If you are a fan of the Detroit Red Wings, there may not be a more heated topic than their defensive struggles. From the lackluster power-play success to the horrid offensive zone entrances. This team gets pinned in their defensive zone on a nightly basis for seemingly minutes at a time. Although that is commonly a bad strategy, it did ignite this fanbase during a game against the Florida Panthers on Oct 29, 2021. The sequence seen below changed the momentum of a game in which the Red Wings were losing 2-1 late in the 3rd period. The Red Wings would ultimately lose the game 3-2 in OT, but they did manage to steal a critical point from a then-undefeated Florida team.
The cat is out of the bag; Moritz Seider is the real deal. His poise and hockey IQ is talked about throughout hockey circles all over the league. There is a highlight real of plays from him after every game. Some of which go unnoticed till you see the replay and gasp at the ridiculous play this 20 year old just made. He masterfully uses his 6′ 4″ frame to box out opposing players. He handles the puck confidently, breaking out of his defensive zone and navigating through the neutral zone. You’ll even see similarities between him and Nicklas Lidstrom as he dances down the red line on the power-play to get space and time to make a pass. There is no argument that Seider is the best defenseman on this team.
There is a lot of blame to go around on a team that has missed the playoffs for the last five years. So let us start with the obvious, Danny Dekeyser. The 31-year-old defenseman is in the last year of his contract, and many believe the last of his NHL career. Dekeyser went undrafted until signed by the Red Wings for the 2012-13 season. His career has seen its share of injuries, which has led to lingering back problems. He was never known for his speed, but he gets beat in most foot races, and way too many puck battles go against this big body defenseman. Statistically, he has only managed three assists in 28 games this season. His best stat might be that he’s only a -5 on the year. Most certainly improved by his most common defensive partner, Seider.
Sadly Dekeyser isn’t the only dud on this team. Nick Leddy is currently tied for the team’s worst plus-minus, at -14. No, plus-minus isn’t the end all be all statistic for a player in the NHL, but it indeed starts to tell a story. Leddy is most commonly paired with Filip Hronek. A pairing that on paper should work. Hronek was a healthy scratch earlier this season for the first time in his career. This particular move upset many fans in the light of Dekeyser’s continual defensive errors and failures. However, coach Blashill was proven to be in the right, as Hronek has come back with a chip on his shoulder. His play has been aggressive, high-paced, and he’s been much more purposeful on breakouts and in-zone puck battles.
We’ve only talked about four of the Red Wings defenseman so far. The rest fall into a more passive category. Neither great nor terrible, these remaining players have room for improvement. Most notable in this group is Gustav Lindstrom. Lindstrom has been arguably the best defenseman behind Seider. Even though he’s young, at times he has shown great poise and hustle. Unfortunately, his age shows all too often in his decision-making abilities. Jordan Oesterle and Troy Stecher have been the odd men out this season. Both alternate in and out of the lineup depending on injuries, Covid-19 outbreaks, and play. Neither has been a disaster, but as much of the Red Wings defensive core, scoring has been non-existent. Oesterle has an unimpressive three assists in 18 games, while Stecher has one assist, albeit in only six games. Stecher is currently on the IR list following wrist surgery. He is expected back in late February.
Our last defenseman to look at is Marc Staal. Staal is matched up mostly with Lindstrom and has contributed nicely to this group. Other than Seider, he is the most stable defenseman the Red Wings dispatch each night. Which doesn’t say much good about this D-core. In 27 games, he’s contributed one goal, three assists, and a plus-five rating. His play is either noticeably good or glaringly bad from game to game. His job has mainly been to mentor Lindstrom and provides veteran depth for the D-core.
Not So Special Teams
The Red Wings have the ninth-worst goal differential in the NHL, at -18, which isn’t all on the defensemen. They’ve given up 114 goals which are the eighth-worst in the NHL. As for their special team statistics. The penalty-kill is currently 22nd at 77.7% effective, while the power-play is 31st at 14%. The Red Wing special team woes are significantly hindered by their lack of defensive talent and depth. What little success they have on the power-play comes from their PP1 unit. The PP2 commonly starts power-play time; for some unknown reason, by the time PP1 hits the ice, they have limited time to score. Staal, Dekeyser, and Leddy all have expiring contracts this season. Steve Yzerman has many decisions to make in the offseason. The defense needs to be top of the list if the Red Wings want to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Even if they sneak in this season, they won’t make it far with these PP/PK stats! The good news is that there is a core of good, in some cases great, young talent to build around. With the addition of Simon Edvinsson in the next year or two, the Red Wings blueline will be a force to be reckoned with.
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