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Something’s gotta change

Change needs to be made this offseason.

Detroit Red Wings v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

To say things haven’t been going well for the Detroit Red Wings is an understatement.

In their last five games, Detroit has surrendered 31 goals. In response, they’ve scored...14 goals. The offense can only do so much when the defense and goaltending are cratered on a near-nightly basis. From top to bottom, rot plagues the roster. Diagnosing its source — and how it should be addressed — should be a top-of-mind priority for general manager Steve Yzerman.

In 60 games this season, the Red Wings have a 24-29-7 record — just a few wins higher than last season’s 56-game-shoretened record of 19-27-10. In some instances, they’ve improved. They’re scoring at a higher clip and are making fewer defensive mistakes. Even goaltending appears to be better. Having said that, these changes, while encouraging, have yielded marginal results at best. The team is better, to be certain. But any semblance of the team’s surprising first two months appears to be gone now.

A plethora of problems that keep resurfacing. The power play and penalty kill units are abysmal. Depth offense is mythical at best. Consistency — the killer of would-be contenders — is anything but present.

Something needs to change. Realistically, multiple things need to change in order to turn this team into a contender. But, for now, there are a few things in the team’s immediate control that should be addressed very quickly.

A complete lack of depth scoring

58, 48, 46, 42...30.

Those are the leading point totals on the roster.

Robby Fabbri’s 30 points in 56 games mark the beginning of the nosedive for depth scoring. Pius Suter, the second-line center, has 11 goals and 23 points in 60 games. Filip Zadina, who had a very promising 2020-21 campaign, has barely managed 20 points in 58 games. His abysmal 6.6% shooting percentage ranks among the lowest on the team. Even Nick Leddy, who led the New York Islanders’ defensemen with 31 points in 56 games, has just 15 in 55 this season.

The biggest fall from grace, by far, goes to Adam Erne. After leading the team in goals last season, the middle-six forward has a putrid four goals and 14 points in 59 games. He hasn’t scored a goal since January 22nd. Before that, he’d went through a similar dry spell, scoring a single goal on November 24th. That’s less than a goal-per-month this season from last season’s team leader in goals. To call it less-than-ideal is an understatement.

Horrendous defensive efforts

When your rookie defenseman is the best player on your roster, there’s a serious, fundamental problem with how your team is built.

While the aforementioned rookie defenseman is Moritz Seider, that doesn’t mean the rest of the team should be this far behind statistically. Take a look at Moritz Seider’s even-strength defensive metrics when compared to his current partner, Nick Leddy:

Moritz Seider and Nick Leddy’s defensive metrics
Table & Data courtesy of Evolving Hockey

Seider generates more offense, better defense, and stronger possession metrics than the player that was brought in to serve as his mentor. It shouldn’t need to be stated that Seider is a very special player. Still, you’d expect Leddy to at least keep up in one or two categories. This has been the former Islander’s worst defenseive season in his career. With the trade deadline looming on the horizon, speculative offers should prove interesting.

Even Filip Hronek has hit a snag. The once over-deployed defenseman has regressed from his promising early-career numbers. Here’s what Jeff Blashill had to say regarding his season:

“I think with Fil, he’s a good player,” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “He competes hard. I think taking what’s given is an important part of his game. “Sometimes he’s always looking for the home-run play. Even when you have the ability to make a home-run play, sometimes you look for it too much.” - Detroit Hockey Now

Marc Staal, Nick Leddy, Troy Stecher, and Olli Juolevi are all free agents next season. At this point, a defensive overhaul seems inevitable.

Every ounce of the special teams

Jeff Blashill has had three special teams assistant coaches in his tenure: Pat Ferschweiler, Dan Bylsma, and Alex Tanguay. Over the last eight seasons, the effectiveness of both the penalty kill and power play have drastically declined. With a 17.8% effectiveness on the power play, the Red Wings have the sixth-worst power play in the league. Their 72.7% penalty kill percentage tops off as the second-lowest in the league.

