Well yes, because they never shut up, no matter the team’s fortunes on the ice. They’re always around, screaming about the “Yzer-plan!,” and assuring you that the Red Wings dynasty will continue because in their minds whatever comes in 2025 is still connected to what happened in 2002. This is the way he wants it, and it is our duty to survive it.
Full disclosure, I’m not the most objective observer to tell you about the Red Wings or their fans. I have spent most of my adult life having four fingers waved at me from some noxious galoot who can’t wait to tell me how great Detroit is even though they’ve never left the environs of Livonia and now live in Lakeview. I have only been able to respond, in recent years, with three fingers of my own, and now it’s quite unclear that I should even do that. And it’ll be a very long time until I will have a chance to add a fourth digit, and far more questionable whether I will want to.
(The balance to this is that Red Wings fans always transfer their hockey optimism to the Lions, and then they give up 138 points to Geno Smith).
Anyway… you’re going to hear a lot about the Red Wings this year. Some of that is because they still have quite possibly the biggest nation-wide fanbase in the league still, part of that is they’ll still land on national TV because of that more than you’d think, but mostly because most everyone thinks they have a really exciting, young team that is going to blossom into something special next season or maybe the one after that.
Is that justified? At least partly. The Wings do return the reigning Calder Trophy winner in Moritz Seider on the blue line, and he’s everything that Wings fans will tell you he is, even if you have to wade through the gas cloud that you will be surrounded by afterwards. Seider disproved the old Wings trope of how they let their prospects always “over-ripen” in the AHL because they simply knew better than everyone else, instead of former GM Ken Holland just rolling sevens with Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg in the draft. It turned out, most of those prospects just couldn’t play dead, or at best were mid-level contributors to bad teams.
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Seider came over from Germany at 20, never sniffed the AHL, and jumped right onto the Wings’ top pairing. Seider put up 50 points as a defenseman, carried play both in terms of Corsi and expected-goals percentage above his team’s rate while only starting less than 40 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. These days, the first task of No. 1 D-men isn’t to just defend and prevent goals, but to turn the ice over and get his team up the ice. You can’t just hit and block shots. Seider checks all those boxes, and considering he’s only 21, he has every chance to compete for Norris Trophies in the near future.
The optimism also springs from No. 1 center Dylan Larkin making something of a leap last year, scoring at nearly a point per game rate (69 points in 71 games) all while boosting the quality of chance he was getting as a scorer. The blinking red light is that he shot 14.6 percent last year, way above anything he’d ever managed before, and not all of that can be accounted for by the improvement in his individual expected-goal rate. However, this is Larkin’s free-agent year, so it wouldn’t be wise to bet against him to light it up again until he signs the extension that everyone is pretty sure is coming and could net him close to, if not over, eight figures a year.
Rounding out the bubbly nature in Detroit these days are wingers Lucas Raymond and brain genius Tyler Bertuzzi, who combined for 53 goals last season, especially on Raymond’s side who is only 20. Bertuzzi is 27 this year, so the 30 goals he put up last year are probably the most he’s going to provide, but a 30-goal scorer is a handy thing to have. Raymond, in particular, was a chance-driver. There’s also a lot of prospects under the surface, and while all of them won’t work out, Yzerman only needs a couple to do so to bolster this team when it’s ready to be a playoff team.
Which it doesn’t look like it will be this year, and there are some curious signings this offseason here. Yzerman tossed $5 million a year at Andrew Copp, paying for Copp scoring on a quarter of his shots once he became a Ranger last season and he’ll never repeat. Copp has been a possession-driver for most of his career, but his bounce in both his metrics and box score numbers last year arose from being stationed at the offensive end mostly full-time. He can probably take less shifts that way, because Larkin will, but he’s a 2nd-3rd center tweener.
Ben Chiarot was given a somewhat reasonable $4.7M per year to add veteran presence, except Chiarot is terrible. Chiarot has gotten clocked possession-wise at every stop in his career except for a 20-game stint with the Ya Ha Time Panthers last year, and the Lightning were only too happy to run him over in the playoffs. Seider is going to be cleaning up more messes than he was last year when he was paired with Danny DeKeyser.
Luckily for Wings fans, they’ll only have to put up with Olli Maatta for one season, who is even worse than Chiarot.
Yzerman’s biggest gamble, maybe, in net, where they traded for Ville Husso in much the same way they traded for Alex Nedeljkovic the previous offseason. Both had seriously promising regular seasons and both utterly fell apart in the playoffs, causing their teams to give up on them. Husso saved 13 goals above expected in just 40 starts last year in the regular season, but then gave up 5.5 more than expected in just seven playoff games. This could go either way. Sometimes it’s just a player’s first toe-dip into the playoffs and they come good, and sometimes it breaks them.
Which leaves some curious decisions on the horizon. The Wings have $8 million cap space now, and the salary cap is going to go up pretty soon. But Larkin, Seider, Bertuzzi and Raymond are due extensions in the next year. They are slated to have at least $41 million in cap space next year, and only Larkin and Bertuzzi will eat into that next season, with Raymond and Seider getting theirs the following year. One can expect the Wings to be major players in free agency in the coming years, should it be warranted.
That probably doesn’t mean playoffs this year. This is still the toughest division in hockey. Even if the Bruins farewell tour takes a step back (and it should considering the injuries they already have), the Lightning, Panthers, and Leafs are going to hoard automatic playoff spots. While the Wings are on the upswing, so are the Senators and even the Sabres, somewhat. That doesn’t mean any of the three of them are going to the postseason, but it also means those games aren’t gimmes, either.
There are bright spots, and some nice supporting casts. The blue line is still kind of goofy behind Seider. If the Wings were in the Pacific, they could probably get to the playoffs. But the NHL isn’t going to invent a new conference for them to flee to like they did to the East when the West got too hard for them.
We’re probably going back to the most obnoxious phase of Wings hockey, the one that makes you shiver. But we’ve got at least another season before it.