Better luck next year: Progress remains slow for the Red Wings
Year four of the Steve Yzerman era resulted in another seventh-place finish and no playoffs. But there is still hope.
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Detroit Red Wings are the 11th team on our list after another year or little progress in the Yzer-plan.
The Detroit Red Wings are now four years into the Steve Yzerman era and progress has been …. slow.
To be fair, when he was hired as the team’s general manager prior to the 2019-20 season he was taking over one of the worst situations in the NHL.
It was an aging roster short on talent, it was full of bad contracts, and there few (if any) top-shelf prospects on the horizon.
It was always going to be a lengthy rebuild. Former general manager Ken Holland spent a few years clogging the toilets on his way out the door and it was going to take some serious work to fix that.
Entering the 2022-23 season I thought there was a lot of reason for optimism here.
The 2021-22 season saw the emergence of two young franchise cornerstones in forward Lucas Raymond and defenseman Moritz Seider (the league’s rookie of the year) to go along with an established No. 1 center in Dylan Larkin and a ton of salary cap space to work with. There was also the hope that Jakub Vrana, the key piece acquired in the Anthony Mantha trade a couple of years ago, would be healthy for a full season after being limited to just 26 games a year ago.
Yzerman and Co. put that salary cap space to use by signing Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik, Olli Maatta, Ben Chiarot, and Ville Husso in free agency to complement their young core.
That was not likely to be enough to get them into the playoffs in a tough division (and tough conference), but I liked their chances to at least seriously compete for a spot. Or to at least finish with a winning record.
But they did not even really reach that bar, either.
They won just 35 out of 82 games, finished in seventh-place for the fifth time in seven years, and were pretty significant sellers at the trade deadline.
That is not really the type of progress anybody wanted to see at this point of Yzerman’s tenure.
But I am also not sure all of that is his fault (or anybody’s fault), while there is still some hope for real improvement as soon as next season.
What went wrong for the Red Wings
Let’s start with the second-year play of Raymond and Seider, the two players that emerged as hopeful cornerstone players a year ago.
Even with the free agent signings, even with players like Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on the roster, a lot of the Red Wings’ success or failure was going to ride on the development of the two young stars.
They were both serious contenders for the Calder Trophy during their rookie seasons, with Seider in particular looking like an emerging superstar at a premium position.
It would be unfair to say they took steps backwards, but they did not really make a huge jump. There were some struggles at times.
A lot of Seider’s issues came in the first half of the season when the Red Wings made the bizarre decision to pair him up with Chiarot, a defense pairing that simply did not work. It was one of the worst performing pairings in the league, and it never really made much sense from the beginning. While general managers seem to love Chiarot’s toughness and shot-blocking ability, he is an anchor to every defender he skates next to while his teams consistently perform significantly better when he is not on the ice. Taking your rookie of the year and one of the most important players in your rebuild and tying him to that was never a great move in theory. It was even worse on the ice.