The curious case of the Detroit Red Wings’ roster

Yesterday, Karim (@karimkurji) broke down NHL team rosters based on how each team obtained their players. One team in particular raised some eyebrows: As of today, the Detroit Red Wings currently ice zero players acquired via a trade.That’s not to say Ken Holland hasn’t been busy — the Red Wings have made 10 trades since the end of the 2015-16 season. Of those trades, the players that headed to Detroit were Dylan Sadowy, Joe Vitale, Dylan McIlrath, Tom McCollum, Scott Wilson, and Matt Puempel. The rest of the Red Wings’ returns were various draft picks.

Fun fact: prior to the 2015-16 season, the most recent Red Wings acquired via trade have been long retired, such as Marek Židlický, Erik Cole, and David Legwand, in which only Cole can say his last NHL game was with the Red Wings.

So why is it that the Red Wings don’t have any traded players in their lineup? For starters, Detroit has been fairly successful in developing their draft picks. They are tied for first in the league with the Los Angeles Kings for drafted players on their NHL roster — each team boasting 16.

The Red Wings have 23 players listed while the Kings have 26; Detroit has the best ratio of drafted to non-drafted players in the entire league.

Taking a look at the the players that Detroit has traded for reveals insight as to why they aren’t playing out of the Little Caesars Arena this season. Stats are given for the 2017-18 hockey season for the end of January 8, 2018.

Dylan Sadowy, LW 

Acquired May 26, 2016; San Jose Sharks acquired a 2017 3rd round pick.

Sadowy has split the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins and the Toledo Walleye, the AHL and ECHL affiliates of the Red Wings respectively.

Team League GP G A P
Grand Rapid Griffins AHL 8 0 0 0
Toledo Walleye ECHL 15 2 7 9

These numbers are underwhelming and quite frankly disappointing. He showed great promise in the OHL and was looking to turn his game around after low totals in his first season in the AHL. Coming into this season, there was hope that he would be a staple among the Griffins’ forwards, but a poor start ultimately sent him back to the ECHL where he currently plays. Sadowy would be a long shot to make the Red Wings roster this season. 

Joe Vitale, C

Acquired June 24, 2016, along with a 2016 1st round pick, and 2016 2nd round pick; Arizona Coyotes acquired Pavel Datsyuk and a 2016 1st round pick.

Vitale never donned the winged wheel, being sidelined for the entire season with a concussion he suffered the previous season in Arizona. He retired in July 2017 due to health reasons.

Dylan McIlrath, D 

Acquired March 1, 2017 along with a 2017 3rd round pick; Florida Panthers acquired Thomas Vanek.

Team League GP G A P
Grand Rapid Griffins AHL 37 3 4 7

McIlrath’s name has higher odds of showing up under the category of penalty minutes than points. He is not expected to score often, as his game instead features the big and physical brand of hockey that general managers across the league have an affinity for. He has the potential of being a third pairing defender with a decent shot, but expectations should not be any higher than that.

Tom McCollum, G

Acquired July 1, 2017; Calgary Flames acquired 2018 conditional 7th round pick.

Team League GP GAA SV% SO
Grand Rapid Griffins AHL 14 3.51 .889 0

The condition on the 7th round pick was that McCollum had to play “at least 20 minutes in 15 regular season games in 2017-18,” which essentially translates to the Red Wings getting him back for free after the expansion draft passed. With the goaltender depth in Detroit’s system, Calgary has virtually no chance of actually getting that 7th round pick.The 2008 Red Wing first round pick left the Detroit organization when he signed a two year contract with the Flames. Primarily signed to meet expansion draft criteria for the Flames, McCollum actually made his way back to the Red Wings after spending time with the Calgary affiliates the Stockton Heat and (at the time) the Adirondack Thunder. He was also loaned to the Charlotte Checkers.

McCollum currently backs up Jared Coreau with the Griffins. It is unlikely that McCollum cracks the Red Wings’ roster this year with Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrázek holding the fort in Detroit. Coreau, who saw NHL action last year, would likely get the call up over McCollum if needed.

Scott Wilson, C

Acquired October 21, 2017 along with a 2018 3rd round pick; Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Riley Sheahan and a 2018 5th round pick.

Team League GP G A P
Detroit Red Wings NHL 17 0 0 0
Buffalo Sabres NHL 10 1 1 2

Ironically, the only player acquired via trade that has suited up for the Red Wings this season was later traded to the Buffalo Sabres on December 4, 2017. Skating mainly fourth line minutes with nothing spectacular in his play, perhaps the 2019 5th round draft pick they got from the Sabres will bring back better dividends.

Matt Puempel, LW

Acquired October 21, 2017; New York Rangers acquired Ryan Sproul.

Team League GP G A P
Hartford Wolfpack AHL 5 1 2 3
Grand Rapids Griffins AHL 24 12 15 27

Detroit is certainly boasting a unique roster composition right now. They’re currently six points out of a wild card position, so it’ll be interesting to see what the management decides to do. Given that they are currently fourth in the Atlantic and that every single Metropolitan team currently has more points than the Red Wings do, it is all too likely that the Metropolitan will feature five teams in the playoffs to the Atlantic’s three.

Only time will tell when the next time the Red Wings will feature a traded player. As their homegrown players fill out most of their roster, Holland must be happy with the body of work done by the scouting staff.Of all the Red Wings acquired by trade, Puempel has surprisingly been the most impressive.

His production at the AHL level could mean he’d be serviceable if called upon. He is probably the only current traded player that might have a shot at cracking Detroit’s lineup before the end of the season. That being said, he struggled in the NHL during his time with the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers. Change is possible, however, as Puempel was recently named to the 2018 AHL All-Star Game roster.

The Red Wings would have to catch either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs, which won’t be easy; or hope to sneak into the wild card spot by banking on being better than four metropolitan teams that are ahead of them in the standings, which isn’t easy either.

If they want to defy the odds and have a go at making the playoffs this season, they should probably look for external help immediately. Perhaps they can bring in a few players to try and turn their season around by the means of a trade or two.


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