We’re officially in the doldrums of the NHL offseason. The draft is done, free agent frenzy has come and gone and not a lot happens between now and September unless you’re a handful of teams that have restricted free agents to sign.
The Detroit Red Wings do not have that luxury this season, so we have a much clearer picture of what the 2019-20 opening night roster will look like. Of course, general manager Steve Yzerman could make some more depth signings, and there’s always the possibility of a trade, but for the most part, any opportunity for big moves have come and gone.
Yzerman had a pretty meh free agency period for the Red Wings, signing forward Valtteri Filppula and defenseman Patrik Nemeth to matching two-year, $6 million deals. He also inked goalie Calvin Pickard to a two-year, $1.5 million deal, most likely to give rookie Filip Larsson a mentor in Grand Rapids.
The first-year Red Wings GM preached patience at his opening press conference and noted he wouldn’t sign a big-time free agent for the sake of signing a big-time free agent. So, Red Wings fans shouldn’t have expected much from this year’s free agent signing period.
With the roster picture becoming much clearer and thanks to Sean Tierney, we can get a good idea of how many points we can expect this year’s team to get. Using Evolving Wild‘s WAR model and Manny Perry‘s prospect data, Tierney designed a chart that calculates the projected full-season WAR for each forward line, each defensive pairing and each goalie and spits out the projected points.
The forward lines and defensive pairings are weighted so players placed on the top line/pair will receive more time on ice and, therefore, have a greater impact on the number of wins he generates for his team.
Below is the lineup I constructed for opening night against the Nashville Predators.
The chart is hard to read, but opening it in a new tab will make it bigger.
As you can see, the Red Wings are projected to get 69 points, which was five worse than this past season. There are a number of things to keep in mind. First of all, the WAR stat has its limitations, so we cannot take this as the be-all, end-all stat. It’s meant to be a starting point, and if the numbers clash with our preconceived notions, then we have to dig deeper and figure out why the model is grading a player a certain way.
Also, WAR isn’t a great predictor. The stat is based on past output and doesn’t take growth into consideration; Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek, Taro Hirose and Dennis Cholowski have a small sample size and it won’t accurately show their future potential.
Also, this lineup could very well change before Oct. 5 — Zadina could start in Grand Rapids, Evgeny Svechnikov could make the roster and there most likely will be an injury or two that will jumble the lines. I will probably do another post when the roster has been finalized.
As you can gather, the defense still is the weakest point at 1.6, compared to 5.01 for the forward group and 4.02 for the goalies. This chart doesn’t account for Jonathan Ericsson or Trevor Daley, either of whom could easily find themselves on the opening night roster.
How does that compare to last year’s opening night roster? I’m glad you asked.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s no way this chart could be right, projecting the Red Wings to get 48 points in an 82-game season. While it is possible for a team to be that bad — the 1974-75 Washington Capitals had just 21 points in an 80-game season in their inaugural season — the Red Wings started the season with a lot of injuries and had to put six rookies on the opening night roster, four of whom were defensemen.
So had the Red Wings been forced to keep this lineup for the entire season, they very well could have been this bad. Of course, once they got players back and the rookies were relegated back to Grand Rapids, the projected full-season WAR changed accordingly.
As far as the 69 points for 2019-20 go, I’d say it’s undervaluing the team just a tad, but I don’t think it’s completely out of the realm of possibility. The Red Wings may have lost Luke Witkowski, Thomas Vanek and, possibly, Kronwall, but there still are a number of depth players/rookies with meaningful roles, and that will hurt them as they continue to rebuild.
The defense didn’t improve from last season, and until the likes of Hronek, Cholowski and, eventually, Mo Seider get acclimated to the NHL, it will continue to struggle.