Under the guidance of GM Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings had one of their best offseasons in recent memory.
It’s hard to identify a team that improved their on-ice product and salary-cap situation more than the Red Wings did this fall. Veteran defensemen Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley came off of the books, opening up $7.417M AAV in cap-space. They mercifully bought Justin Abdelkader out the final three years of his seven-year, $4.25M AAV contract. Lastly, Jimmy Howard’s tenure in Detroit came to an end as well. That left Yzerman with an abundance of cap room to improve the roster or weaponize to acquire assets.
Yzerman made a lot of short, low-risk signings, including Bobby Ryan (1-year), Jon Merrill (1-year), Vladislav Namestnikov (2-years), Troy Stecher (2-years) and Thomas Greiss (2-years). While none of them are difference-makers, they improve the team immediately, buy their prospects more time and could be flipped at the deadline to continue to acquire draft picks.
2020 was a historically bad season for this storied franchise but there are signs of better days on the horizon.
To help improve their future outlook, Yzerman did some tidy work with his RFAs, signing Anthony Mantha (4 Yrs x $5.7M) and Tyler Bertuzzi (1 Yr x $3.5M) to terrific deals.
Projected Forward Lines
With Mantha and Bertuzzi signed, the Red Wings’ top-line remains intact. They were the only trio in Detroit to play over 300 5v5 TOI together in 2020 and their results were outstanding. Despite playing on one of the worst teams in NHL history, DET1 ranked sixth in GoalsFor/60 (3.81) and 12th in GoalsFor% (57.1) among lines with at least 300 5v5 TOI together. That puts them among the best lines in the game, so expect them to remain together in 2021.
Dylan Larkin and Co. should have a little more reliable secondary scoring this season, following the additions of Namestnikov and Ryan. The No.2 centre slot was a black hole in 2020 and now either Robby Fabbri or Namestnikov will fill that spot this season. Both have played primarily on the wing in recent years but Yzerman envisions one of them shifting to the middle. Fabbri was a terrific, under-the-radar addition last year and he set a new career-high in Points/Game (0.60), posting 14 goals and 17 assists (31 points) in 52 games. Namestnikov played for three different teams in 2020 but also finished with 31 points (17G / 14A) in 65 games. Meanwhile, Ryan overcame some personal obstacles and appears poised to get his career back on track in Detroit. He’s not the consistent 30-goal threat he once was but he has 20-goal upside if he can stay healthy in the top-6.
If one of those three gets off to slow starts, Filip Zadina is an easy fit on the second line. The 2018 No.6 overall pick split his 2020 campaign between Detroit and Grand Rapids (AHL). Picking up 15 points (8G / 7A) in 28 NHL games. He’s had a nice start on his COVID Loan and figures to take a big step forward in 2021. Playing with Valtteri Fipplua and Sam Gagner gives him two quality veterans to take notes from.
The fourth line will feature three of Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, Adam Erne, Frans Nielsen and/or Dmytro Timashov (who remains unsigned). Mathis Brome, Evgeny Svechnikov and Michael Rasmussen all have NHL aspirations in 2021 but the offseason additions will likely put them on pause for now.
Projected Defensive Pairings
Detroit’s blueline was a disaster in 2020 but looks much better coming into this season. They will get Danny DeKeyser back, who missed almost all of last season after undergoing back surgery. It’s not certain that he’ll be ready for the start of the upcoming season, but it seems likely. He could be back on the top-pair but given the success that Filip Hronek and Patrik Nemeth had together last season, they’ll likely remain Jeff Blashill’s top duo. Of the 98 D-pairs who played at least 300 5v5 TOI together, Nemeth-Hronek was 49th in GA/60 (2.30) and 79th in GF% (44.0), so they weren’t great but they were the best the Red Wings had to offer.
That would leave DeKeyser to play with Stecher, which is a much improved second pairing from Daley and Madison Bowey. Both can skate and move the puck extremely well and could be a terrific pairing for Blashill. Stecher was one of the most underrated signings of the free-agent period and he could potentially be a long-term fit in Detroit.
Their third pairing will feature Merrill on one side and either Marc Staal or Alex Biega on the other. Depending on who it is, Merrill will move to the left or right side. Staal certainly isn’t in the Red Wings’ future plans, acquiring a draft pick to take him on for the final year of his contract. However, he’s a better option than Biega and along with Merrill, they should be a fine third-pairing. Both could be trade deadline targets for contending teams, especially Merrill, who grades out as an excellent shutdown defenseman. Staal could be in the mix at the deadline if Detroit is willing to retain some salary but he’s not the player he once was.
Detroit has a bright future on the blueline, headlined by Moritz Seider. Gustav Lindstrom, Jared McIsaac and Dennis Cholowski also have NHL futures ahead of them but Yzerman seems keen on going with a veteran group and allowing his younger defensemen to develop in the AHL or overseas during an uncertain 2021 campaign.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com