The Detroit Red Wings spiced up the NHL’s August doldrums Tuesday with a surprising trade that requires a bit of unpacking.
Just when it seemed Steve Yzerman was done reworking his blue line ahead of the 2023-24 season, Detroit traded away Gustav Lindstrom and a conditional 2025 fourth-round pick for Jeff Petry, a long-time top-four defenseman who might just be the best of the defenders the Red Wings acquired this summer.
From that lens, and at a cost that few would balk at, it’s a nice trade for the Red Wings, who upgrade from a young depth defenseman in Lindstrom to a proven veteran that brings offense to the blue line. Whereas Lindstrom was expected to be Detroit’s seventh defenseman most nights, Petry — who played 22 minutes a night last season in Pittsburgh, turning in 31 points in 61 games — could very well slot into their top four.
He also makes the Red Wings deeper, especially on the right side, where before Tuesday the best guess would have been for Shayne Gostisbehere — an earlier offseason addition — to play his off hand in order to fill the hole. For a Detroit team that clearly wants to improve, Petry gives them a real upgrade.
But it also comes with some interesting questions about potential fallout elsewhere on the blue line, which suddenly looks very crowded. After the projected top pair of Moritz Seider and Jake Walman, the Red Wings now may have to sit one of Petry, Gostisbehere, Ben Chiarot, Justin Holl and Olli Määttä, all of whom except Gostisbehere are under contract for at least the next two seasons, and all but Petry (whose cap hit is $2.34 million, after Montreal retained salary) will cost at least $3 million.
In many ways, that crowdedness can be a good thing — injuries are inevitable in the NHL, and in recent years, the Red Wings have had to resort to asking depth defenders to carry a real load. Last season, Detroit’s Nos. 6-8 defensemen (Lindstrom, Jordan Oesterle and Robert Hagg) combined for 126 games. Now, when all are healthy, the Red Wings would project to scratch a player who is better than all three of them — and that’s without knowing who, exactly, shapes up as the odd man out on a given night. There should be real competition.
Improving the blue line was the top priority for head coach Derek Lalonde when he arrived last season, and remains as such going forward, with Lalonde recently saying that even though Detroit improved defensively last season, it “still isn’t good enough.”
“I’ve been fortunate enough prior to coming here, being around some winning within this league, and it’s still about keeping it out of the net,” Lalonde said.
Clearly, Yzerman agrees, as the Red Wings now look much deeper (and more veteran) on defense. Petry had a 54 percent expected goals share last season in Pittsburgh, and while much of that was a result of what he brings offensively, he has a history of strong defensive impacts too.
And beyond that, finding more offense is still a major need for Detroit. Petry, for his part, has tallied 40 or more points in four of his last six seasons, in addition to being on pace to do so last season in the 61 games he played.
That’s the good: the Red Wings got better, deeper, and more experienced, and did so without giving up much.
But there are still some questions with this trade, and they revolve mainly around what it means for everyone else — especially top prospect Simon Edvinsson.
The No. 6 pick in 2021, Edvinsson underwent shoulder surgery this offseason, so his path to an opening night lineup spot was already uncertain with six veterans ahead of him. That surgery inevitably cost him some summer training, and while Edvinsson flashed some impressive moments (and even games) in a nine-game stint last season, Yzerman openly said in July that he was “not prepared to put him on the team in a top-six role” as things stood.
That was fair enough, with Yzerman adding he “would love to see” Edvinsson force his way into the lineup. But now it’s not just an opening-night job that looks hard to come by. Detroit’s depth with proven veterans means it could very well take two meaningful injuries for Edvinsson to get sustained NHL minutes this season.
That may not be the end of the world — clearly, Detroit feels the top prospect hasn’t kicked down the door, and a little extra time in the AHL won’t hurt him. But there was enough promise in his late-season stint to believe that by midseason, he should be ready to handle that jump. And that’s before getting to Albert Johansson, who may not have Edvinsson’s pedigree or upside, but is older and drew praise for his steady play last season.
The Red Wings, of course, are clearly thinking more about what’s best for this year’s NHL team than they are making space for prospects. They may also feel the extra time is good for Edvinsson and Johansson, too. And while scratching a moderately-paid defenseman (whoever it may be) could be a strange look at first, it will certainly insulate them better from injury, and is something the Red Wings can easily afford in the short term.
But with only Gostisbehere an unrestricted free agent after 2023-24, this situation also isn’t merely short-term. At some point, something will have to give. And while that may be thinking too far ahead as things stand on August 15, 2023 — trading or buying out a defenseman after next season would be easy, if necessary — there are still real ripples to come from this deal.
Just a month out from the Red Wings’ Traverse City Prospect Tournament, Yzerman’s move Tuesday ensured competition for lineup spots on his blue line is going to be fierce — even for those who looked like nightly locks just yesterday, and perhaps even more so for the team’s top prospect.
(Photo of Jeff Petry: Harry How / Getty Images)