March carries a lot of weight.
It’s the start of spring for some. For others (mostly Michiganders), it’s another week of cursing the groundhog. In the case of the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings, it’s the time where the going gets tough and the tough gets going. For contenders, the playoff push starts now. For rebuilders, it’s the last chance they have to secure assets this season.
The NHL is less than three weeks away from the trade deadline. On March 21st, everyone from John Klingberg to (potentially) Filip Forsberg will find a new home. This is a chance for playoff teams to add a little extra oomph and rebuilders to add some extra draft capital.
For the Red Wings, this last leg of the season is more than a single date. It’s a chance for rookies to excel and big-name players to finish their seasons off strong. From righting wayward ships to ending the season with a bang, these key points should be at the top of Detroit’s wishlist.
1. More ice time for Filip Zadina
No matter where you stand on Zadina, there’s no doubt that the Red Wings' first pick in 2018 excelled on the top line. In six games with Lucas Raymond and Dylan Larkin, Zadina netted two goals and one assist. For the record, those three points make up nearly 20% of Zadina’s production this season. On one hand, it can be argued that his production was boosted by the outstanding play of his linemates. On the other, his improved possession metrics and ability to drive play two-way hockey demonstrably improved with Larkin and Raymond.
This is what happens when Zadina is put with linemates that help him succeed:
If you’re a member of the “wait and see” camp, keeping Zadina on the top line allows him to thrive and hopefully add more to the scoresheet. If you’re a “trade him now” advocate, showcasing him on the top line will artificially give his numbers a boost. Hitting a hot streak before the trade deadline could make a trade partner pull the trigger on a big deal.
2. A huge finish for the Calder candidates
The narrative has shifted. For a few weeks, it was Trevor Zegras-a-palooza. Articles, hot takes, and fluff pieces on the Anaheim Ducks forward dominated the media space. Now that the dust has settled, it’s becoming clearer by the day that Moritz Seider is a runaway candidate for the Calder Trophy. A case can certainly be made for Lucas Raymond, who leads rookies in scoring, but Seider’s exceptional play as a defenseman is catching the attention of traditional hockey analysts and analytics gurus alike.
As of right now, Seider is fourth in rookie scoring with 40 points in 54 games. He’s just three points shy of the lead, where Raymond sits atop a tight race with 43 points. The rift is getting wider by the day. While Maple Leafs and Ducks fans might hype up Michael Bunting or Zegras, barring an unbelievable streak, it’s hard to justify their placement atop any Calder rankings. If Seider can keep this level of play up, he’ll not only be a top-tier Calder contender, but also a potential top-10 defenseman in the NHL right now.
3. An explosive return from Jakub Vrana
He’s skating again! For the first time in months, Vrana is back on the ice, taking drills with the team again. While he might not suit up until closer to the trade deadline, having Vrana back to take things up a notch will be a huge boon for Detroit. The Red Wings are 20th in goals this season, scoring 2.96 goals-per-game. With Vrana back on the ice, their Goals For (GF) should have a neat little bump.
In addition, Vrana will provide the Red Wings with three lines of effective scoring. With players like Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Lucas Raymond, Zadina, Vrana, and Robby Fabbri on the ice, opportunity is abundant for scoring across the board. Vrana’s 11 points in 11 games last season spoke to his ability to generate offense at a high level. He can easily slot in at the top line, or even find a home somewhere on the second, should Jeff Blashill opt to break up the Guelph Line. Last season, he had a lot of chemistry with Zadina. The Red Wings may even try to reignite that chemistry to give him a much-needed boost in offense.
For now, the best thing for Vrana is to recover at a safe, gradual pace until he’s 1000% confident in his ability to return. Rushing him to the lineup will create more problems than solutions; and it might even re-aggravate his injury. Slow and steady wins the race with this one.
4. A huge trade deadline haul
Last season’s Anthony Mantha trade headlined a deadline of pure chaos. This time around, the Red Wings don’t have as many expected candidates on their roster — but it’s hard to imagine Steve Yzerman doesn’t have a surprise up his sleeve. I’m not sure if it’s the market or intuition, but something about this trade deadline reeks of desperation. There are too many teams nearing the end of their contention window. There are also many that need to win now or risk losing it all.
Someone’s going to make a very costly move; hopefully, to the benefit of the Red Wings. Obvious headliners of the trade bait list include Vladislav Namestnikov and Thomas Greiss, but other names may elicit consideration. Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff named Filip Zadina as a potential candidate. A contender may want to risk it all for Tyler Bertuzzi, who still has a year left on his contract. Filip Hronek, who just signed a contract extension, may be worth a few pieces for the right price.
As far as returns go, the Red Wings should look to stock up on more draft capital and potentially end up with another roster player. If a blockbuster trade is to be made, a player like Travis Konecny should be coming back the other way. With Yzerman at the helm, there’s no telling what’s possible.
5. A renewed power play
“Ineffective” is a word often used to describe poor power plays. In the case of the Red Wings, “impotent” might be a better word. Like Dan Bylsma, Pat Ferschweiler and John Torchetti before him, Alex Tanguay has fallen into the same pattern of error that has plagued Detroit’s power play for years. Still, it’s hard to place the blame squarely on Tanguay. The one consistent factor in all this have been two things: a lack of talent, and head coach Jeff Blashill.
As of right now, the Red Wings have the 24th most effective power play in the NHL. Raymond and Seider have worked wonders to boost the team’s numbers, but there’s still a long ways to go before the power play can truly fly. It’s also hard to tell if replacing Blashill with another coach would improve the power play. The special teams schema used by Detroit is just too predictable. Improvement near the end of the season would go a long way.