Are the Red Wings Showcasing Andreas Athanasiou?

It’s not a well kept secret that there is very little love lost between forward Andreas Athanasiou and Red Wings’ management. The prolonged contract dispute over the summer — which spilled into the fall — led to the speedy forward missing the first ten games of the season.

Eventually, Athanasiou held his nose, bit his tongue and signed a one-year contract in Detroit for the paltry sum of $1.38 million dollars instead of taking a two-year offer for around $4 million. Basically, Double-A bet on himself by taking the shorter term and, in return, will have arbitration rights next summer.

And the wager that #72 placed is paying off in spades so far.  Athanasiou already has five goals in 11 games — which would equate to a 37-goal pace if Ken Holland hadn’t dicked him around for 8% of the season. Furthermore, the Wings are 6-3-2 since AA returned to the lineup and playing their best hockey of the season.

Not coincidentally.

So you might think this ending will be a happy one. That the Wings and Athanasiou’s agent (Darren Ferris) will eventually work out a long-term deal to keep one of the most dangerous 5-on-5 scorers in the NHL in Detroit for a very long time.

Well, not so fast. Because of the way Athanasiou has been handled by the organization over the last couple of years (lack of ice time, lack of power play opportunities, being benched for mistakes while players like Jonathan Ericsson have carte blanche to fuck-up repeatedly without consequence, etc.) combined with Holland’s anger at the holdout, there has been speculation that both sides have passed a point of no return.

There were rumors of a potential Athanasiou trade during his holdout and a source advised me there were whispers once again upon his return.

(It would be hard to believe the Wings could deal AA during the season considering their precarious salary cap situation. Whom are they going to get in return both worthy of Athanasiou’s value AND making less than 1.5 million this season????)

In fact, some in the AA camp believe the Wings might be showcasing Athanasiou. While AA only played 13:49 last night against Colorado, his TOI for the three games prior was as follows :

18:43
20:49
20:32

That amount of ice time has been unprecedented in AA’s tenure with the Wings.  There could be a few explanations:

1] It’s obvious that Athanasiou has been one of the team’s best forwards so he is being rewarded with increased ice time.

2] According to multiple sources, head coach Jeff Blashill has been doling out playing time and forming line pairings based on analytics. Blashill has supposedly totally bought into advanced math and AA’s PT is based on that information.

3] The Wings know this is Athanasiou’s last season in Detroit and they are going to do everything possible to pad his stats so he will be more valuable in a trade this offseason.

Based on my conversations with multiple insiders, I believe it is a combination of all three. Remember, the Wings are in salary cap hell and had to trade Riley Sheahan just to become payroll compliant so Athanasiou could even be inserted into the lineup.

The only contract coming off the books for sure next year is Mike Green’s, although it would seem likely the team will part ways with Petr Mrazek after leaving him exposed for the expansion draft this past summer.

The problem is Dylan LarkinAnthony Mantha and Athanasiou are all restricted free-agents this summer and that trio is making ONLY about $3.5 million this season combined.

Considering Larkin and Mantha are almost point-per-game performers this season — not to mention the future of the franchise — that trifecta of youth could expect to more than quadruple their cumulative salaries next July.

So where is all that cap space going to come from? Unless Holland does something creative (I know, you can stop laughing now) by trading away a valuable asset like a second round pick and a prospect to Las Vegas so they take Darren Helm off his hands or he buys out Jonathan Ericsson, how the hell will this team be able to afford 72, 39 and 71?

They probably can’t…And who do you think is going to be the odd-man out?

I am guessing the dude who had a view of the Swiss Alps about a month ago.

Of all of Holland’s crimes against humanity over the last decade, his most repugnant act might be placing his franchise in a position where he might be unable to keep all of the organization’s top young players in Detroit for the long haul due to his asinine contracts of loyalty awarded to players who clearly didn’t deserve their new deals (and accompanying no-trade clauses).

So we’d better enjoy Athanasiou’s twenty minutes of ice time and goals like last night’s where he used his speed and finishing abilities to make the Avalanche defense and Jonathan Bernier look silly.

Because Holland has about eight months to rectify this situation and it would appear that some in the know are already betting that’s not going to happen.

(You can follow Moss on Twitter @JeffMossDSR. You can discuss this article on Facebook by clicking here. You can also go fuck yourself if you’d like. Totally up to you.)

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