Our Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
Before last season even began, the hockey world was upset to hear that Red Wings captain, Henrik Zetterberg, would be unable to play due to a degenerative back condition that he had been dealing with for a number of years. He joined Johan Franzen on the Red Wings injury reserve and hung up the skates for good. Zetterberg was a huge part of the identity of Hockeytown, and with both he and Pavel Datyuk gone, it was going to be the end of an era. The Red Wings were looking like an entirely different team going into the season. They had their struggles, and the Red Wings finished seventh out of eight Atlantic Division teams in the 2018-2019 season, giving them the official ability to say “at least we were better than the Senators”.
Although the performance in the standings was not what Red Wings fans may have been accustomed to a few years ago, this team has a lot to be excited for going into next season. They had some great performances from young players, which should pump fans up for the future of this hockey team. I’ll get to the on-ice developments, but first let’s get the big news out of the way.
Stevie came back. Yes, it finally happened; Steve Yzerman made his return to the Detroit Red Wings. Yzerman has a history of building and managing great hockey teams, namely the 2010 and 2014 Canadian men’s Olympic ice hockey teams, and the 2010-2018 Tampa Bay Lightning. Steve Yzerman was the general manager of the team that has ended the last two Red Wings playoff runs, which seems like a cruel twist of fate given the fact that Yzerman expressed interest in working as the Red Wings general manager after his playing career ended. However this was not to be as Ken Holland was given a contract extension, forcing Yzerman to look elsewhere for a job. In 2010 he took over a Lightning team which had just missed playoffs. Yzerman managed to pull off some key trades which pushed the team all the way to the Eastern Conference finals and was nominated for general manager of the year. In 2015, the team made the finals, and Stevie was nominated again and won the general manager of the year award. Tampa Bay made their way to the Eastern Conference finals two more times before Yzerman stepped down at the beginning of last season. The team that he put together ended up tying the NHL record of 62 wins in a season, which was set by the 1994-1995 Red Wings…which was captained by none other than Steve Yzerman. If this stuff doesn’t fire you up, are you really a sports fan? Regardless of how fired up you may or may not be, what this all shows is that Steve Yzerman has all-star hall of fame level talent as a player, and is making his case as a future hall of famer general manager. As beloved as Stevie is in Detroit, he’ll definitely have the fans support early in his time as big boss. Yzerman has already stressed that good rebuilds take time, and fans need to be patient with him and not to expect an instant turnaround, although if his performance in Tampa is any predictor, the Red Wings could be back in the game within a few seasons.
One captain returned, another retired due to injury. Are the Red Wings ready to name their next team captain? Rumour has it that the team will be announcing a new captain this season and one particular player has made a great case for himself, Dylan Larkin, D-Boss himself. At 22 years old last season, Larkin was the Red Wings point leader, penalty leader and most exciting player. He’s served as an alternate captain and he’s from Michigan. He’s the obvious choice for the next pick in a long line of Detroit Red Wings captains. The only way he will not be named captain, is if the Red Wings want to honour Zetterberg by not naming another captain until he officially retired once his contract is up in 2021.
At the end of the season, the Red Wings announced that they re-signed Detroit-native, head coach, Jeff Blashill to a two year contract extension. He’s entering his fifth season as bench boss for the Red Wings, and he’s been in the system for 9 years total. Before getting the head coach job, he was the head coach of the Red Wings farm affiliate the Grand Rapids Griffins for for 3 seasons, and was an assistant of Mike Babcock’s in 2011-2012. Blashill has only made the playoffs once in his time with the Red Wings. The team has been in the bottom of the league for a few years, but Blashill may be experiencing the fallout of the push from ownership to keep the playoff streak alive and Ken Holland’s moves to make that happen. As the streak ended and pressure to make playoffs decreased, Holland made a lot of great moves to bring in young talent and benefit from trading away veterans. As the rest of the Red Wing’s vets age out and retire, Blashill has really seen a transformation from an old core, to a new young team. Last season the Red Wings slotted nine rookies into their lineup at some point, which is tough for any coach to handle, but given Blashill’s home grown experience with the Red Wings AHL team, he has excelled at helping develop young players and get more out of young players at the NHL level. If the team continues on the path they are on, Yzerman should keep the reins in the hands of Blashill to help guide this extremely young team towards being an eventual contender as a fully fledged competitive team.
