The draft board pages include every player who was left unprotected in the 1999 Expansion Draft. The overwhelming majority of players who do not carry over are either old, unproductive, injured, primarily used for fighting, marginal players, minor league veterans, or unsigned European prospects. The majority of pending UFAs (Group III, Group V, and Group VI) will not carry over. Exceptions to these rules are provided if the incumbent team left almost nothing of value available to choose from, in which case everyone gets at least a closer look.
As we are capped by league restrictions to selecting no more than six pending free agents, we must be judicious with our choices.
The Red Wings failed to win their third straight Stanley Cup, going down to defeat in a six-game bloodbath against Colorado in the conference semifinals.
Goalies: Norm Maracle
Defensemen: Todd Gill(Gr.III – UFA), Sean Gillam(Gr.II – RFA), Yan Golubovsky, Doug Houda(Gr.III – UFA), Uwe Krupp, Jamie Macoun(Gr.III – UFA), Ulf Samuelsson(Gr.III – UFA)
Forwards: Pavel Agarkov(UE), Doug Brown, Wendel Clark(Gr.III – UFA), David Engblom(UE), Brent Gilchrist, Petr Klima(Gr.III – UFA), Joey Kocur, Igor Larionov, Barry Potomski(Gr.VI – UFA), Andrei Samokvalov(UE), Anatoli Ustugov
Of their nineteen unprotected players, four will get a further look. They are goalie Norm Maracle and forwards Doug Brown, Wendel Clark, and Igor Larionov.
Todd Gill, Jamie Macoun, Ulf Samuelsson, and Petr Klima are all pending UFAs and won’t be considered for selection.
G Norm Maracle – 25-year-old goalie, originally a 5th-round pick of Detroit (1993)
The case for taking Maracle – Drafted in 1993, Maracle went back to the WHL and turned in a season for the ages, which resulted in being named WHL First-Team All-Star, WHL Top Goalie, CHL First-Team All-Star, and CHL Top Goalie. Turned pro the next year, and he’s spent the last four seasons turning in increasingly dominant performances in the AHL with the Adirondack Red Wings, including placing second in league MVP voting in 1996-97. He’s actually been better the last two seasons than he was in that season. This past year also saw him play 16 games in the NHL with Detroit, where he posted a 2.27 GAA and .918 save percentage. He’s NHL-ready, and be looks ready to be an NHL starter soon.
The case against taking Maracle – The obvious question is, if Maracle is NHL-ready, why has it been Kevin Hodson as the guy getting the callup to Detroit? Maracle was a Red Wings draft pick, Hodson undrafted, so there was more invested in Maracle. Yet when Detroit carried three goalies for the entire 1996-97 season, it was Hodson. In 1997-98, just two seasons ago, Hodson was the full-time backup while Maracle was in the AHL. This past year was the first time Maracle saw any real NHL action, and he had a 6-5-2 record on a team that won the previous two Stanley Cups. And that was after starting off with a 4-0-0 record, and with being able to play the league’s bottom-dwellers like Vancouver (twice), San Jose (three times), Calgary and the Islanders (once each).
We’re an expansion team. We’re not going to have the luxury of being able to stack starts against weaker teams; we are the weaker team. The fact that Maracle can stand on his head game in and game out on a weaker AHL team doesn’t mean he can do it against the best in the world.
F Doug Brown – 35-year-old forward, originally undrafted
The case for taking Brown – He’s one of the ultimate “little things” players in the league; he can fill in any position on any line and not look out of place. Although he’s not used on the power play or penalty kill to the extent that he once was, he’s still more than capable of filling a bottom-six role on a good team and a middle-six role on our team. He’d get plenty of special teams ice time with us, and as his 19-goal, 42-point season just two years ago showed, he still has enough left in the tank to produce.
