The Detroit Red Wings will be sellers before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25 at 3 p.m. ET. But they might not make dramatic changes.
They have six players who can become unrestricted free agents July 1: goalie Jimmy Howard; defensemen Niklas Kronwall, Nick Jensen and Luke Witkowski; and forwards Gustav Nyquist and Thomas Vanek.
General manager Ken Holland will weigh what he could get in return for each player via trade against what it would take to re-sign him.
The question is whether prices will be high enough to move the needle. It appears to be a buyer's market, and the Red Wings need quality over quantity when it comes to players, picks and prospects at this point in their rebuild. They selected 21 players in the past two drafts and have 11 picks in the 2019 NHL Draft.
"It's a matter of working the phones and seeing what people think of our players," Holland said. "Do they want our players? If I can get a player signed and nobody's prepared to pay a big price, then I'm obviously going to re-sign those players. But certainly if somebody's prepared to pay, I don't want to say a big price, but a price that we feel we can't pass up, then we'll look at going in that direction."
Holland will explore trades for players under contract beyond this season too, but Detroit does not have issues under the NHL salary cap.
"Even if we sign some of our players back, we still have cap space," Holland said. "So it's not like I need to move players of any variety to get cap space. We don't need space. I've got cap space, and we can get in the [free agent] marketplace in the summertime."
Video: DET@OTT: DeKeyser opens scoring with slap shot
The Red Wings (21-25-7) are 28th in the NHL standings and headed toward their third straight season out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; they trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by 12 points for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. But they have struggled in large degree because of injuries to veteran defensemen Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, Danny DeKeyser and Mike Green, and have played well with a full lineup.
Eight players 24 or younger have played regularly, including 20-year-old defenseman Dennis Cholowski, the No. 20 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, and 19-year-old forward Michael Rasmussen, the No. 9 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. More young players are on the way, including 19-year-old forward Filip Zadina, the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Holland doesn't think the Red Wings have to wait too long to start trending upward again.
"It's about the future in Detroit," Holland said. "But the future begins in '19 -20. It's not like the future begins in '21-22. I'm hoping that we can be competitive for a playoff spot in '19-20."
Holland spoke to NHL.com about the state of the Red Wings rebuild.
On how he is handling Kronwall, the 38-year-old veteran who has spent his entire 15-season NHL career with the Red Wings, and the chances he will be traded:
"I've met with Nik once already. We've had a great visit, great talk, and right now I'm not shopping him. I'm not calling teams about him.
"He's been here over 900 games. He helped us win the Stanley Cup. Even though we've had a disappointing season and missed the playoffs the last two years, I still think that his impact in that locker room on those young players that we have is going to pay dividends to this franchise down the road. He's that important as a leader to this team and then as a role model and as a mentor.
"I never say never to anything. It's my job to work the phones. But I do think out of respect for what he has accomplished and contributed to our organization, to our team, in his time, that he deserves to be involved in the process. Highly unlikely."
Video: DET@CAR: Kronwall buries blistering slapper for PPG
On pending UFAs like Howard, Jensen, Nyquist and Vanek:
"I'm going to talk to their agents. In some cases, lots of cases, I think they would like to stay. I think some of those players I'd like to re-sign. But at the same time, if the marketplace says that somebody is in real demand, then I have to explore that.
"When I start trading people out of here that I think can help us for '19-20, it's setting us behind for '19-20. But I'm prepared to go that direction if the return is good enough that I can say, 'This organization can't pass that up.' That's what I'm weighing."
On trading players with term:
"I think we have to be open for business. We're trending to be out of the playoffs for the third straight year. So players with term that are young? No. That's the direction that we're going. If somebody's interested in one of our older players, we've got to have that conversation. I don't need cap space. So it's about trying to in '19-20 have a better team than we've got in '18-19."
On the progress of young players:
"Obviously [center] Dylan Larkin has taken a massive step. He's 22 years of age, and he's in the process of grabbing the torch for a franchise. I call him a bus driver. He's at the front of the bus, and he's willing us, with skill, with will, with determination.
"Certainly [24-year-old center] Andreas Athanasiou's taken a big step. [24-year-old forward] Anthony Mantha's a legitimate top-nine, top-six forward. He's 6-foot-5. He's a big man with skills, can protect the puck.
"We're happy that we picked up [center Jacob] De La Rose. We're happy that [Christoffer] Ehn came over [from Sweden]. They form a fourth line. Ehn's 22. De La Rose is 23 years of age. They bring speed, and they check.
"Obviously Dennis Cholowski's been a great story on the back end. He got off to a great start early in the year points-wise. He hasn't got as many points [lately], but he's 20 years of age playing in the National Hockey League and certainly looks like he's going to be around for quite a while because of his poise with the puck."
Video: TOR@DET: Larkin buries Vanek's feed for PPG
On whether Zadina will come up from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League down the stretch:
"We're going to give Zadina a little bit of an opportunity in March. I want him or the young players to see what the NHL is all about, so as they head into the offseason [they know what they need to work on]. I think a young player can really improve in the gym between June and August.
"When you've had young players that have had a ton of success in junior, in college, in Europe, the expectations are they're going to go to the NHL and they're going to have that same success, and I think adversity's a good thing. I don't think it's a bad thing."
On the next waves of young players:
"As we go into '19-20, obviously [21-year-old defenseman] Filip Hronek, Filip Zadina, [22-year-old forward] Evgeny Svechnikov, I would say those are probably the closest young players. Svechnikov is probably going to be on the team. He's a waiver player next year.
"I think we've got some other players that are just a step below. [19-year-old center Joseph] Veleno's probably a step behind that. I think [18-year-old defenseman] Jared McIsaac's a step behind that. I think [20-year-old defenseman] Gustav Lindstrom's a step behind that. I think the player that we take in the first round this year is probably going to be a step behind that. What do I mean 'a step behind that'? Probably a year to a year and a half to two behind that.
"Over the next couple of years, we've got to do on defense what we've done up front. And certainly the first wave of those guys is Cholowski, but [Filip] Hronek is right there, and then Gustav Lindstrom is playing in the top four for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League. We think maybe in '20-21 he's ready to make our team. We're hoping. That's the plan. Now, McIsaac's 18. He could play junior again next year. But he's having a real good year. But we've got some defensemen coming.
"We've got a first-round pick. We've got two seconds this year. We've got to continue the process of drafting players and getting those players from the draft table onto our roster over the next three or four years. But in the meantime, in the short time, we've got to be more competitive in '19-20 for a playoff spot."
On coach Jeff Blashill's performance and status on an expiring contract:
"What I'm most happy about is, I think that we're starting to form an identity of what our team is about. What's that identity? I think that we play with speed, and we compete, and those are real important ingredients. So on a night-to-night basis, we can skate, and we compete. We might not be deep enough. We might not have that player or two that can make a difference.
"For eight weeks, we had DeKeyser and Green out. We've also had stretches with Ericsson out at the start of the year. We've had stretches with Daley out. And again, on a night-to-night basis, we're competitive. We haven't won enough, but we're competitive. The games are close. The game is level. I thought we got outplayed a bit early in the year in some games. That hasn't happened recently.
"He plays the kids. The young players have played more minutes, more important minutes. He played a 19-year-old Rasmussen. He's played a 20-year-old Cholowski. So I think he's done a real good job, and I need to sit down with him here in the next while and have a chat."