The Detroit Red Wings have found early-season success with a young rookie core and the emergence of a solid veteran presence. This combination has allowed the Red Wings to find themselves holding onto the last wild card spot after 32 games. A spot that no one had predicted the Red Wings would be in to start the 2021-22 season.
Nevertheless, we have to ask ourselves, is this pace sustainable? How can the Red Wings keep the positive momentum through the remaining 50 games? In order to answer these questions, we have to take a closer look at what is in store for the Red Wings over the next few months.
The Red Wings have 50 games remaining, 26 of which are on the road. The Red Wings currently have one of the NHL’s worst road records at 4-10-1. The good news is they still have 24 home games where they hold one of the league’s best home records at 11-4-2. Having such a bad road record means they should improve their winning percentage with just a few more road wins. Of course, this is much easier said than done.
One of their best veterans this season has been Tyler Bertuzzi. His choice not to receive the Covid-19 vaccination keeps him from being eligible to play any of the Red Wings games in Canada. The Red Wings have nine games north of the border this season and are 0-3 so far without him in those games. He is on the top line, with Dylan Larkin and rookie phenom Lucas Raymond. Who, along with Bertuzzi, are having career seasons. This line is a significant reason for the Red Wing’s early-season success.
Raymond is not the only rookie stud to get into the lineup this season; Mortiz Seider has taken the league by storm. He is arguably the front runner for the coveted Calder Trophy, which is awarded to the league’s most stand-out rookie player. No Detroit Red Wings player has won the Calder trophy since 1965 when Roger Crozier brought the hardware home. The combination of Raymond’s dynamic ability to control the puck, find open ice and play a 200-foot game. Along with Seider’s high hockey intelligence, silky smooth hands, and defensive anticipation have directly contributed to many close games being won, that in years past, were lopsided losses.
One of the biggest challenges for the Red Wings is the number of quality teams left to play. Out of the 50 remaining games, 29 of them are against teams currently above them in the standings. Only 11 games are against the bottom seven teams. The strength of the schedule will play a factor in how the Red Wings finish this season.
The Red Wings are not without hope, though. Late last season, the Red Wings traded one of their talented young players, Anthony Mantha, to the Washington Capitals. This trade brought Jakub Vrana to the Red Wings. He arrived in Detroit and immediately started contributing to the lineup with eight goals and three assists in only 11 games to end the 2020-21 season. Excitement and hope for a great full season with his new team would end quickly. Ten minutes into the Red Wings preseason prospects tournament in Grand Rapids, MI, he injured his shoulder and has been sidelined for the entire season so far. Even though no exact timeline has been set for his return, he is skating again and will potentially return in Mid-late February. Having him return will be a late-season addition that will add scoring depth and give the Red Wings two legitimate top-scoring lines.
The final key to the Red Wings finishing this season strong is finding consistency in their net. The goalie tandem of Thomas Greiss and Alex Nedeljkovic have seen streaks of greatness this season. However, only Nedeljkovic has found his game trending upward. Over the last eight starts, Greiss has a 2-6 record, allowing three or more goals in half of those games. This slide allowed Nedeljkovic the window of opportunity to take over the starting job, breaking up every other game pattern they were locked in. The biggest key for the Red Wings will be the ability for “Big Ned,” as he is affectionately nick-named, to take the starter reins and run with them. He is key to the short-term and future success of the Red Wings.
The Detroit Red Wings are officially in their fourth year of a rebuild. Steve Yzerman, the current GM and former captain of the Detroit Red Wings have the Red Wings firmly moving in the right direction. He has almost completely turned this roster over in just a few short years. He has added numerous high upside players without selling the team’s assets or future draft picks. His savvy moves and ability to identify and draft players like Raymond and Seider have placed the Red Wings squarely in the playoff discussion.
With all the positives laid out, I believe the Red Wings have all the pieces in place to make the remaining 2021-22 season competitive, fun to watch, and surprise some people. However, I do not believe they will make the playoffs in the end. They are 15-14-3 as of New Years Day, but with the schedule, difficulty with depth scoring, and lack of success on the road, I believe they will finish the next 50 games with a 22-24-4 record. Making their final season record 37-38-7, for a point total of 81. A vast improvement over the last four seasons but not enough to get in the playoffs this year.
The future is bright in Detroit, and this Red Wings team is so fun to watch. Larkin, Bertuzzi, Seider, Raymond, and Big Ned will be key players to watch as the season winds down. Be patient, Hockeytown. The playoffs are just around the corner!
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