Welcome back to my Toronto Maple Leafs Opponent Preview series. In this series, I will be previewing each team in the Atlantic Division and breaking down how they match up against the Maple Leafs. The purpose of this series is to refresh people on how teams in the Atlantic Division are built for the 2021-22 season, especially considering the Maple Leafs haven’t played most of these teams since 2019-20.
Last time around, I broke down how the Maple Leafs matched up against the Buffalo Sabres. You can find that piece above. This time around, I will be taking a look at how the Maple Leafs stack up against the Detroit Red Wings in 2021-22.
Detroit Red Wings
2020-21 Record: 19-27-10 (48 points, missed the playoffs)
Notable Additions: Alex Nedeljkovic, Nick Leddy, Pius Suter, Sam Gagner, Ryan Murphy
Notable Losses: Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, Frans Nielsen, Jonathan Bernier
2021 Draft: Simon Edvinsson, Sebastian Cossa, Shai Buium, Carter Mazur, Red Savage, Liam Nilsson, Oscar Plandowski, Pasquale Zito
2019-20 Season Series: 3-0-0 (TOR outscored DET 15-3)
For a team with a history as storied and successful as the Red Wings, the last couple of seasons have been rough. Although, seeing the offseason they had, the Red Wings are in a transition period.
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With Steve Yzerman assuming general manager duties following the 2018-19 season, the team has done an incredible job of replenishing the farm system, and they’re poised to become a dangerous team over the next few years.
Red Wings Offense Gets Younger
Having looked at the Red Wings’ offseason, one thing that stood out to me was the apparent shift in age demographic. It’s hard to say whether or not they improved, per se, but having moved on from veterans such as Valtteri Filppula, Darren Helm, Luke Glendening, and Frans Nielsen, they certainly proved that they’re going to let their younger players carry most of the weight this season.
With the aforementioned veterans moving on, the Red Wings will look to players like Dylan Larkin, Jakub Vrana, and Pius Suter to carry the bulk of their offense while players such as Filip Zadina, Robby Fabbri, and Michael Rasmussen move into bigger roles. You could throw Tyler Bertuzzi into the former group as well, but him not being able to travel across the border because he isn’t vaccinated could potentially hurt the team. The youth movement is well underway in Detroit, and while the results likely won’t jump at you this season, they’re certainly moving in the right direction.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
Speaking strictly about this season, the Maple Leafs clearly have the better offense. Give the Red Wings’ young forwards a few seasons to develop and grow as players, and the debate will likely be a little more two-sided. But as of right now, the Red Wings simply don’t have the experience to hold a candle to the players the Maple Leafs boast up front.
Red Wings Defense Is Carrying the Mail
While the Red Wings aren’t necessarily seeing the same youth movement on the back end this season, I’m a huge fan of what they’ve done with their defense this offseason. They have a very nice mix of veterans as well as younger players who are either already with the team or will be on the come up the start of the season.
With the acquisition of Nick Leddy for essentially nothing, he will join a Red Wings corps boasting the likes of Filip Hronek, who led the team in scoring last season, along with fellow veterans such as Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser. Another player to keep an eye on is 2019 sixth overall pick Moritz Seider, who I believe could be a contender for the Calder Trophy in 2021-22.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
It’s more or less the same story on the back end as it was up front. For now, I still like the Maple Leafs’ odds up against the Red Wings. Between Hronek, Seider, and 2021 first-round pick Simon Edvinsson, I think the Red Wings are in the midst of building an incredibly strong defensive corps. However, that will take time, and with Toronto boasting a top four of Morgan Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Jake Muzzin, and Justin Holl, I think the Leafs come out on top here.
Red Wings Goaltending Will Be a Strong Suit for Years to Come
Here’s an area where I really like what the Yzerman and the Red Wings are doing. After running with a tandem of Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss in 2020-21, they acquired Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes for a third-round pick. How they managed to acquire the netminder for such a cheap price, I have no idea. In 23 games for the Hurricanes in 2020-21, Nedeljkovic posted a record of 15-5-3 with a goals against average (GAA) of 1.90 and a save percentage (SV%) of .932.
With that, the Red Wings will head into the 2020-21 season with a tandem of Nedeljkovic and Greiss. Seeing that the former is only 25 years old, he fits in perfectly with the age demographic of this team. Not to mention they also selected Sebastian Cossa, another netminder, with the 15th overall pick in the 2021 Draft. So the Red Wings have lots to look forward to between the pipes over the next decade.
