As the 2019-2020 regular season kicks off, Steve Yzerman will be the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. It’s a homecoming for the former general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who spent his entire NHL career in Hockeytown and is replacing the mighty Ken Holland. Holland had been the only GM of the Red Wings since 1997, so it’s certainly the beginning of a new era.
That invariably leads to a fair share of trepidation, but Yzerman has shown every indication to start slow. The roster looks, by and large, the same as it did last season. Free agent centre Valtteri Filppula was signed to a two-year deal, returning to the Red Wings once more. The 35-year-old was drafted by Detroit in 2002 and played the best hockey of his career before moving on to Tampa.
“Obviously, being new to the organization, I want to proceed somewhat slowly and kind of get to know really what we have within the organization,” Yzerman said. “I think I have a good handle on the NHL team, but the prospects we have coming, the players we have in Grand Rapids, I wanted to give us the flexibility of providing opportunity for our young players but also trying to help the Detroit Red Wings immediately as much as possible.”
The careful approach may not endure Yzerman to fans, who’re in the objectionable position of not seeing the Red Wings in the playoffs since a first round loss to Tampa in 2015-2016. The year before that, Detroit also lost to Yzerman’s Lightning in the first round.
The Red Wings scored just 227 goals last year, putting them fourth from last in the Eastern Conference and binding them with the Rangers. Only the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils scored less. The offensive struggles did not seem to effect Dylan Larkin, easily the most productive player on the squad. The centre had 32 goals and was nearly a point-per-game guy. He takes a lot of shots.
Larkin’s tenacity, which amounted to 287 shots last season, doesn’t take full advantage of his potential for goal production and kind of leaves him on the wrong side of being an efficient scorer. He boasts a 9.6 shooting percentage in his career, but he can generate chances for his linemates with that enormous shot volume. That’s good news for power forward Anthony Mantha, an asset on the power play.
Tyler Bertuzzi completes the tentative top unit for the Red Wings and he had a good year last season. He had 13 points in his final seven games of the campaign, but it was too little too late. Detroit took its sweet time giving him consistent linemates and that kept his totals down – at least until he was helped up top.
The Red Wings have to find consistent sets for the forward group. Not only does that mean securing Larkin, Bertuzzi and Mantha, it means addressing Andreas Athanasiou. He had a career-high 54 points last season, including 30 goals. He’s been found often at centre, but Yzerman likes him on the wing. If that’s the case, look for Larkin, Filppula and Frans Nielsen to slip in as the top three centres.
38-year-old Niklas Kronwall expressed intent to retire at the end of last season and, after some speculation, he did just that. He’ll join the front office and the Red Wings were ready for it, signing defenceman Patrik Nemeth on July 1.
Filip Hronek is one of the more exciting prospects in the pipeline. He was fourth among defenders last season, with 23 points – including five goals. He was just behind Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin in points per game, too. Hronek could see a lot more ice time this season, what with some question marks surrounding Mike Green.
Detroit has a core of qualified defencemen, but something may be off in the balance. They could want to shift directions sooner rather than later, particularly since the forward core is almost three years younger on average. Green, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, and Trevor Daley are all north of 29.
Jimmy Howard is still the starter. The 35-year-old has a year to go on his current contract, which pays out $4 million. Howard struggled down the stretch last season, launching into a 6-7-0 record over his final 16. That came with a depressing .892 save percentage. On the season, Howard was .909 with a 3.07 goals against average – basically the worst of his career.
31-year-old Jonathan Bernier is the backup. He’s in the middle of a three-year deal signed in July of 2018. He arrived after yo-yoing around Colorado, Anaheim, Toronto, and Los Angeles. Last year, Bernier also played some of the worst hockey of his career. That 3.16 goals against average is not pretty.
The Red Wings seem to be in a holding pattern, at least for the foreseeable future. Yzerman’s wait-and-see approach suggests a long-term plan, which means fans are going to have to be patient. There are no easy fixes, but there are promising young players in the pipeline and that’s a silver lining of sorts.
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