The NHL will reach the halfway point of its 2021 season on Thursday. The Detroit Red Wings are currently in last place in the Discover NHL Central Division. Not only that, but they are also in second to last place in the league, only ahead of the Buffalo Sabres. This was not unexpected, but there are also things that have happened during the Red Wings season so far that can be seen as positive.
Paul McPherson wrote before the start of the 2021 NHL season that the number of free agents brought in by the Red Wings during the offseason meant that expectations for the team were elevated. Through the first 26 games of the 2021 season, the team has not lived up to these expectations.
The 2021 season for the Red Wings began with the most positive of news given where the franchise is presently. Dylan Larkin was named the 37th captain in the history of the franchise. This came after the previous captain, Henrik Zetterberg, was forced to retire due to a back injury in September of 2018. Larkin said that “I think I understand the significance of this role. I’ve seen it my whole life, been a fan, been around fans, been to games, to know what it means to not only be a Detroit Red Wing, but to now be the captain.”
General manager Steve Yzerman recently told the Detroit Economic Club during a virtual event that recent Red Wings draft pick, Lucas Raymond, will be out for eight weeks with an arm/elbow injury. Yzerman said that “Lucas re-injured an old injury from four years ago.” Raymond will have fragments removed from his elbow according to his SHL club, Frolunda. At just 18 years old, Raymond is expected to compete for a spot on the roster in Red Wings training camp beginning next season.
This optimism continued as free-agent addition Bobby Ryan scored four goals in the first three games of the season for the Red Wings. Ryan said at the time he signed with the team that the main reason was because of Yzerman. Ryan is certainly motivated to prove that he can still play at a high level at 33-years-old.
Yzerman also sees reason to be optimistic about where the Red Wings are at. This is hard to believe due to the fact that the power play is in an extended slump and the team has just won its second game in their last ten. “Our guys are playing hard, they’re working at it.” This has not translated to being competitive in the division yet. The lack of talent on the roster is the reason for this.
A concerning part of this season so far is that the team is still being outscored by a lot in games. This is a continuation of the 2019-2020 season for the Red Wings. The 2019-2020 Red Wings were eliminated from playoff contention before thanksgiving 2019. By one statistic called PDO, the Red Wings were the unluckiest team in the league during this season.
The main reason that Yzerman revamped the roster is so that the team would be more competitive. Some of these players have not played well in the winged wheel uniform yet. Defensemen Marc Staal was traded from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2021 second round draft pick and future considerations. The thinking of the Rangers was that there was not enough room on the roster to justify bringing Staal back. The 34-year-old is coming off of a year in which he only scored two goals and nine assists.
Another reason for optimism is the fact that Mathias Brome scored his first goal for the Red Wings on Saturday, February 20th. The 26-year-old from Örby, Stockholm, Sweden, has had a difficult time making an NHL roster. That did not stop Brome from being positive. Brome did finish inside the top ten in scoring in the Swedish Hockey League this past season, with 17 goals and 26 assists in 52 games played.
Anthony Mantha, the 26-year-old right wing from Longueuil, Quebec, Canada, has not been good so far in the 2021 season. Mantha has only scored six goals and tallied four assists for a total of 10 points in 26 games played. The 26-year-old has always been seen by some as a player who is not giving 100% effort while on the ice. A slow first half of the season has done nothing to dissuade some from this opinion.
In Mantha’s defense, he missed six weeks last season due to a punctured lung after he was slew-footed by Jake Muzzin of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Maybe he is still recovering from this injury, maybe he had COVID-19 and did not disclose this to the Red Wings management, or maybe he sees his days in Detroit being numbered. The Red Wings should at least consider trading the 26-year-old in order to accelerate their rebuild. Any team would be interested in acquiring such a talented winger who is under contract for three more seasons at an average annual salary of $3.3 million.
Tyler Bertuzzi has an upper-body injury that happened on January 30th against the Florida Panthers. Without Bertuzzi, the Red Wings went zero for forty-one on the power play. This streak was broken by Christian Djoos, a waiver wire addition before the 2021 season began. This means that the team gave up nothing to acquire the 26-year-old. Bertuzzi will be a restricted free agent after the end of the 2021 season.
Yzerman knows that the Red Wings franchise is still far away from competing for a Stanley Cup. He could decide to move some of these veteran Red Wings at the trade deadline on April 12th. During a season in which there have been many low points, the veteran Red Wings have been responsible for some of the highlights.
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