With the 2018-19 season almost a distant memory now and the chaotic playoffs well under way, we’ve offered up retrospective grades for the Red Wings this past season. J.J. provided us a look at the forwards. Helmerroids took on grading the defense and goalies, while Jsnev analysed Red Wings to come, grading the prospects who have not yet taken on the Winged Wheel full-time.
Following up on these individual breakdowns for each player, it’s time to take a look at the team as a whole and grade other areas of the team.
Record: 32-40-10, 74 PTS, 7th in Atlantic, 14th in Western Conference, 28th in League
The team got off to a poor start by losing their first seven outings, including a couple by wide margins to Boston and Montreal. Looking back, this was as good a sign as any of how the season would unfold for the Wings. After finally getting in the win column against Florida, the team lost a couple more before closing out October with a pair of wins. These wins were the start of a good stretch where the team was able to win 9 of 11 through to late November before coming back down to earth.
But by mid December that hot streak was long forgotten as the team skidded through the holiday season losing 13 of 15 between December 11 and January 11. Any hope of a surprise wild card spot evaporated with that stretch. The team plodded along around .500 into and out of the all-star and bye week break. The team hit another losing streak in the latter part of February, losing 8 in a row and 12 of 13 into mid-March. Some of you may remember this is when the Wings were sitting firmly in the second lottery position.
What happened next was the turnaround led by the young guns and roster filler pushing the team to wins in 8 of 9 games despite having a long list of veterans out of the lineup. More importantly this string of strong play generated some hope and rejuvenated the fan base providing a sliver of light at the end of the rebuild tunnel. That is unless of course you were team tank, and you gladly got to see the team lose the last two contests to close the season including a drubbing against Buffalo.
The Wings came in to the season with low expectations and were predicted to likely be a bottom five squad. That being said, the season brought too many long losing skids on a roller coaster season with more lows than highs. The only reason a passing grade was given here was the low expectations to begin with and the hot streak at the end of March that brought some hope.
Goal Production and Suppression
Obviously the most important component of wins and losses is goal differential. As any great coach will tell you, the key to beating your opponent is to put more pucks in the net than they do. Unfortunately the Wings did not do a great job of that. They did score 224 goals this year, good enough for 21st in the NHL, nothing spectacular but better than their place in the standings. Their goals against however was a different story giving up 272, placing them in the bottom five of the league. Those were the raw numbers, digging a bit deeper into some other stats didn’t provide any kinder results. Their expected goals for at 5 on 5 was 168 compared to a league average 180. Their expected goals against at 5 on 5 was 202, with the league average also being 180. Combine this with a CF% of 47.1 and the results in the standing reflected the play on the ice. All stats here courtesy of www.hockey-reference.com.
Even with low expectations coming into the season for what the Wings goal differential would like, they still managed to create a gap bigger than anticipated. The Wings lost a handful of blowouts this year that were obviously large contributors to this but the bottom line is they’ll have to find a way to score more next year while also drastically reducing the goals against and scoring chances they give up.
Peter did a weekly spot on the Red Wings powerplay that took a detailed look and provided statistical breakdowns for the Wings play with the man advantage. You can find his wrap-up post here. In short the Wings powerplay while having some promising elements, left a lot to be desired and over-utilised players like Kronwall. One of the largest powerplay problems continued to be the lack of right handed shots, beyond Martin Frk on occasion, to at least present a one-time threat from the left side of the ice. With that in mind, the Wings converted at a 18.1% rate for the season, 19th in the league.
On the other end of the special teams battle the Wings killed off penalties at a 77.1% rate, 28th in the league. Much like with the 5 on 5 and overall production, the Wings performed a little better offensively than defensively in the special teams categories. But the Wings did manage to score 7 shorthanded goals this year, enough to put them in the top half of the league in that category.
Combining these stats with the fact the Wings took 245 penalties (12th highest), and received only 216 powerplays (28th) and you get a recipe that resulted in losing the special teams battle more often than not.
The Wings get a passing grade here solely on the fact that they were maybe a bit better than expected with the man advantage, and they did look dangerous short handed at times. But it can be justified giving a grade higher than this with their terrible penalty kill rate and brutal penalty differential.