Luke Witkowski (TBL)
Niklas Kronwall (retired)
The top four forwards of Tyler Bertuzzi , Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha were all great last year. Mantha tied his best point total in 13 less games, and the other three all had career bests last season. These four are about the only locked in forward spots on the team going into the season. The top line will be Bertuzzi, Larkin and Mantha, with Athanasiou on the second line left wing. Larkin, Mantha and Athanasiou will be involved in some beautiful plays. Bertuzzi is starting to live up to his last name, and growing into a very skilled power forward super pest type player. Past these four it’ll be very interesting to see how Blashill fills out his roster this season. Luckily he has experience with young players, but this will be a definite test for the coach.
Behind Larkin the Red Wings have a lot of options for centremen this season. 35 year old veterans Frans Nielsen and Valtteri Filppula will be playing for the second and third line centre role. But will Blashill place 23 year old players Christoffer Ehn or Dominic Turgeon some additional opportunities to get some offensive minutes in? The two have seen some limited games so far in their time in Detroit. Or will 2018 first round pick (received from the Vegas Tatar trade) Joe Veleno impress at camp and make the team? Veleno scored 104 points in 59 games last year in the QMJHL. It’s a stretch for him to make it, but anything is possible in the team’s current circumstance.
At least Luke Glendening has the fourth line centre job secured. It’s fair to say that the young centres probably won’t be playing on the checking line in between Justin Abdelkader and Jacob De La Rose.
The Red Wings also have a lot of decisions to make on… the wings. The depth chart on the left wing is Tyler Bertuzzi and Andreas Athanasiou, Darren Helm and Jacob De La Rose. Newly acquired Adam Erne and Taro Hirose may battle for a roster spot. In 2018-2019 Hirose played for the Michigan State Spartans, was the Big Ten Scoring Champion, was named Big Ten left wing of the year and a Hobey Baker Award finalist. In March he signed a two year entry level contract with the Red Wings and came in to play 10 games and earned himself 7 points. Will he get another shot on the wing? Erne on the other hand followed Steve Yzerman over from Tampa, and is coming off a career high 20 points in 65 games. It all depends on how these wingers play at camp and if Yzerman is able to move Helm or De La Rose.
On the right side, Yevgeni Svechnikov and Michael Rassmussen will fight for a roster spot with highly touted 2018 pick Filip Zadina. All three of these guys have had their struggles with the big club, but are talented enough that they may make the team out of camp.
Thomas Vanek remains an unsigned UFA, but with the log jam the Red Wings have on the wing, its unlikely he’ll re-sign with the club.
The amount of youth that will be playing in roster spots will not drive the offense from the bottom of the league to the top, but they will get some excellent development over the course of the season, and if Yzerman can flip some veterans for additional assets, the Red Wings will be set to be competitive within another season or two.
Veterans Valtteri Filppula, Frans Nielsen, and Darren Helm are sure to be trade bait this season. Justin Abdelkader would be if it wasn’t for his albatross $4.25 Million no trade clause contract until 2023. Any teams looking for a $4.25 million fourth liner? Probably not a hot commodity for a team looking to add at the trade deadline.
To put it bluntly the Red Wings defense is rough. The top pairing is set to be Danny DeKeyser and Mike Green. Dekeyser was highly touted coming in as a Michigan native local boy, but has never really met that potential. He’s got a good breakout pass, but is very limited in his offensive production. He’ll play a lot of minutes this season and will be at risk of injury. Speaking of injuries, Mike Green is a great offensive defenseman, but has lost a step from his 70+ point seasons in Washington. Green missed half the season last year due to injury and illness. If he can stay healthy he can provide some stability on the blueline in Hockeytown. But let’s be honest, Mike Green hasn’t played a full season since 2008, so he’s likely to miss some time. It’s unfortunate because after these two, the Red Wings defensive depth falls off quite a bit.
Long-time Detroit staple Niklas Kronwall hanged up the skates this off season after 15 seasons with the Red Wings. Kronwall was actually still one of the better defenseman that Detroit had even as a 38 year old, but after years of “Kronwalling” unsuspecting wingers, he had quite a few lower body injury concerns and retired before his knees disintegrated into dust. With Kronwall gone, Justin Abdelkader, Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Ericsson are the new longest tenured Red Wings. Kronwall will stay on with the club as an advisor to Yzerman.
