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Detroit Red Wings 2019-20 Season Grades: Top Six Forwards

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Tampa Bay Lightning v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

Editor note: With the injuries and trades, it was hard to break players into categories. Forwards are split roughly into the part of the lineup they played mostly.


Before getting into the grades themselves, I would like to explain a little about how I went about figuring out the grades. Each player was assigned a grade in two areas, expectations, and improvement, with those two grades averaged together for an overall grade. I chose eight “per game” categories (goals, assists, points, penalty minutes, shots, Fenwick For, Fenwick Against, Fenwick For %) to try and measure the player’s stats from this season compared to their career average prior to this season to determine where, if anywhere, they improved. I allowed myself a little subject leeway to adjust the grade up or down a little based on the amount of improvement, but that was the first grade.

The second came with comparing their stats to the expectations coming into the season. Some of those expectations came from our preview articles right before the season started and some came from what we heard coming from the team.

Overall, I equated the letter grades to the following criteria:

With all the technical parts explained, let’s get to the fun part…the grades.

Dylan Larkin

Expectations

The Wings presumptive future captain came into the season looking to build on his career best season the season before. Jack put the expectations for Dylan coming into the season perfectly when he wrote about Larkin being the best Red Wing Under 25. “The biggest thing Larkin needed to work on was his 200-foot game and goal-scoring abilities… The hope is we see him touch 80-points this year while safely establishing the Red Wings top line as a threat every time they hit the ice.” A piece that was not directly mentioned in the article but indirectly feeds into Larkin becoming a better 200ft player and establishing himself and his line as a consistent threat was also finding ways to keep himself out of the penalty box.

Analysis

Dylan Larkin had himself a good but not great year. Statistically he saw his assists per game go up while his penalty minutes and Fenwick Against go down despite playing an additional two minutes and forty-five seconds per game on average. His goal scoring did go down from last season but is close to his career average and his Fenwick For went down about fifteen percent from his career average coming into the season, which was a trend for everyone I looked at and I bet the team as a whole.

Grade – B

He showed improvement in his 200-foot game by improving his shot suppression, faceoff percentage and reducing his penalties but it did impact his offensive numbers a bit as he regressed from his career high numbers last season. That said, he had a veritable revolving door of linemates due to injury and coach involvement while garnering the bulk of the attention defensively from the opposing team every night.

Anthony Mantha

Expectation

Mantha came into the season looking to build upon the late season success he had at the end of the 2018-19 season (15 points in final eight games) and a dominating performance in the World Championship (14 points in nine games, including seven goals). ZeeDad laid out what Mantha needed to do coming into the 2019-20 season in his Under 25 article. “Consistency is the one word that comes to mind when talking about Mantha’s performance. The knock on the 24-year-old has always been his defensive inconsistency, finding himself out of position in his own defensive end more often than not… If he can reach the 30-goal plateau, it will likely force Steve Yzerman’s hand to get the big man paid.” Of course, included in that consistency is finding a way to stay healthy and on the ice.

Analysis

All in all Anthony Mantha had a near career season in a lot of ways. His goals, assists, points and shots per game were all up over his career averages. He also saw his Fenwick Against substantially drop and his Fenwick For Percentage to a team high 55.80%. Of course we all know he also only played in 43 of the team’s 71 games due to an injury received in a fight with Jake Muzzin.

Grade – B

Mantha showed an increase in just about every category you would want to see from a young player who is starting to put it all together apart from one, games played. Regardless of the shadiness of the events that led up to his injury, the fact remains that the injury likely cost him his first 30 goal season and had to be reflected in his grade as this is the third season out of four with the Red Wings that he has lost significant time due to injury.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Expectations

Tyler came into the season with expectations all over the place. We all thought he would be good but no one really expected him to go off for 21 goals and 47 points in his first full season with the Red Wings in 2018-19. His play at the end of that season with Larkin and Mantha earned him a shot at top line minutes and as Helmerroids put it in her Under 25 article, it earned him some extra pressure to up his game. “When his control slips, that’s where we get into trouble. However, he showed rapid growth last year in both the physical and mental aspects of the game. We love that Junkyard Dog energy, so it’s a balancing act to keep up his unique style without ever exploding into a confetti shower of stupid… This is a contract year for Bert and, should he play at least as well as he did last year, there’s no reason not to pay the man.” On top of harnessing his energy, Bertuzzi needed to produce enough to prove he deserves top line minutes.

