In the spring of 1983, the Detroit Red Wings, playoff outsiders in 15 of the previous 17 seasons (the ‘Dead Wings’ era), selected Steve Yzerman in the first round of the NHL draft. He’d go on to captain the team to three Stanley Cup championships and lead Detroit back to the top of the league.
In the spring of 2019, the Wings, who have missed the playoffs in three successive seasons for the first time since they drafted Yzerman, handed the reigns of the team to Stevie Y, whom they hired as their GM. The former Tampa Bay GM is being viewed as a miracle worker by Wings fans, but he’s been quick to downplay that notion, pointing out the amount of work still to be done and that he didn’t win his first Cup as a player until his 14th NHL season.
Detroit’s 224 goals ranked 21st but were still the most the Wings have scored since 2014-15. Dylan Larkin (32 goals) and Andreas Athanasiou (30) both hit the 30-goal plateau for the first time. The Wings last suited up multiple 30-goal scorers in 2008-09, which was also the last spring that the club played in the Cup final.
Right winger Anthony Mantha potted a career-high 25 goals despite missing 15 games with a broken hand, and Tyler Bertuzzi (21) was a first-time 20-goal scorer. Beyond them, no returning player scored more than 10 goals. Niklas Kronwall led Detroit’s defense corps with 27 points, the lowest leading total among NHL teams.
The Wings are paying nearly $12.8 million to three defensemen who lost a combined 102 man games to injury last season in Mike Green (39 games), Trevor Daley (38) and Jonathan Ericsson (25). Detroit would like 15-season veteran Kronwall, 38, back for another year, but he had yet to decide if his body was up to the grind.
Danny DeKeyser is serviceable as a top-four blueliner but not much more. A glimmer of hope came from rookie Filip Hronek, who posted 23 points in 46 games and was named top defenseman at the 2019 World Championship. Free-agent addition Patrik Nemeth adds some size and grit to the back end.
Where would the Wings be these past two seasons without the work of Jimmy Howard between the pipes? Named to the 2019 All-Star Game, Howard faced a high volume of shots per game, and among goalies who played at least half of their team’s games, his high-danger save percentage of .839 ranked 10th in the NHL. The Wings re-signed him to a one-year deal. Veteran Jonathan Bernier returns as the backup, and Calvin Pickard was signed for insurance.
There’s plenty of room for improvement. Detroit posted an 18.1-percent success rate on the power play, which ranked 19th overall, while the Wings’ 39 power-play goals ranked 25th. Part of the problem is they simply don’t create enough opportunities – they went to the man advantage just 216 times, which was 28th in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit ranked a lowly 28th on the penalty kill (77.1 percent).
It will be interesting to see how Yzerman relates to the veterans who were rubber stamped with the perennial loyalty card by his predecessor Ken Holland. While they don’t win enough to get to the playoffs, the Wings compete every night. It’s a rarity when they don’t at least match the other team’s work ethic. Larkin sets the example in this regard, a 200-foot player who is Detroit’s captain in waiting.
Right winger Filip Zadina, the sixth overall draft pick in 2018, had 16 goals and 35 points in 59 games with AHL Grand Rapids. The Wings picked sixth again in 2019, going off the board to select big right-shot defenseman Moritz Seider, who played pro with German champion Adler Mannheim. Will he go back, play for the Wings or join OHL Owen Sound? Free-agent addition Oliwer Kaski led Finland’s Liiga in scoring among D-men.
Yzerman brought back veteran center Valtteri Filppula, a member of Detroit’s 2008 Cup-winning team, as a UFA. He scored 17 goals for the New York Islanders last season and is a proven responsible middle-six pivot, freeing up Athanasiou to be more creative and explosive on the wing.
Coach Jeff Blashill was given a two-year contract extension. The players are still buying what he’s selling. Yzerman seems to be of a mind to sit back and let this season play out in order to assess what he has and then move boldly next summer, when about $20 million in salary could come off the books.
– Bob Duff
Stanley Cup Odds: 75/1
Projection: 7th in Atlantic
It was the biggest shock of the draft, but Detroit was high on blueliner Moritz Seider and nabbed him early. With great size and a solid two-way game, he impressed internationally and while playing against men in Germany’s DEL. Steve Yzerman’s first Wings draft was a bold one, but Detroit needs help. Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen are two of the big names up front, and they are progressing, while Evgeny Svechnikov missed all last season due to a knee injury.
1. Filip Zadina, RW
Age 19 Team Grand Rapids (AHL)
Gifted offensively with the confidence to be imaginative. AHL season smoothed out edges.
Acquired 6th overall, 2018 NHL ’19-20
2. Moritz Seider, D
Age 18 Team Mannheim (Ger.)
Took regular shifts against men in Germany but is still very raw. Will add bulk to his large frame.
Acquired 6th overall, 2019 NHL ’21-22
3. Joe Veleno, C
Age 19 Team Drummondville (QMJHL)
Had dominant run in ‘Q’ and has nothing left to prove there. Force on offense ready for next test.
Acquired 30th overall, 2018 NHL ’19-20
4. Jonatan Berggren, RW
Age 19 Team Skelleftea (Swe.)
Intense, fast winger who knows only one speed. An injury slowed his development year.
Acquired 33rd overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
5. Jared McIsaac, D
Age 19 Team Halifax (QMJHL)
Already a strong defender, he showed skills on offense with a strong end to draft-plus-one year.
Acquired 36th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
6. Robert Mastrosimone, C
Age 18 Team Chicago (USHL)
A hard-nosed player who gives it on every shift and can create offense. Boston University bound.
Acquired 54th overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24
7. Evgeny Svechnikov, RW
Age 22 Team Grand Rapids (AHL)
NHL stint was cut short when knee surgery ended his year. Big-bodied offensive weapon.
Acquired 19th overall, 2015 NHL ’19-20
8. Gustav Lindstrom, D
Age 20 Team Frolunda (Swe.)
Strength is the biggest question mark for all-around solid blueliner. Played on top pairing.
Acquired 38th overall, 2017 NHL ’22-23
9. Albin Grewe, C
Age 18 Team Djurgarden (Swe.)
Versatile player with a nasty side has shown flashes of big-time skill with puck.
Acquired 66th overall, 2019 NHL ’23-24
10. Filip Larsson, G
Age 21 Team Denver (NCHC)
Did well to come back from groin surgery and secure starting job in NCAA. Then turned pro.
Acquired 167th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22