Stevie’s at The Wheel: Assessing the Current State of the Detroit Red Wings.

It was May 25th, 2010 when Steve Yzerman left the Red Wings front office and joined the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yzerman would spend nine years in Tampa and ultimately fall short of the ultimate prize in a Stanley Cup, however Tampa did come close in 2015 losing in the final to a juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks team in six games. Yzerman inherited a 34-36-12 team which included current captain Steven Stamkos, as well as 2018 Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman. Tampa showed instant improvement going 46-25-11 in Yzerman’s first season as the teams general manager and making the postseason for the first time in four seasons. Yzerman would stay in Tampa for eight more seasons and he would collect the 2015 GM of the year award at the NHL awards.

At the start of the 2018-2019 NHL season Yzerman announced that he would be stepping down as the teams general manager, and the worst kept secret in hockey was born. Tampa would go on to have a historic season amassing 62 wins to tie an NHL record set by Steve Yzemans Red Wings back in 1995-96. Tampa would be swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 playoffs marking the first time in NHL history a Presidents’ Trophy winner would be swept in round one.

The Blue Jackets celebrate a goal in game 4 of the eastern conference quarterfinals. Photo from: newsfivecleveland.com

It was just three short days after the Blue Jackets completed that historic sweep when the Red Wings made it official announcing Steve Yzerman as the teams new Executive Vice President and General Manager replacing Ken Holland after 21 years. Holland was initially promoted to Senior Vice President but later left for Edmonton where he faces the challenge of rebuilding the Edmonton Oilers. Yzerman brings with him Pat Verbeek from Tampa as his Assistant General Manager, it is believed that Kris Draper will keep the position he held under Ken Holland as Assistant to the General Manager.

While Holland faces the challenge of rebuilding the Oilers, Yzerman’s new job of rebuilding the Red Wings will be no easy feat. The Wings have missed the playoffs for three consecutive seasons after qualifying for postseason hockey for the prior 25. While the Red Wings 2018-19 season was not what they had hoped for, there were bright spots. The Wings had not one but two 30-goal scorers for the first time since 2009 in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. Anthony Mantha also would have likely hit 30 had he not missed 15 games with a broken hand as he finished the season with 25. Tyler Bertuzzi was another bright spot with 21 goals in his sophomore season with the Wings. Bertuzzi also brings a “junkyard dog” mentality as Mickey Redmond likes to say. Bertuzzi is the guy who can play on the edge while also putting up decent offensive numbers that every successful team needs. Taro Hirose is another notable offensive player posting seven points (1G 6A) in his first 10 NHL games. In addition to the players already on the NHL roster the Wings have a few key prospects in their system, mainly Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno. Zadina who played nine NHL games scoring against the Colorado Avalanche finished the AHL season with 35 points (16G 19A) in 59 games, Veleno had an outstanding season with Drummondville in the QMJHL an outrageous 104 points (42G 62A) in 59 games.

Filip Zadina scoring his first NHL goal in Denver. Photo from: NHL.com

In addition to the forward prospects the Wings also have a solid bunch of D prospects. At the top of that list has to be Filip Hronek who started the year in Grand Rapids but eventually made himself into a mainstay on the Red Wings roster. Hronek definitely needs to sharpen some aspects of his game defensively but there is no denying his offensive ability finishing the season with 23 points in 46 NHL games (5G 18A) and 24 points in 31 AHL games (7G 17A). Another defenseman worthy of note is Dennis Cholowski, Cholowski got off to a flying start with the Red Wings , but as the year progressed Cholowski started to show weaknesses defensively which would lead to him being sent down to Grand Rapids, where he would play the rest of the season.

Looking forward, Detroit is slowly escaping the depths of salary cap hell with around $10 million coming off the books this offseason in the form of Thomas Vanek and possibly Nik Kronwall who is still undecided on continuing his NHL career. Steve Yzerman is the breath of fresh air the Red Wings need with respect to the salary cap. Yzerman is not afraid to make hard and sometimes unpopular decisions to shed salary, in Tampa we saw him buy out team captain Vinny Lecavalier, and traded fan favorite Martin St. Louis to New York. With that in mind it’s not hard to imagine players like penalty kill specialist Luke Glendenning and puck moving defenseman Mike Green being shipped off at some point in the next 12 months. Johnathan Ericsson and Justin Abdelkader both are seen as potential buyout candidates, although a move to Grand Rapids might better suit Abdelkader as his contract isn’t up until 2022-23.

Altogether, the future is relatively bright for Detroit with the young core they have in place, prospect depth and their second consecutive 6th overall pick in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft the Wings should hope to be back in the playoff hunt within the next 2-3 seasons, everyone knows rebuilds aren’t easy but with Ken Holland in Edmonton and Steve Yzerman fully in control it feels like a page has been turned and a new era has begun in Hockeytown.

 

Article by Ben Lloyd (@lloyd_ben7)

Photo credit: WYCD.radio.com

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