The case against taking Brown – He’s 35 years old and is slowing down, and the indicators are all over the stat sheet. He had more shots on goal last season than at any point in his career, but scored the second-fewest goals of his career (with his career low coming in a year that he missed 33 games). More troubling is that he set a career high in penalty minutes. He’s only had 20 penalty minutes in a season twice before last season, when he had 42. 12 of those came in a brawl with Vancouver and are inflated by picking up a misconduct. If we take out those 10 minutes, plus the 2 for roughing that he picked up at the same time, we’re down to 30, which is still a career high. Most troubling is that of those 30 minutes, every single one of them was from hooking, holding, tripping, and obstruction.
The declining offensive output, the diminished defensive skill, and the increase in penalties all point to one simple thing: an aging player who doesn’t have anything left in the tank. This is nothing against Brown, who has had a terrific career in multiple roles and lasted a lot longer than one would have expected an undersized undrafted college free agent to have ever lasted.
F Wendel Clark – 32-year-old forward, originally a 1st-round pick of Toronto (1985)
The case for taking Clark – What needs to be said? Clark is the ultimate hockey warrior, a guy who plays the game like a fourth-liner but produces like an All-Star. He’s mellowed over the years, and last year actually had more points than penalty minutes for the first time in his career. And since he scored 32 goals last season, that’s not exactly something to brush aside.
Most impressive is that of the 28 goals he scored with Tampa before being traded, his 11 power play goals came on a unit that had no threat from the point and no real setup man. No one had 10 power play assists, and only Clark and Darcy Tucker had more than 3 power play goals. Clark alone accounted for over 25% of the Lightning’s power play goals despite playing only 65 games there. He still has a lot left, and would be one of our most productive and most popular players right from the beginning.
The case against taking Clark – Yes, he had a huge rebound year when everyone thought he was done after the 1997-98 season. Yes, he’s still productive. Yes, our fans and players would love him.
However, from a simple asset standpoint, we’re in the worst position possible. Last year was the first time since the Reagan administration that he didn’t miss more than 10 games. Just in the last five years, he’s missed over 20% of his team’s total games, and the percentage actually climbs if we’d gone back further than that.
But the biggest issue is that he’s a pending Group III free agent, so if we take him, he counts against our limit. We also have no idea what he’s looking for in terms of salary. The other big factor is that he’s gone his entire career without winning a Stanley Cup. If he’s approaching the end of his career, would he even consider signing with us? And if he signs somewhere for one or two years to try to win one, his likely-discounted salary means we wouldn’t get a compensatory pick that would be remotely worthwhile.
F Igor Larionov – 38-year-old forward, originally an 11th-round pick of Vancouver (1985)
The case for taking Larionov – One of the smartest players in hockey history, Larionov’s methodical style has allowed him to spend the last two decades creating something out of nothing. He’s 38 years old and still productive, never more obvious than on the power play, where his 18 assists led all Detroit forwards. His 29 even strength assists were just 4 off his career high, and he’s still able to log big minutes in all situations.
Perhaps the most eye-popping statistic is that he was on the ice for just three power play goals against during the season, but he had two shorthanded goals and two shorthanded assists while on the PK. That’s right: Detroit was actually a net positive when Larionov was killing penalties.
We don’t know precisely how much Detroit values having him around, but it’s a good guess that the answer is “a lot”. We may be able to pick him up in the expansion draft, then trade him right back for something of better long-term value. Or we could use the mere threat of taking him to add an additional asset to the team.
The case against taking Larionov – That the skill is there isn’t really in dispute; how long it will be is, and how evident it would be without having a group around him like the Red Wings is as well. Unless we can get someone like Geoff Sanderson, we’re unlikely to have anyone whose offensive skills would slot into Detroit’s top six…or top nine.
Sure, he’s still productive, for now. How long will that last? That he’s going to decline is a simple fact of life; do we take someone who we might have for only a year or two at the expense of our possible long-term starting goalie in Maracle? If we take Larionov, would he simply retire rather than report? He’s accomplished an almost unfathomable amount in his career; why would he want to come to a first-year expansion team at the very end instead of having a very real chance to add a third Stanley Cup?