For the first time in what feels like a decade, the Detroit Red Wings have a roster depth.
There’s a lot to love about the team’s forwards. New head coach Derek Lalonde will have ample opportunity to combine players like Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana, Andrew Copp and David Perron. The inclusion of names like Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Dominik Kubalik complicates matters further. As for the problems, this is a good problem for an organization. More depth means more scoring, and more scoring means a more sprawling system where each line could potentially make an impact.
But in all the profound conversations, one name is consistently left out: Robby Fabbri.
With all the roster depth talk, where does Fabbri fit in?
Is he pushing someone down from the second row? Does he boot someone from the third?
The depths are about as clear as mud
— Jake Rivard (@RivardNHL) September 21, 2022
The forward, who was traded to Jacob de la Rose, ended last season on a rough note, tearing his cruciate ligament and sidelining it until January 2023. He finished the season with 17 goals and 30 points in 56 games, becoming The line-up went up and down as a kind of militiaman on the roster. Fabbri just signed a three-year, $4 million/year contract with the Wings. When he returns, he’ll almost certainly secure a roster spot for himself. But where will he play? Who will this force out of the lineup? Will Yzerman have to trade a player to make room for Fabbri?
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a look at the roster so far:
Bertuzzi Larkin Raymond
There’s a lot to like about this proposed lineup, but the current lineup leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Michael Rasmussen was playing like crazy towards the end of the season. This level of play doesn’t warrant time on the fourth line – if any, it should be on the third. Another roster conundrum, Filip Zadina needs more time to break into the top-6 for the team to really make a name for himself. Actually Yzerman specifically called him than “being on the right track” to become a good player. Can he do this with limited third-line minutes?
What about Peron? Sure, he’s 34, but he’s just wrapped up a career season of goals and points. Is it good for the squad or bad for the team to put him in a deeper role? Dominik Kubalik, another Free Agent signee,
To say there are more questions than answers is an understatement. As the season progresses, the picture will become a bit clearer, but for now it’s fun to speculate on how the roster will change. If the team is a well-oiled machine by January, Fabbri will be the wrench unbalancing the whole thing. If it’s a total mess, he may very well be the piece required to fill a positional need.
While NHL.com has called Fabbri a center, he’s played left wing for most of his time in Detroit. Where he plays when he comes back depends on two factors: performance and injury. The latter is easier as Fabbri can easily step in if Vrana, Kubalik or Rasmussen get hurt. With the former, things get complicated. Are you demoting Vrana if he can’t keep up with last year’s numbers? Will Kubalik be relegated to the fourth row if he doesn’t make it in time?
The puzzle gets even more complicated when you consider potential rookie Jonatan Berggren. The 22-year-old had an outstanding season for the Grand Rapids Griffins, amassing 64 points in 70 games in the AHL. According to the Griffins’ roster, Berggren is an LW/RW, meaning he plays on both sides of the line. Before the chants of Kubalik and Perron, he appeared to be a fixture for the cast. Now with so much depth, it remains to be seen whether or not Berggren will secure a full-time spot this season.
Here’s a hypothesis for you: Let’s say Kubalik underperforms or is injured early and Berggren gets the call. In his limited time with the roster, he shines by scoring over half a point a game in 20 games. In fact, he’s done so well that he’s secured a role within the team’s middle six. What happens if Fabbri goes back? Must Berggren return to the AHL? Would the team have to make a trade?
What’s important in hockey (and all things really) is to keep things realistic. You may be thinking, “If everything is fine, why not just trade with Fabbri?”. Consider an outsider’s approach to such a trade. Here’s an often-injured center six with a long-term contract. He could help with production but is struggling to stay healthy. What price would a team be willing to pay for a 26-year-old with long-standing cruciate ligament injuries? Trading Fabbri would likely require the Red Wings to keep their salary — and even then, they would secure at best a mediocre draft pick in return.
As far as utility goes, it’s far better to just keep a guy like Fabbri around. He can add offense, plays a solid two-way game, and only takes up a small portion of the salary cap. Fabbri is the kind of player you want around you when you’re in the hunt for depth rating.
The Red Wings already have the following on their opening night roster:
- Tyler Bertuzzi
- Jacob Vrana
- Michael Rasmussen
- Joe Veleno
- Dominik Kubalik
- Adam Erne
For example, if Fabbri were healthy on opening night, he would easily outlast Erne, Rasmussen, Kubalik and Veleno. This would put him on the third-line wing, playing with Pius Suter and one of Filip Zadina or David Perron. But with Fabbri, his successor would have to take on fourth-row duties. That move would likely push Kubalik onto the 4LW role and knock Adam Erne out of the lineup.
Whether that sort of move bodes well for former 27-goal scorer Kubalik remains to be seen, but for now it seems like the only course of action that would give Fabbri a proper place to play to his strengths. A $4 million fourth-liner just can’t exist anymore. Gone are the days of Justin Abdelkader-like contract abuse.
Conclusions or a good problem:
There aren’t many teams in the position that the Red Wings will be in January. Fabbri’s return offers an almost immediate improvement to the team’s already exciting depth. Additionally, it opens up the opportunity for trades and creates a sense of competition within the list. It has been years since the Red Wings have fought such relentless internal battles for roster spots.
Heck, if all goes well, Fabbri might have to fight to get his own role back.