David Legwand and What It Says About Detroit

Note: I wrote this before I read this article.  It doesn’t really change the premise, but to avoid confusion I figured I should include it.

Detroit trading for David Legwand still bothers me.  Not because I think he’s a bad player or won’t help the Wings survive the onslaught of injuries to every center making over a million dollars on the roster.  From a strictly “does this help the Red Wings” standpoint, acquiring Legwand is a good trade.  My issue with the trade is what it says about the organization.  Specifically, is Detroit’s approach to developing prospects becoming a problem.

Calle Jarnkrok was widely viewed as a top-5 prospect for Detroit.  Holland and the Red Wings viewed him as expendable enough to be used as a throw-in because there was a belief he would return to Sweden in the near future.  Admittedly, I tend to overvalue prospects and undervalue draft picks, but this seems like a significant difference in valuation because a player was, maybe, unhappy with how he was handled by the organization.

Detroit’s preferred method for handling prospects and young players is to bring them along slowly and let them experience all the luxuries Grand Rapids has to offer.  Which is fine, especially if that extra time is used to develop a player’s overall game so he isn’t a liability on the penalty kill or is comfortable on either wing.  Moving a player up the ladder this slowly requires requires a lot of communication to prevent frustration, something the Islanders saw happen with Nino Niederreiter last season.  If a player doesn’t see a clear path for promotion, like any other employee at a normal job, it’s easy to see why he may begin to consider his options outside the organization.  Given how Detroit handled Tatar and Nyquist at the beginning of this season and the importance they place on signing and keeping veterans, it’s understandable why Jarnkrok would question his place in the organization and consider returning to Sweden when his current contract expired.

Painting Jarnkrok’s situation as a young player who is simply homesick ignores what could become a significant problem for Detroit moving forward.  If players in the Red Wings farm system continue to see their paths to the NHL blocked by a slow-to-promote organization and veterans on short term deals to fill roster holes, more prospects may be hesitant to tolerate the developmental process used by Detroit.

In a salary cap system, the teams with a farm system full of players that can be used on the 3rd and 4th lines have an advantage.  ELCs free up even more dollars to spend on elite level players without hurting roster flexibility.  If Detroit continues to commit extra dollars to veterans for these roles it could limit cap space and scare even more prospects away from the organization.  Considering the age of many key players on the roster, this could lead to a troubling future.

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