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NHL Stat Pack: Are the Detroit Red Wings Playoff-Bound?

Carol Schram analyzes Jason Robertson's hot start, the disappointing Anaheim Ducks and the resurging Detroit Red Wings.
Dominik Kubalik

Welcome back to another edition of our Stat Pack, which digs into some of the most intriguing numbers of the week in the NHL.

This time around, Jason Robertson's carving out a spot as one of the NHL's top scorers, the Anaheim Ducks are so bad that maybe it's intentional and the Detroit Red Wings are flying above their statistical profile to keep themselves in the playoff picture.

Let's get to it.

The Good: Jason Robertson Is Top-Three In NHL Goals and Points

After putting up 41 goals and 79 points last season, restricted free agent Jason Robertson of the Dallas Stars held out until Oct. 6 before agreeing to a new four-year contract with a cap hit of $7.75 million.

That was basically all the cap space that the Stars had left — and it's not like they blew their budget on other players. GM Jim Nill's only other significant off-season moves were bringing in forward Mason Marchment on a free-agent deal with a cap hit of $4.5 million and re-signing rising-star goalie Jake Oettinger to a frugal $4 million per year for three seasons.

Coming out of his entry-level contract, with no arbitration rights or other bargaining power, Robertson settled for what was available — and is quickly proving that the Stars got a heckuva deal.

On Monday, he picked up his 13th and 14th goals of the season in the Stars' 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche, moving him into third place in the NHL's Rocket Richard Trophy race. Also with 15 assists, Robertson is tied with David Pastrnak and Erik Karlsson for third place with 29 points — just a 125-point pace for the season, no big deal at all.

Last year, under coach Rick Bowness, Robertson's line with Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz did most of the heavy lifting for the Stars offensively. This season, Peter DeBoer's system allows them to be more aggressive. The result has been more balanced scoring and an average of 3.84 goals per game — the most since the Stars relocated to Dallas in 1993.

A second-round draft pick, Robertson is trending up and is still just 23 years old. He's both consistent and clutch, a linchpin on a deep, entertaining team that's perched atop the Central Division standings.

The Bad: The Anaheim Ducks Take a Dip

Are the Anaheim Ducks last in the NHL by accident or design? With the riches that await in the 2023 NHL draft, every team's intentions must be viewed with some skepticism.

When Pat Verbeek held his trade-deadline fire sale just weeks after taking over as the Ducks' GM last spring, there was little doubt that he was in teardown mode. 

But Verbeek also opened his wallet during free agency this summer. Multi-year deals for Ryan Strome and Frank Vatrano added stabilizing veteran experience to a young roster. And while John Klingberg's one-year contract always looked like it was designed to be flipped before the trade deadline, one goal and a team-low minus-11 rating so far may not entice Cup contenders to try to squeeze Klingberg's $7 million cap hit into their tight salary structures.

The Ducks have missed the playoffs for the past four seasons. The worst year was the shortened 2020-21 campaign when they finished with a .384 points percentage in the tough West Division.

This year, their record of 5-13-1 gives them a points percentage of just .289 — lower than any season in franchise history, including the expansion years in the ’90s. 

To make matters worse, all five of Anaheim's wins this season have come in overtime or a shootout, so they've been granting "loser points" to their opponents. Nineteen games in, Anaheim has yet to log a single regulation win.

If it's deliberate, good on them. The Ducks are making it tough for any team to sneak below them in the standings and improve their draft lottery odds. But if Verbeek's mandate was to deliver a better on-ice product to the fans in Orange County this season, his squad has come up very short so far.

The Intriguing: Are the Red Wings Playoff-Bound?

We thought we might see a shakeup in the Atlantic Division standings this season. But now that we're nearing the quarter-pole and American Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens have all fallen off the pace.

Seven years after their last playoff series, though, the Detroit Red Wings persist. After closing out a four-game road trip with multi-goal wins over the San Jose Sharks and Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit sits fourth in the Atlantic and in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference following Monday's games. 

With a record of 9-5-4 for 22 points in 18 games, the Red Wings are one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and two up on the Florida Panthers, with a game in hand on both. If they can maintain their current .611 points percentage, they'll hit 100 points for the first time since the 2014-15 season — when Mike Babcock was their coach, Jimmy Howard was the No. 1 goaltender and their top two scorers were Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.

It's been a while.

In 2014, Dylan Larkin was a freshly drafted first-round pick, playing his lone season at the University of Michigan. Now, he's Detroit's 26-year-old captain and his team's leading scorer, with 8-14-22. 

The off-season free-agent acquisitions by GM Steve Yzerman are also chipping in offensively. Dominik Kubalik is having a resurgent year, with nine goals and 21 points. Ageless David Perron continues to do his thing, with 15 points. And in net, Ville Husso is proving that his performance in St. Louis last season was no fluke. After signing a three-year, $14.25 million free-agent deal with the Red Wings in the off-season, Husso is 7-2-3 with two shutouts, a .916 save percentage, and a 2.55 goals-against average.

There's still a chance that this early surge under rookie coach Derek Lalonde may be a bit of a mirage. Detroit's expected goals share at 5-on-5 ranks 27th in the league at 44.53 percent. Their special teams are middle-of-the-pack. Even Husso actually sits at minus-2.4 goals saved above expected, despite his good base numbers.

For now, though, the Red Wings are the Atlantic upstart that's most likely to still be standing at playoff time.

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