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The Detroit Red Wings’ Holiday Wish-List

In terms of Holiday shopping, the Detroit Red Wings would be difficult people to cross off your list. The team is very much in a stage where they can respond to “what do you want” with “ohh I don’t really need anything big… I’ll love whatever you get me,” causing you to bash your head into a wall while scrolling Amazon for any semblance of an idea three days before December 25th.

The Red Wings really do have plenty of “must-haves” when it comes to building their team. They have a few young high-impact forwards still reaching their prime, an up-and-coming top defenseman in Moritz Seider and a few other solid top four candidates, great goaltending in Ville Husso, and a couple of veterans contributing as solid depth pieces.

But hey, there’s always something a growing team needs. And for the Wings, there are definitely some things you can put under the tree that would help them in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

So without further ado, let’s look at the Detroit Red Wings’ Holiday Wish-List…

A Shiny New Contract For Dylan Larkin

The Red Wings’ captain is playing some of the best hockey of his life right now. He has 96 points in his last 100 games, and analytics-wise, has been one of the best playmaking centers in the entire NHL over the past two seasons. Larkin also happens to be on track to be an unrestricted free agent in seven months. And by virtue of great timing, all signs point to Larkin getting a big ol’ sack of money under his Christmas tree (or his Summer ficus, depending on when he signs.)

There’s really no reason for Detroit NOT to be the team that pays Larkin. They have the cap space, he’s the captain (hand-picked by the guy who wore the ‘C’ longer than any other Red Wing), and — per the man himself — Larkin wants to stay in his home state. That being said, the longer Larkin goes without a new deal, the more us fans go “hmm… it would be nice if they got this done soon” before reaching for the Alka-Seltzer and/or Fireball.

It would be in everyone’s best interest to get this deal done sooner rather than later. For Larkin, he’ll get the long-term contract he rightfully deserves. For Yzerman and the front office, they’ll lock in the centerpiece of their rebuild, which may give them a jump on making some more aggressive moves to help that rebuild. And for the fans, we get to enjoy the prime of Larkin’s career without having to check Twitter between periods for any rumblings on his contract status.

A Healthy Tyler Bertuzzi

It’s hard to tell exactly where this season’s Wings are talent-wise, because it seems like a significant portion of the Red Wings’ talent is injured at any given time. Luckily, things seem to be improving. Jakub Vrana is back with the team, Olli Maatta is playing again after a lengthy illness, Robby Fabbri’s return appears to be right around the corner, and Larkin and Filip Hronek appear to have avoided any significant injury.

The last major domino to fall is arguably the biggest one, the Red Rider B.B. Gun of the Wings’ injury list, Tyler Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi’s only been able to play nine games this season due to two separate hand injuries, and his seven-game return from his first injury was less-than-stellar.

However, when he’s cooking, Bertuzzi is a prime source of scoring, and more importantly a unique source of scoring. His physical ability to fight his way into dangerous areas to score the “dirty goals” or to win lose pucks in the offensive zone is a skillset that’s been missing from the Wings’ lineup. Getting Bertuzzi back, and getting his level of play back to where it was last season, will not only boost the Wings’ scoring numbers, but it could also open things up for some of the other Wings forwards.

Some Swagger For Alex Nedeljkovic

I still like Ned. There’s still a part of me that hopes he can be a meaningful piece of the Red Wings’ future. Right now though, the Claus-o-meter measuring Ned’s swagger is on empty.

Nedeljkovic’s play hasn’t just been below-average this season, it’s at “liability” levels. He’s allowing goals that should be routine saves, and even routine saves look somewhat shaky. What’s frustrating is that it’s coming with a much better defense in front of him than he had last year, when he did gift us a number of game-stealing performances.

The skillset Ned needs to be a successful goalie is there. He displayed it in his Calder-nominated season in 2021 and in flashes of brilliant play last year. It feels like what’s missing is the confidence and swagger to make those game-changing, highlight-reel saves. But all it may take is just one or two good games to get that swagger back.

If Ned can do it, and he re-finds his game, that gives the Red Wings a solid B-option behind Ville Husso, and may help Detroit steal a few games en route to a possible playoff run.

Consistent Special Teams

Special teams are like the Playstation 5 you unwrap last on Christmas Morning; the rest of your gifts may be hit-or-miss, but that last, big memorable present can offset those five packages of socks Aunt Carol got you.

Similarly, a good power play and penalty killing unit can offset a team’s shortcomings at even strength. The Red Wings, still a team in transition, have plenty of those. But if they can convert on one or two man-advantages per game and keep another team’s high-powered power play unit off the board, that’s the difference between a win and a loss (just ask the Ottawa Senators.)

The Red Wings’ special teams are mid at best right now. The power play ranks 22nd in the NHL at 20.2%. The penalty kill is slightly better, 18th in the league at 77.2%, but still a far cry from “good enough.” It’s also no coincidence that earlier in the season, when the Wings were off to a hot start, Detroit was towards the top of the league in both categories.

We could see an improvement on the power play with the likes of Vrana, Fabbri, and (eventually) Bertuzzi returning to the lineup. If the Red Wings can start to convert on some of their chances and clean up their penalty killing, they may just steal enough wins (a big, Grinchy theme on this wishlist) to be in the postseason conversation at the end of the year.

A Little Festive Patience

The Red Wings are equal parts better and more fun this year than they’ve been over the prior handful of seasons. But it’s also important to remember that this is still a team in a rebuild. There are going to be stretches where you go “the Wings are back, baby!” There will also be stretches where you go “dear God, what is this trash fire?” That’s the reality of where we are with this team right now.

J.J. went more in depth with this earlier this month, but the best thing we can do as fans is just sit back and enjoy the ride; we can simply cheer when the Wings win a game against the Lightning and wistfully sigh when they get clobbered by the Sabres without going too in-depth into the ramifications of each game. There may be a time in the future where expectations change and the team needs to go under the microscope, but for now, a little patience will get us through the highs and lows with our sanity intact.

Sometimes, the best Christmas gifts are the ones you have to wait for. It feels like that big Red Wings turnaround is right around the corner. We’re on track to get there; we just may have to unwrap a few duds before we can enjoy it.

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