With fewer than 25 games remaining in the NHL schedule, the Detroit Red Wings currently sit just outside of a playoff spot. This is quite the turnaround under new head coach Derek Lalonde. Whether or not the team makes it to the playoffs is another matter, but they have learned how to win hockey games when it matters. Young hockey teams need to learn how to win hockey games late in the season before they can win in the playoffs.
The Winning Formula
During his introductory press conference, Lalonde was reticent to predict that the team would have success right away. Winning would come as the result of a process said the Buffalo, New York native. He made the point of saying that he did not have the same amount of talent at his disposal as he did when he was an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Unfortunately, Lalonde would not have the full complement of talent throughout his first season as head coach of the Red Wings.
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Tyler Bertuzzi having multiple hand injuries and Jakub Vrana entering the player assistance program in October of last year were unforeseen circumstances. It has been reported recently that general manager Steve Yzerman has taken Bertuzzi off of the trade market ahead of the trade deadline on March third. Bertuzzi has battled multiple hand injuries during the 2022-23 season. There is also the fact that Bertuzzi and the Red Wings have had multiple complex contract negotiations.
Bertuzzi has been playing well since returning to the lineup after his second hand injury of the season. This was evident during a recent game against the Calgary Flames. However, this short run of good play should not dictate whether or not they move the 28-year-old at the trade deadline. Bertuzzi has scored one goal and added four assists in his last five games played. Could this recent form be an audition for a team looking to add scoring talent at the winger position?
Beyond the Bertuzzi contract negotiations, there remains the reality that captain Dylan Larkin will also be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2022-23 season. Larkin has repeatedly said that he sees himself as a Red Wing. At 26 years old Larkin is seeking the last contract offer of his NHL career. The Waterford, Michigan has reportedly declined a contract offer worth $8.2 million per year. Larkin has played like he wants this contract as of late, scoring seven goals and adding seven assists since the all-star break on February fourth.
Young Core Fueling Red Wings Playoff Hopes
These two players are part of the young core of the Red Wings team. These contract negotiations and the trade deadline that is upcoming are pivotal for the team. The number of players brought in by Yzerman during the previous offseason has at least started the process of him seeing the team as a contender in the near future. Winning does not come overnight and a culture needs to be built around players like Moritz Seider and left-winger Lucas Raymond.
Whether or not the Red Wings ultimately make the Stanley Cup playoffs, playing meaningful games so late into the NHL season can only be a good thing. Young players such as Jonatan Berggren and Seider need to know that they can play on the same level as players for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins who are in the playoffs year in and year out. Given his play since appearing in the all-star game, Larkin has certainly proven that this is the case with his play this season.
While the future is not yet clear, both Seider and Raymond have seemingly worked past their perceived “sophomore slumps.” Seider had expectations that were perhaps unfair after winning the Calder Trophy as the rookie of the year in the NHL in 2021-22. His play improved when he moved away from a pairing with Ben Chiarot and paired with Jake Walman. Walman, who has had several knee injuries during his NHL career, was brought in by Yzerman during the 2021-22 trade deadline.
The Red Wings Playoff Push
With about a quarter of the NHL season remaining, the Red Wings are in a position to make the playoffs. This was unexpected under new head coach Derek Lalonde. Despite this, the team is not without its flaws. One player that has remained with the team throughout the rebuild is Larkin. The Red Wings cannot afford to lose the captain of the team and the best player it has had on its roster since the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
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