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The one (well, two) thing(s) Detroit needs in order to compete

November 30, 2020, 12:50 PM ET [44 Comments]
Jeremy Laura
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The NHL went from a 5 billion dollar league to a 3.5 billion league to projections of 2 billion for the coming year. The NHLPA believes an extra billion can be easily found, but the owner projections are far less optimistic. Regardless, the cap has been set based on 5 billion so the slice and dice on games and salaries is causing some serious discomfort. Whenever things get out of the war room and back onto the ice, Detroit is a team that is definitely in process. Some fans are wondering if a favorable division could make Detroit more competitive (no), but reality seems to be looking for signs of improvement.

You can tell by the title that, in attempting to find one thing that would “complete” the Red Wings team, it’s just impossible. I’ll start with the positive, Yzerman did a yeoman’s task of letting contracts expire and a buyout I didn’t think would happen with Abdelkader. The team also picked up some new players and it certainly feels like an upgrade.

Jimmy Howard’s deal was allowed to expire, and Thomas Greiss was brought in. Last year’s 4.2 GAA and .882 Sv% were Jimmy’s career worst. His career GAA is 2.62 with a .912 SV%, so to be fair, the team didn’t do a lot to help out. Be that as it may, a fresh face is welcome. Greiss has a career GAA of 2.63 and a .915 SV% (eerily similar). The hope of a new goalie who isn’t “comfortable” and wants to prove something is important. Bernier had a GAA of 2.95 with a SV% of .907. He just clicked better with the team. I truly wish Jimmy all the best and hope he has another kick at the can elsewhere to get the taste of last season out of his mouth.

On the forwards, Abdelkader was bought out. A painful no goal season seemed to be the final straw. A big issue last year was the drop off from the Larkin line to whatever patch-work second line was going at the time. The addition of Namestnikov is encouraging. Robby Fabbri certainly came in as a breath of fresh air, and Filip Zadina seems to be finding his way again. Bobby Ryan will slot in somewhere, and Sam Gagner is back. Gagner brought energy and creativity (quick stops in the attacking zone that created space and fast passes). This team needed a shot of confidence and creativity in a bad way. Nielsen and Filppula have fallen off, but still put in the work. Glendening is an ideal 4th line/pk guy.

The Defensive turnover was impressive. Mike Green brought a fourth round pick (i mistakenly said two 2nd rounds, that was AA who is still on the market, thanks to Gergeswillems for the catch) before a quick cup of coffee in Edmonton and then retirement. Trevor Daly is gone (a warrior who gave his body to the sport), Jonathan Ericsson is gone as well. I was looking forward to seeing Seider this year, but he signed a season long contract (as did McIsaac who is, again, on IR). The growth of Filip Hronek has been such a bright spot. He and Seider look like fantastic finds and will be the first and second line RD of the future. John Merrill has come home to Michigan, Marc Staal is joining the fray as well as surprise pickup Troy Stecher. Dekeyser, if healthy, would be another big boost. Cholowski? I have no idea. As we’re reminded every year, he’s not Chycrun.

And so, the roster feels fresh. If I’m comparing it to making a salad (why wouldn’t you?) essentially Yzerman cut the wilted bits off of the lettuce and brought in some new ingredients. Addition by subtraction as much as bringing new faces in. And so, with these changes, what does the team need to be “competitive”? In reality, it feels like a 3 in 1 answer.

Detroit needs another center the caliber of Larkin. There are many who comment here that feel like DL is not (and won’t ever be) a true number 1 center. I disagree. However, the drop off is still way too steep. Fabbri and Namestnikov will have a crack to take the #2 center spot, but we need more. Veleno isn’t finding his game as we’d hoped. Jonatan Berggren is looking better and better, but will it translate to actually being a top 1 or 2 NHL center? Lottery luck would help greatly in this department. I believe our wingers are coming into their own. Mantha has good hands, Zadina looks better and better. 2020 draft pick Lucas Raymond looks very promising as well. We need another high end line leader.

The next equally important need is a top tier Left Dman. A healthy Dekeyser would be a nice 2D matched with Hronek or Seider. Unfortunately, we were spoiled by two decades of Nick Lidstrom. Going back to the 97 cup, hearing Nick say he was surprised to be paired with Murphy and taking on Philly’s big boys is a glimpse into his humility. He considered himself an offensive D (Murphy as well) but so many of us got to see him turn into a massive on ice frustration for opposing forwards. His positioning and decision making felt, well, perfect at times.

I’m not so naive that I would think that another Nick will be coming through the doors. He’s that unique. However, a strong left side D to pair with Seider in the future that knows when to join up or to stay back. Someone who can munch 28 minutes or more when needed. The left side is not as promising as the right at this point.

Finally, of course we need a franchise goalie. However, just to be competitive, we need a consistent goalie. If the goal is just to put a team on the ice that can be there night in/night out, I’ll put the top tier Dman over the “stud” goalie. Barry Trotz has mastered creating a team defense that aids the goalie. It’s only my opinion, but an elite defensive core can do a lot in giving a good goalie “great” numbers.

So, at the end, for this team to be competitive we need another Larkin and an heir apparent to Lidstrom. The goaltending isn’t elite, by any stretch, but those two additions would go a long way in keeping the team in games. Erase the “own zone” turnovers 5 feet from the net, have a stronger power play and center ice presence. For my money, a top center and LD would cure many of our current ills.
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