Analysis

Tyler Bertuzzi responded well to his first full year in the league by putting up almost identical goals and assists (21/26 in 18-19, 21/27 in 19-20) in two fewer games played. Like his MLB linemates, he also dropped his Fenwick Against despite the four-minute increase in ice time. He did all this while at least keeping his penalties within four minutes of the previous season.

Grade – B+

Bertuzzi did a lot to take another step forward in his development and show the Red Wings he should be counted on as a long-term piece for the future. The only things that kept this from being an A was that his penalty minutes increased slightly and there is still a question as to if a 50 point player warrants 19 plus minutes a night, which were two of three expectations used.

Robby Fabbri

Expectations

There is not much to put here. Fabbri joined the team nine games into the season in a trade with St. Louis for Jacob de la Rose. Fabbri struggled to find consistent ice time with the Blues and was looking for a fresh start. In order to earn those minutes with the Wings he needed to come in and show he could add some much needed offense behind the MLB Line and display some of the promise that made him a first round pick in 2014.

Analysis

Fabbri saw increases in his goals, assists, points and shots per game while seeing his penalty minutes per game slightly decrease, all while averaging three and a half minutes more of ice time in Detroit. In contrast he did see his all of his Fenwick numbers drop from his career averages with St. Louis.

Grade – A-

It is hard not to give Robby Fabbri anything but an “A” for this past season. He went from a potential first round bust and being traded for a guy with 13 career goals in 229 games to playing at a 22 goal/50 point pace. Sure, his defensive numbers were far from great and down across the board from where they were with the Blues (a much better defensive team mind you), but he was not really expected to be a dominant two way forward when the Red Wings traded for him either.

Darren Helm

Expectations

The first of two of the “veteran presence” guys in this review, Darren Helm was not really expected to do much beyond what he has done the last couple seasons for the Wings. He is a decent bottom six forward who is going to give energy every time he is on the ice, uses his speed to create chances (even if he has issues finishing them) and is a solid penalty kill guy. He is the kind of guy teams often look for to help finish their build and make that last little push to contender, just not the age or AAV they like those players to be at when they acquire them.

Analysis

Helm had a somewhat surprisingly not awful season. His offensive numbers were down (even for his standard) from his career numbers but they were in line with a player who is declining as they get older. He also saw his Fenwick Against drop well below his career average coming into the season as he showed his shot suppression prowess and was even rewarded with some top six minutes when the injuries started piling up.

Grade – C-

Probably higher than many would expect, but Darren Helm came in and produced exactly how most expected he would. That said, there is only so much that performing to expectations when the expectations are “not much” is going to buy. It still was not a good season by Helm, it just is not below what is expected of him at this point.

Valtteri Filppula

Expectations

Filppula returned to the Red Wings after six seasons with the hopes that he could provide some veteran presence and stability to the top six as the center behind Larkin. No one really expected him to be the 20 goal, 50 point Filppula of a yesteryear but even the 20 assist, 30 point Filppula would be an improvement, especially if he was able to couple that with his defensive abilities.

Analysis

It was anything but a good season for Fil. It was arguably his worst season offensively as he recorded the fewest goals and points of his career and his second worst assists. On top of that, he saw his worst season defensively as many of his defensive stats were the worst of his career. Of the eight categories evaluated for this article, only his Fenwick Against was better than his career average and that was only slightly. While I did not use plus/minus and do not give much credence to it the fact that he was a career +39 player coming into the season and is now a -3 for his career after a -42 for the season (of note, his one time linemate Andreas Athanasiou was the only one who was worse, with a -46).

Grade – E

There is frankly no way around it. I know I gave Helm a lot of leeway by saying there was not a lot expected of him going into the season, but at least he met or even exceeded those expectations. Filppula did not have a ton of expectations placed on him coming into the season and he still found a way to not meet them.