Serviceable veterans Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson are eating up some valuable cap space for the Red Wings, but are both off the books after this season. Look for the Red Wings to try and flip them at the deadline to a team looking for some playoff depth. Yzerman may be able to retain cap and make some magic, or he may just bite the bullet and let them run out their contracts. Most importantly is growing some of the younger defensemen in the system so that they can take over the full time roster spots when Daley and Ericsson are gone.
The team picked up Patrick Nemeth as a free agent signing this offseason. He will add some definite stability in a shutdown role but lacks any real offensive upside. I could see him being paired with some of the younger defenseman a lot this season.
Madison Bowey came over in a deadline trade which sent Nick Jensen over to the Capitals. Bowey is a young defenseman who looks like a young defenseman out there. He looks lost in the defensive zone, chases the puck carrier leaving his check open, and has a tendency to flub his breakout pass. Bowey had a lot of his stats affected by playing with Brooks Orpik, but at this point in his career it looks like he has to work on his hockey IQ and his ability to think at a high level about the play. With more ice time in Detroit than he got in Washington, he may be able to work through his issues, but only time will tell.
In the 2019 draft the Red Wings Selected Moritz Seider at 6th overall which was a surprise as the consensus was he would go near the end of the first round Steve Yzerman explained that he is a “big, intelligent […], good skating defenseman”. But of particular note is that Seider played pro in Germany for Adler Mannheim in the DEL. This means that he won’t have to go back to a junior team, he can play both at the AHL and NHL level this season. This makes him very valuable, and for the Red Wings to take him so high, they will be giving him every opportunity to develop on North American ice. If Seider impresses early, he’ll likely bump Bowey down in the depth chart.
Dennis Cholowski had a great start to the season, but as the Red Wings dipped in the standings so too did Cholowski. He’s a great skater, but struggled in the defensive zone. He was sent back down to the Grand Rapids Griffins midway through the season to work on his game. If he worked out the issues in his game, he will have a real opportunity to make the team for opening night.
Filip Hronek looks like a promising player on Detroit’s blueline. He’s 21 going into this season and is likely to play a full season at the NHL level. Last year he split time between the NHL and AHL, and notched 23 points in 46 games with the Red Wings, and 24 points in 31 with the Griffins. With one more year after this season on his entry level contract, Hronek looks to be developing very nicely.
Just as the forwards, there’s lots of opportunity for young players to carve themselves a roster spot on the Red Wings blueline. Additionally there will be a chance for Steve Yzerman to send out some veterans for additional assets later in the year.
Jimmy Howard had a rough season last year. He had a career worst 3.07 goals against average and a not so impressive 0.909 save percentage through 55 games. Bernier had a rough season too where he played 35 games and had career worst goals against average of 3.16 and a career worst of 0.904 save percentage. Poor Howard and Bernier did not get a lot of help in front of them as the Red Wings were the 5th worst in the league in goals against. The Red Wings really struggled to keep pucks out of their own net and it’s no surprise looking at the defensive core the team coming into this season. These goalies are not are not going to be stealing games this season for this young team.
Howard is signed to the end of this season, so if he has any redeemable stats he may be traded for something. He was shopped this season and went nowhere, but who knows which teams will need a serviceable backup come trade deadline.
Bernier is on contract until 2021, so he’ll likely stick around at least until next season, as the Red Wings need additional time to develop their goaltending prospects Filip Larsson and Kaden Fulcher who may get some time in the NHL this season because why not, Calvin Pickard was picked up to backstop the Griffins when needed.
Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 Prediction
6-8 Atlantic Division
The Atlantic had a few basement teams get better, and with the roster the Red Wings currently have, it’s unlikely they will break out of the bottom this year. But that’s okay, the Red Wings will be exactly where they should be, on track with the rebuild. They are only one or two seasons away from being competitive depending upon how all the young players progress. This team won’t be making the playoffs, but it will be exciting to watch. All the rookies and sophomores will be fighting night to night for a roster spot, and Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou will be making the highlight reel. Detroit needs to continue to get additional draft picks or prospects by making smart trades and further the development of their young talented players. They need to be patient and not rush anything. With Steve Yzerman at the helm, this team is on the path to starting a new playoff streak very soon.