Out of 20 franchise-worst penalty kill stretches since 1997-98, the Red Wings have secured the top-two spots in this season alone. For a team that should be improving following the nightmarish 2019-20 and forgettable 2020-21 seasons, this is a significant red flag.

This is Alex Tanguay’s first season as special teams coach. At the start of the season, the Red Wings’ power play and penalty kill looked revitalized — effective, even. As the season went on, the team regressed to the same mistakes they’ve made the last several years. A case could be made to put the blame on him, but, ultimately, Jeff Blashill is the one with the final say on special teams schema — just like he was with Ferschweiler and Bylsma in the past.

A case can certainly be made for a lack of talent, but it’s hard to justify the same dump-and-chase mechanics that have been utilized since the start of the rebuild. Even the power play rosters — which feature Adam Erne and Sam Gagner — leave a lot to be desired. This season has seen a slight uptick in efficiency. Much of this, however, can be attributed to Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond:

Something has to be done — and fast — in order to fix these glaring blind spots. The first change that should be made is getting Erne and Gagner off the power play. Now that Jakub Vrana has returned, the Red Wings have more than enough ability to spread out their offense across two units. The fact that two players with a combined 37 points between them had secured spots for so long is a significant red flag in the deployment of this roster.

At this point, the problems rest squarely on a coach that’s failed to address them. If change is to come, it might be at the expense of Blashill this offseason.

Playoffs?

A lot of fans believe that the Red Wings should contend for a playoff spot next season. While there’s certainly an argument to be made, a multitude of factors would need to happen in order for the team to make it. They’d need to make a huge splash in free agency and another team in the stacked Atlantic Division would need to take a step back. Given the impressive rosters of the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Boston Bruins, this seems incredibly unlikely.

In addition to all of those factors, the Red Wings would need another rookie breakout on the level of Seider or Raymond. While Simon Edvinsson could very well achieve that level, expecting him to make the huge step from the SHL to NHL is a tall order. Yzerman’s decisions this trade deadline will be pivotal in determining the direction of this team. If he believes they’re close, he’ll make a few small moves. If not...

Going scorched earth on the roster

An honest, genuine question: how many player on this current roster will be on the roster when the team is ready to contend? Seider, Raymond and Larkin appear to be locks — at least for the time being. While Tyler Bertuzzi has had an outstanding season, it’s hard to say how he’ll perform in three-to-five years. Bertuzzi is 27 years old and in the prime of his NHL career. In five years, he might not be the tough-as-nails player he’s been for Detroit. He’s built for the playoffs, but his style of play has a knack for wearing down the body.

With a year left on his contract, Bertuzzi comes with a little extra security for a team looking to contend. For the right offer, the Red Wings could make off with an Anthony Mantha-like deal with plenty to spare. At this point, Yzerman should open the roster for business. Anyone, short of Larkin, Raymond or Seider should be available for the right offer.

In addition, trading a player like Bertuzzi shouldn’t be cause for panic. Doing so doesn’t push a window of contention back and doesn’t signal that a “second” rebuild is on the horizon. If trading a player not named Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews sets your team back that significantly, there are much bigger problems to worry about.

Next steps

Steve Yzerman has a plan. It’s going to take a while for it to come together, but this is what his priority list should look like:

  • Make off with a haul at the trade deadline
  • Draft a 1C or top-tier prospect in the 2022 Draft
  • Find a new coach
  • Sign a 2C like Vincent Trocheck and a top-four defenseman like Hampus Lindholm
  • End the 2022-23 season in the playoff bubble

Things look a little rough right now. They’ve looked rough in the past in Detroit. But what separates the Red Wings from the rest of the league is how they navigate adversity. Dylan Larkin and co. have been through hell. These last few seasons should add an edge to their play style and encourage them to never give up. Any team can make it to the playoffs. But the teams that win it all are the ones that can rise above the tough times.