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The Red Wings long road back to contention

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Don’t plan the parade just yet.

Detroit Red Wings v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

I know, I know.

There’s been a lot of change this offseason. The Red Wings finally rid themselves of some of their worst contracts. The prospects are on the rise. Heck, some may even make the leap to the big leagues this offseason. The roster Steve Yzerman inherited and the one he has at his disposal are two totally different monsters. But, like all monsters, they need to be conquered in their own unique way.

The teardown is the easy part. The hard part is what comes after.

While the Red Wings have a slew of exciting pieces in the works, they still have a ways to go before it’s time to contend once again. A lot of “if”s lie both internally and externally.

These five needs will require persistence, proper development, and just the right amount of luck in order to succeed.

Need 1: An elite, top-tier player

There’s a lot to love about the Red Wings’ prospect pool. From Moritz Seider to Lucas Raymond, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a high-potential piece. The problem, unfortunately, lies in the potential. There’s no guaranteeing that any of the players Yzerman has drafted over the last three seasons will pan out. Right now, the Red Wings need the closest thing to a guarantee they can get. Missing out on Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Hughes, and Alexis Lafreniere in previous drafts certainly hurt their chances.

Fortunately, hope is on the horizon. The 2022 NHL Entry Draft appears to be loaded with talent — specifically, high-end elite talent. Shane Wright appears to be the de facto first overall pick, followed very quickly by Brad Lambert and Matthew Savoie. In 2023, Matvei Michkov and Connor Bedard will headline the draft class. The question, however, lies within Detroit’s draft luck. Given their innate ability to fall in the draft rankings, will they even have a shot in 2022 or 2023? Time will soon tell.

Need 2: Panned out prospects

Nearly every team that has won the Stanley Cup in the last decade has been built on drafting and developing players. Over the last three seasons, the Red Wings have drafted 31 players. From a drafting standpoint, the best strategy is to take as many shots at the dartboard as you can. On this front, the Red Wings appear to have a good advantage. The real battle comes in the development game.

None of Yzerman’s picks in the previous three drafts have played a single NHL game yet. In the last six drafts, only three players drafted in that time have managed to crack over 100 games — Michael Rasmussen, Filip Hronek, and Dennis Cholowski, the latter of whom was acquired by the Seattle Kraken. While patience remains the name of the game, results will need to start surfacing on the NHL level if this team hopes to contend down the road. Next season appears to be the start of that success as Seider, Joe Veleno, and Raymond fight for their spots on the roster.

Need 3: A strong, solid foundation

If you ask the average Red Wings fan what they think of Jeff Blashill, you’ll get myriad responses. Some believe he hasn’t had the chance to succeed with a strong roster. Others believe he’s stunted the development of several players. The truth appears to be somewhere between the two — and this next season will give fans a taste of Blashill’s ability to navigate with fresh pieces.

Dan Bylsma’s departure and the arrival of Alex Tanguay as assistant coach gives the team a chance to restructure their power-play unit. Dwayne Blais was hired to help with player development — something he excelled in as a member of the Washington Capitals. In addition, the team has begun to take a larger focus on analytics. Assistant managers Pat Verbeek and Kris Draper have both mentioned on the record that analytics play an active role in their analysis of the game.

These comments suggest that the Red Wings are blending analytics and the eye-test to properly evaluate their players. With improvements on the analytic end, a new coaching staff, and a slew of fresh faces, it appears that the stage is set for Blashill to show what he knows.

Need 4: Consistency

Building a contending team involves a lot more than drafting and developing good players. Cup contention requires consistent management on a lot of moving parts. Teams need to juggle contracts, trades, depth, and development timelines in order to continuously have a shot at Lord Stanley — and just a single poor move could torpedo an otherwise outstanding effort. The Red Wings need consistency on all fronts.

So far, Yzerman has done an admirable job of acquiring assets in return for players like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou. The real test will come when the Red Wings are on the other side of the bargaining board as buyers. Acquiring the right pieces needed to make an impact in the playoffs will require very careful roster management. Play it too safe, and teams run the risk of perpetual mediocrity. On the other hand, risking it all may mortgage the team’s future for nothing. Finding a healthy medium will be key for the coming years.

Need 5: Luck

It may seem small, but luck is the single most important piece of the contending puzzle. Without it, the first four pillars are absolutely meaningless. Luck is the secret ingredient behind the success of every Cup run. It can make a goalie go hot or a depth player exceed expectations when the going gets tough. Hockey is the most unpredictable sport in the world. When luck is on your side, a Cinderella run may guide you to the finals. When it isn’t, the first four pillars of a contending roster become meaningless.