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NHL Off-Season Outlook: Detroit Red Wings

Wings fans and ownership have faith in Yzerman’s ability to reverse course, but the newest hired guns - on the bench and on the ice - need to come up big for the Red Wings to take things a step further next year.
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2021-22 Record: 32-40-10
Finish In The Atlantic Division: 6th
Salary Cap Space Available (As Per CapFriendly.com): $31 million
Restricted Free Agents: Mitchell Stevens, F; Filip Zadina, F; Olli Juolevi, D; Jake Walman, D
Unrestricted Free Agents: Turner Elson, F; Sam Gagner, F;Danny DeKeyser, D; Marc Staal, D; Thomas Greiss, G; Magnus Hellberg, G

What Detroit Has: A well-respected GM in Steve Yzerman, and a new head coach in Derek Lalonde; the reigning rookie-of-the-year in blueliner Moritz Seider; highly-skilled young forwards in captain Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, Robby Fabri, Tyler Bertuzzi and Pius Suter; a new starting goalie in Ville Husso

What Detroit Needs: A vastly-improved defensive attack; depth and NHL experience all-around, but particularly, on the back end; a bounce-back year from (now) No. 2 netminder Alex Nedeljkovic; a breakout season from D-man Olli Juolevi; good health for winger Jakub Vrana

What’s Realistic For Detroit Next Season: The Red Wings were an unspeakably awful defensive team this past season, as evidenced by the 312 goals-against they allowed in 82 games; only the abysmal Arizona Coyotes (313) and Montreal Canadiens (319) surrendered more. And that was with Calder Trophy-winner Moritz Seider playing more than 23 minutes a night.

Certainly, GM Steve Yzerman saw his netminding duo of Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic as part of the reason for that problem. He’s allowed Greiss to move on via unrestricted free agency, and, at the NHL draft this past week, he went out and acquired former Blues No. 2 Ville Husso and immediately signed him to a three-year, $14.25-million contract extension. The 27-year-old Husso has only 57 regular-season NHL games-played under his belt, but he showed enough promise – and the goalie market was weak enough – to position himself in a good money-making position.

Meanwhile, Yzerman dipped into the talent pool of his previous employer, the Tampa Bay Lightning, to replace dismissed head coach Jeff Blashill with Bolts assistant coach Derek Lalonde. He has no experience running an NHL team, but Lalonde has proven himself capable of turning a program around at the minor league level, and he’ll be immediately challenged to reverse Detroit’s competitive trajectory in an improved Atlantic Division.

That’s the big stumbling block for the Wings in 2022-23: which Atlantic teams are they going to leap over to earn a playoff spot for the first time since 2015-16? The Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Toronto Maple Leafs are post-season locks. The Boston Bruins are still aiming to be at least as good as they were last season. The Ottawa Senators just stole high-scoring winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago, and almost assuredly will be better. The Buffalo Sabres were a better team in the second half of last season, and should be better this coming year. And let’s not forget, Detroit finished 33 points out of a playoff berth in 2021-22. The hill they have to push the stone up is steep indeed, and though the Wings likely won’t be as bad as they were, it’s tough to imagine them making that big of a jump this year.

Wings fans and ownership have faith in Yzerman’s ability to reverse course, but there’s only so much a GM can do to effect change. If Lalonde comes in and gives them more structure, and Husso proves to have a beneficial impact in net, you could see Detroit being in the race to make the playoffs. However, there’s simply too much talent in the Atlantic to be confident the Red Wings will be good enough, consistently enough, to reward their supporters for all these years of disappointment.

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