How Do the Maple Leafs Match Up?
Like the forwards and the defensemen, I’m still going to give the Maple Leafs the edge between the pipes. However, I think this matchup is much closer than the other two. While Nedeljkovic has lots of promise, he only has 28 NHL games to his name and will be playing in front of a far less experienced defensive corps. With that said, it will be interesting to see what the Maple Leafs make of Nedeljkovic being in their division this season.
Head Coaching Matchup: Sheldon Keefe vs. Jeff Blashill
Head coaching matchups are always hard to judge because you have to take into consideration the team each coach has to work with. Keefe has just over 100 total games to his NHL coaching résumé, while Blashill has a coaching record of 172-221-62 over 455 NHL games. The Red Wings made the playoffs in Blashill’s first season as a head coach but have mostly been in a rebuilding stage since then.
I think we’ll have a better idea of how Blashill is as a coach once the youth movement really takes over and he has a good team to work with, but for now, it’s pretty hard to compare the two.
Red Wings Prospect Corner
It was hard for me to put Seider here because, while he is still a prospect, I think he’s just as much of a given as anybody to make the Red Wings roster in 2021-22.
The German had 22 points in 49 games with the American Hockey League (AHL)’s Grand Rapids Griffins in 2019-20. And he continued his pro success with Rogle BK of the Swedish Elite League (SHL) in 2020-21, where he tallied 28 points in 41 games. He could very well be an integral part of the Wings’ defense this season.
A second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2018, Berggren had a very good breakout season with Skelleftea AIK of the SHL in 2020-21 that saw him record 45 points in 49 games for the club. While the Red Wings may want to start Berggren in the AHL to get him acclimated to the North American style of hockey, a strong training camp could be all it takes for the Swedish forward to earn himself a spot on the opening night roster.
Once a recipient of the CHL’s exceptional status grant, Veleno hasn’t exactly panned out the same as fellow recipients such as Connor McDavid and John Tavares. Having said that, you can bet on Veleno heading into training camp with one goal in mind — to prove to the Red Wings that he deserves a spot on the team. With 20 points in 46 games for the SHL’s Malmo Redhawks in 2020-21, he’ll be taking that pro experience and applying it to his battle for a roster spot this season.
Message From Enemy Lines
Let’s not beat around the bush on this: the Maple Leafs are a contender with legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations while the Red Wings would just be happy to finish at .500 for the season. That being said, this isn’t the 2019-20 Red Wings anymore. Goaltending might be the closest matchup as both the Maple Leafs (Jack Campbell) and the Red Wings (Alex Nedeljkovic) are betting on an unproven goaltender to carry the load for them this season. Detroit’s defense should be improved with the additions of Nick Leddy and Moritz Seider (look out for him), but Toronto’s depth on the blue line is far superior with the likes of Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and TJ Brodie. Up front, it’s no contest. The Maple Leafs’ one-two punch down the middle of Auston Matthews and John Tavares is vastly superior to the Red Wings’ duo of Dylan Larkin and Pius Suter. The Red Wings have some upside on the wings, but it’s not enough to give them the nod over guys like Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Games between these two teams should be a lot more competitive than they have been in recent memory, but these games are still the Maple Leafs’ to lose.Devin Little, The Hockey Writers
Oct. 30, 2021 vs Detroit
Jan. 29, 2022 @ Detroit
Feb. 26, 2022 vs Detroit
Apr. 26, 2022 @ Detroit
2021-22 Season Prediction: Seventh in Atlantic
The Red Wings have the benefit of being in the same division as the Buffalo Sabres, which will save them from coming in last. But between their inexperience and lack of stardom, I think the Red Wings are in for another season where they’ll be focused more on a high draft pick than a chance at a playoff spot.
But make no mistake, give this team a couple of years, and they’re going to be right in the middle of the conversation with the Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Florida Panthers. The Red Wings have proven in the past that they know how to rebuild a franchise, and if history repeats itself, we’ll be seeing another Red Wings powerhouse in no time.
Alex Hobson is a third year broadcasting student at Niagara College. He has been writing about sports since 2015 and has been with The Hockey Writers since October of 2020. He covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, World Juniors, and the NHL Entry Draft, and is also part of the Sticks in the 6ix Podcast, presented by THW. He also makes weekly appearances on THW’s Maple Leafs Lounge Roundtable. For interview requests or any other inquiries, you can follow Alex’s social media pages listed at the bottom of his articles like this one.