With the first two weeks of the off-season over and done with, the Detroit Red Wings look like an entirely different team. With eight different players signed to short-term deals and several players not being brought back, they no longer resemble the worst team the NHL has seen since 2000. General Manager Steve Yzerman has very quickly added much-needed depth to this Red Wings team. That puts a ton of pressure on one man whose seat is already as hot as the sun: head coach Jeff Blashill.
The coach of the Red Wings has been there for five years and is in the final year of a two-year extension. Many fans were surprised to see that Yzerman would be keeping him this off-season. Now, it can be argued (and I will) that keeping him was the smart move. However, this off-season should be a warning for Blashill that the 2020-21 season is make-or-break.
This Ain’t the Same “Old” Wings
One of the oldest teams in the NHL got a lot younger this off-season. They traded Mike Green at the trade deadline before his impending retirement. Yzerman then followed this up by not retaining Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley or Jimmy Howard, whose contracts all expired this season. He then ended it by buying out assistant captain Justin Abdelkader, who is the youngest of the five at age 33.
The Wings did add a couple of older free agents in 33-year-old right winger Bobby Ryan and 34-year-old goaltender Thomas Greiss. However, these are guys who are still contributing positively at their age. They also added three depth pieces who are in their 20s in Jon Merrill, Troy Stecher and Vladislav Namestnikov, as well as 26-year-old Mathias Bromé who signed with the team back in April.
These additions alone already make the team significantly better than last year. The Wings now have depth beyond one defenseman and more than two NHL-level forward lines. Is this roster a contender now? Of course it’s not. But these additions should be enough where this team isn’t the worst in the NHL again.
Off-Season Growth From Young Talent Needed
As mentioned earlier, it was a bit shocking to some people that Blashill is still the head coach. The biggest argument for why he hasn’t been fired yet is the way the young stars have developed under the fifth-year head coach. Dylan Larkin has been a fantastic player for the Red Wings and is the clear star of the team. He had 73 points in 76 games in 2018-19 and bounced back in a big way after some early season struggles in 2019-20.
Anthony Mantha has shown to be a great player when healthy. He led the team with .88 points per game and was the team’s biggest contributor before missing time with a punctured lung. Tyler Bertuzzi, in a shortened season, had a career-high in points with 48 in 71 games. These are all players who have developed under Blashill and have continued to improve.
This off-season needs to see this trend continue. Larkin needs to have a full, consistent season after the rough start last year. Bertuzzi, who has filed for arbitration, must continue to increase his production. Mantha showed how important he is on the offensive end for this team, and 2020-21 could be the season where the league takes notice of him.
However, more important than the growth of these three will be the growth of the other young players who get time with the Red Wings. Moritz Seider and Joe Veleno will be spending the season in Sweden on loan, so they won’t be in Detroit until March at the earliest. Players such as Filip Zadina and Givani Smith will be the two names to watch in how they grew during the off-season.
Zadina showed a lot of promise in his short time in the NHL last year before an injury ended his season. The 2018 6th overall pick had 15 points in 28 games. He had a few moments of brilliance that showed why the Wings took him when they did. Smith got some good time in the NHL as well, playing 21 games mainly on the fourth line. The two of them need to improve this off-season to show that Blashill is properly developing his players.
What Should Expectations Be?
So when you read that this year is “make-or-break”, that sounds like he needs to make the playoffs this year. That’s a lot to ask for a team that went 17-49-5 last season, and honestly, it’s unrealistic. What Blashill needs to do this season is show significant improvement. This team can’t finish as the worst team in the league again. In fact, this team shouldn’t even finish in the bottom-five in the league.
Yzerman has addressed the team’s biggest issues this off-season. There was no way he was going to bring in a big-name free agent. But he has made the right moves with short-term deals to add the depth needed to make this team at least competent again. It’s up to the head coach to take the next step. Otherwise, Yzerman will be spending the 2021 off-season looking for a new head coach.
Featured Image by David Guralnick of Detroit News
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