The Boston Bruins mounted two successful comebacks in the third period on their way to a 3-2 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday.

The Bruins, who have been surging as of late, won for the 10th time in their past 12.

The Red Wings, in quite the opposite scenario, lost their third straight and for the 11th time in their past 12 contests.

By all accounts, the Red Wings deserved a better fate, at least until the third period.

They limited the high-flying Bruins to just two shots in the first period and clawed out a 1-0 lead midway through the second frame, with Tomas Tatar‘s wrist shot finding twine after a perfect screen from Justin Abdelkader.

Boston found the equalizer they needed early in the third frame, and from an unlikely source.

Noel Acciari tied the game 1-1 with his second of the season after getting a couple whacks at a loose puck in front of Jimmy Howard, capping off a solid shift from the Bruins fourth line at 3:02.

Detroit took the lead for a second time, this time short-handed after David Pastrnak got caught pinching, allowing Dylan Larkin to get behind the Bruins rearguard, scoring a beauty on a breakaway to make it 2-1.

Scoring for Boston had been a strength coming into the game.

David Pastrnak, Boston’s top point-getter, came into the game sporting an eight-game point streak. Brad Marchand, sitting just behind Pastrnak in terms of points, have a five-game heater of his own going.

The dynamic duo wouldn’t be denied; the streaks would continue.

Marchand picked out Pastrnak with a perfect back-door feed to tie the game 2-2 with 1:26 remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.

Marchand, now running with good karma, took a backhand pass from Torey Krug and turned it into a partial breakaway, fending off Mike Green, and putting his backhand in the top shelf behind Howard.

Tuukka Rask extended his win streak to five games. Rask, who struggled out the gate to start the season, stopped 31 shots and continues to look like the goalie of years past.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Petry says signing with Montreal is his first choice

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“Personally, I’d love to see him back. I think he compliments our defense corps great and I think that, at his age, good defensemen like that are hard to come by.”

That quote comes courtesy Montreal’s P.K. Subban, speaking at Thursday’s end-of-year media availability about fellow blueliner Jeff Petry.

Petry, a pending UFA who came to Montreal at the trade deadline and showed very well, is thought to be at the top of Habs GM Marc Bergevin’s priority list this summer.

Turns out the Habs are high on Petry’s list, too.

Petry, 27, scored seven points in 19 regular-season games with the Habs while averaging 22:11 TOI per night, then continued that strong effort in the postseason with three points in 12 games, averaging 22:17.

It’s clear Montreal would like him back. D-men Sergei Gonchar and Mike Weaver are also UFAs — not expected to be re-signed — and while Bergevin needs to ink new deals for RFAs Alex Galchenyuk and Nathan Beaulieu, Petry could fit within Montreal’s current cap structure.

But it won’t be easy.

First, there’s a money issue — Petry made $3.075M last season and would likely see a significant raise on the open market. This year’s UFA d-man class isn’t especially deep, and it’d be hard for Petry to ignore the payday Matt Niskanen scored by going to market last summer (seven years, $40.25 million from Washington.)

Petry should also have a number of interested suitors. Chief among them would be the Detroit Red Wings, who have been on a seemingly endless search for a right-shot defenseman (Petry shoots right). What’s more, Petry is a Michigan native, a Michigan State Spartan alumni — where he was teammates with Justin Abdelkader — and the son of ex-MLB pitcher Dan Petry, who helped the Detroit Tigers win the 1984 World Series.