The Stanley Cup playoff chase may finally have been out of reach for the Detroit Red Wings. However, head coach Derek Lalonde will not give up on his team. “There’s no doubt the boys felt sorry for themselves, Lalonde said. “It’ll be my job to get them out of that. We are not going to go through the motions over these (final 19) games. We are going to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. This lineup is not much different than at the beginning of the year and we were extremely competitive.”
The Red Wings are slumping at a particularly inopportune time. The team has been outscored by a total of 24-9 during a recent six-game stretch of games. This drought came after the moves that were made at or before the trade deadline. The team was pushing for a playoff spot with a record of 28-21-9 before this skid with an eye on being a wild card team. It has now been seven years since the Red Wings made it to the playoffs as the team needed to rebuild. This is what happens when a team makes the Stanley Cup playoffs 25 years in a row.
An elite center has eluded the Red Wings in recent years. Captain Dylan Larkin has been the leading scorer on the team five times since entering the NHL in 2015. The Red Wings captain has only exceeded the 30-goal mark twice. This is not to say that Larkin does not provide value to the Red Wings as the face of the franchise. Larkin recently signed an eight-year contract extension with the team. The captain of the Red Wings will most likely play his entire career with the team that he grew up rooting for.
General manager Steve Yzerman said recently that the team may have to look outside of the draft in order to acquire an elite talent at center. This has brought Yzerman to acquire assets in the form of draft picks during the trade deadline. All of this is in pursuit of the cornerstone of the “Yzerplan.” The Red Wings have won too many games during the 2022-23 season to put themselves in a position to draft Connor Bedard as the number one overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
The issue is that the draft picks that were acquired are not a sure thing and according to Alaina Johnson of Brave Hockey Stick, “on average, 49% of players who are drafted by the NHL will “make it” to the NHL – meaning they play at least one game. When considered by themselves, first-round draft picks have nearly a 90% chance of playing in the NHL at some point.” Yzerman said it is on him and his staff to draft players that will play well in the NHL.
The previous number one overall pick in the NHL draft at the center position was Jack Hughes. Hughes, who was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the 2019 NHL entry draft out of the United States National Team Development Program, is one of three Hughes brothers currently playing in the NHL. This is the same program that Larkin played for from 2012 to 2014. In 59 games for the Devils this season Hughes has scored 36 goals and added 40 assists.
Until the NHL draft when the team will be able to improve the talent of the Red Wings team, it is up to new head coach Lalonde to stabilize the team and prevent them and the season from going into a tailspin. There are several players who are playing for jobs going into the 2023-24 NHL season and beyond. Defenseman Jake Walman also recently signed a contract extension with the Red Wings. When asked about the team’s future, Walman said that he felt that the team was “building something.”
This type of tailspin repeatedly happened under previous head coach Jeff Blashill. It could be argued that this tailspin led to the run of poor play by former starting goalie Alex Nedeljkovic. The drought seemingly started when the Red Wings played in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 45 saves in a game that the Lightning would win 6-0. The 28-year-old Vasilevskiy proved that he is the best goaltender in the best hockey league on the planet repeatedly during this game.
The Red Wings will most likely not make the playoffs for the seventh season in a row. That is not to say that the team has not improved under new head coach Derek Lalonde. One major issue throughout the season is that the team lacks scoring talent. The team needs to improve the center position beyond Dylan Larkin who recently signed an eight-year contract extension.
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