The Detroit Red Wings will enter the 2020-2021 season in the midst of a rebuild, a process that has been meticulous and a process that has required an incredible amount of patience.
Detroit has missed the playoffs for the past four seasons and general manager Steve Yzerman hasn’t given any estimations about a return to the dance, but that’s not to say this organization didn’t make moves.
First, they no longer boast the services of Jimmy Howard, Justin Abdelkader, Brendan Perlini, Trevor Daley, and Jonathan Ericsson.
To cover their losses, the Red Wings will go with new faces like goalie Thomas Greiss. The blueline will feature Troy Stecher, Marc Staal and Jon Merrill. And up front, Detroit added Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov.
These names should fit the rebuild process well enough. Nobody expects this lineup to reinvent the wheel, but the goal is to continue to facilitate the growth of forwards like Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, and Filip Zadina.
But is there a good reason to expect the near future to be anything other than more of the same?
Detroit finished 2019-2020 well outside of the bubble, with a 17-49-5 record. They put up the worst NHL points percentage since the introduction of the salary cap. The Red Wings finished dead last in the standings, 23 points behind the second-last Ottawa Senators. They scored an NHL-low 142 goals, 35 fewer than the Los Angeles Kings, and allowed a league-worst 265 goals against.
The new hires are signed to either two-year or one-year contracts, which makes this a process of buying time until future development can sweep the Red Wings into some semblance of playoff contention.
“We’ll just kind of continue to do what we’re doing,” Yzerman said. “We’ll look for ways to improve the team. The plan isn’t just to sit and not try to improve and get better from year to year. We’re going to try and get better from year to year.”
Yzerman’s plan is full in the knowledge that rebuilds don’t happen overnight, but what about a sense of identity or direction? It’s hard to pin down this hockey team, hard to get a read on exactly what these Red Wings want to do and how they’ll accomplish it.
Still, perhaps the anticipated naming of Larkin as team captain will solidify something. The 24-year-old is a clear leadership choice, having led the club in scoring for the last three seasons.
But honestly, the Red Wings need a lot more than a new captain and a kick in the pants. This is a team in turmoil, a team without identity or a sense of direction, and a team for which the “wait and see approach” may not be sufficient to find any actual success.