Coaching and Development
Turning this evaluation over to the categories that don’t directly affect the standings, let’s review the coaching position and the development of the players. I took a look at this as part of evaluating Blashill’s extension a few weeks ago. To reiterate my thoughts at that time, Blashill’s job as coach is to always maximise his roster as best possible for every game. But given the current rebuild state of the Wings it’s reasonable that management likely also made it clear they had expectations for Blashill to bring along the young core of this team and show that he was capable of making them better. Blashill’s line juggling and punishment of younger players via their ice time through this season and even during prior seasons can be maddening. Case in point this season was young Michael Rasmussen who averaged only 12:05 TOI in his rookie season. But as frustrating as Blashill’s treatment of these players has been, he’s starting to accumulate some end results that indicate he could be on to something. Looking at the way players like Larkin, Mantha, Athanasiou, Bertuzzi, and others have progressed under his tutelage, it’s hard to argue with the results.
Now hold on before everyone starts shouting at me about giving Blashill and company this high of a grade. Keep in mind that the players are also a large factor in this grade as it is their development that raised the tide. So if you believe that these players’ development was in spite of the coach, consider this a team project where one partner did all of the heavy lifting while the other gets to share the credit.
Roster Turnover and Management
Moving above the coaching level now and into management, a big need this season was to churn the roster as much as possible and give the keys to the kids so to speak. The Wings did not have many expiring deals last summer and carried much of the same roster into this season except for the tough loss of Henrik Zetterberg to LTIRetirement. It was Holland’s job to off-load contracts where possible and create openings for players in the minors to get a chance.
2015 1st round pick Evgeny Svechnikov had his season end to injury before it even started. The Wings faced an early onslaught of injuries, particularly on the back end that allowed players like Cholowski, Sulak, and Hicketts to see time at the beginning of the season. Cholowski would hold his spot until mid-season before being sent down after playing 52 games. At that time it was Hronek who then received an opportunity through the end of the season, playing 46 games himself. Rasmussen managed 62 games before several injuries slowed and eventually ended his rookie season. Christoffer Ehn earned himself 60 games. Jacob de La Rose got into a large chunk of games after being claimed off waivers. Late in the season following the trade deadline and another slew of injuries several other players received short stints including 1st rounder Filip Zadina capped at 9 games to allow his entry level deal to slide a year, and freeing him from having to be protected in an expansion draft. Two notable college free agents were picked up by the Wings in Taro Hirose and Ryan Kuffner. Hirose in particular showed well in his audition for next season’s lineup.
Injuries were a major factor in getting the above players opportunities to play in games, but there were also some roster moves that created openings. Holland moved both Nick Jensen and Gustav Nyquist at the deadline for picks and Madison Bowey. Bowey looked serviceable in the games he played and is still young enough to potentially develop into more. Fans called for more than just Jensen and Nyquist to be moved at the deadline such as Howard, Green, and others but it’s likely the market didn’t form for these players.
Say what you will about whether it was chosen or forced by injuries, but the Wings injected a lot of new players into the lineup throughout the season and even put together a good streak at the end of the season with a rag tag group of youngsters. The only players added to the roster were the aforementioned project in Bowey, and the free additions of Kuffner and Hirose. Holland and his management team did as well as could be expected coming into this season in getting the names on the roster turned over.
This was a tough one to pin down as the on ice results and production left a lot to be desired for large parts of the season. Long winless stretches filled with one-sided blowouts at times sucked the life from this team. But on the other hand fans finally got to see this roster move towards the future with both the current core players taking on more and more in Larkin, Mantha, Bertuzzi, Athanasiou, and others while others got to taste NHL action for varied amounts of time. But after much deliberation a final grade had to be determined...
Yes there was suffering, but can you recall the last time a season left fans looking to next season with as much excitement as this one did. Choosing to see the glass half full got us to this end result. Debate away in the comments on this one, I’m not above constructive criticism...you cynics ;)
Do the playoffs count towards this season or next season? The Wings season clearly ended on April 6 against Buffalo, but the league calendar is still considered part of the 2018-19 season. But what could possibly have changed the season grade after the players had already begun their off-season training? Oh that’s right, the return of The Captain, Mr. Steve Yzerman!!! The chosen one returned to raise this team from the ashes like the phoenix they should be.
Call it a bell curve, call it cheating, call it whatever you want but you cannot argue this amazing turn of events makes this season anything but a resounding success.