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Red Wings prepare to be sellers

Detroit likely to move players before NHL Trade Deadline with playoff streak in jeopardy

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

DETROIT -- The day of reckoning has come for the Detroit Red Wings.

A month ago, general manager Ken Holland said he wanted to give them every opportunity to play their way into the mix for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But after a 3-1 loss against the New York Islanders at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, they had the worst record in the Eastern Conference in terms of point percentage (.483).

They don't play again until Feb. 28 against the Vancouver Canucks, less than 24 hours before the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline on March 1 at 3 p.m. ET. So it's time to be realistic about their chances of extending their playoff streak to 26 seasons. It's time to declare that finally, for the first time in forever, they will be sellers.

They are eight points behind the Florida Panthers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, with seven teams to leapfrog and yet another, the last-place Carolina Hurricanes, two points behind with four games in hand, to hold off.

Another way to look at it: The Red Wings squeaked into the playoffs last season with 93 points, breaking a tie with the Boston Bruins with one more win in regulation or overtime. Just to reach 93 points this season, they would need 35 points in their final 22 games. Are they going to go 17-4-1, 16-3-3, 15-2-5 or 14-1-7?

"By simple math," Holland said, "we're going to have to have an incredible finish to make it."

Holland has started working already.

"The last week or so, the phones have been busier, both from me receiving calls and me making calls," Holland said.

The question is what Holland has to sell, however.

cVideo: Lindsay, Smith on the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline

Just because the Red Wings likely will miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a quarter-century does not necessarily mean they will change their longstanding philosophy. They have given no indication they want to clear out veterans and go into a full rebuild. Their goal next season would be to make the playoffs again. They would consider trading players under contract beyond this season if it made sense in that context. But such trades usually happen in the offseason when teams have more flexibility.

The Red Wings have pending unrestricted free agents who could be rentals for contenders: forwards Drew Miller, Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek and defenseman Brendan Smith. But Miller cleared waivers and is playing for Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League. Ott is a fourth liner and penalty killer. Only Vanek and Smith might fetch decent assets.

The Islanders received a second-round pick from the Montreal Canadiens as part of a deal involving Vanek in 2014. Teams often pay a premium for defensemen. The Toronto Maple Leafs received two second-round picks from the San Jose Sharks as part of a deal for Roman Polak last year.

"I've had a couple brief conversations with the agents for [the unrestricted free agents] to kind of gauge what they're thinking," Holland said. "We're going to make some decisions between now and next Wednesday."

Vanek, 33, signed a one-year, $2.6 million contract with the Red Wings as a free agent July 1. When healthy, he has been one of their best players, producing 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) in 47 games. The Red Wings are interested in re-signing him, and though he was unavailable for comment Tuesday, he has said multiple times he is interested in staying in Detroit.

Video: DET@PIT: Vanek gets to the slot, scores with wrister

But even if they could agree on an extension, it wouldn't make sense for either side to sign one now because of the NHL Expansion Draft in June. Why would the Red Wings want to sign Vanek and risk losing him to the Vegas Golden Knights, or protect him at the expense of someone else? Why would Vanek want to sign with Detroit and risk ending up in Las Vegas if he can't get a no-movement clause?

If the Red Wings receive a strong offer for Vanek, they could trade him and hope to re-sign him as a free agent July 1. If they don't receive a strong offer, they could keep him and hope to sign him to an extension after the expansion draft. It might help their chances. He and his family have bounced from Buffalo to Long Island to Montreal to Minnesota to Detroit over the past four seasons and like where they are settled now. He won't see how green the grass is elsewhere.

Smith, 28, was selected by the Red Wings in the first round (No. 27) of the 2007 NHL Draft and has spent the past five full seasons in Detroit. He said he would fly to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Wednesday and try to spend his break relaxing and not thinking about the trade deadline.

"Obviously if something happens, my agent will let me know or I'll see it on social media," Smith said. "I only know Red Wings hockey, and I like it. I love every moment here, good and bad. They've made me a better player. It's hard for me to speculate, because I don't know any different. I would like to continue to be stay on the Wing path, but it's a business, and you never know what happens."

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