When he assumed the role of general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, Steve Yzerman preached patience. He wasn’t coming in to make sweeping changes just to catapult the team back into contention. Good things take time, and he made sure to set the bar low for the upcoming season.
As the calendar reaches the final week of February, the Red Wings are connected to a few different moves that could happen by the trade deadline. (from ‘Steve Yzerman makes minor move; more coming for Detroit Red Wings as trade deadline looms?,’ Detroit Free Press, 02/21/2020). Yzerman, despite preaching patience, is known as an aggressive general manager — as evidenced by the six trades he’s made since August. In those trades, he hasn’t drastically changed the landscape of the Red Wings, but he hasn’t been afraid to move pieces around as he sees fit.
What could these trades mean in terms of Yzerman’s actions leading up to the trade deadline? When you make as many as six trades, there’s bound to be some winners and some stinkers.
On Aug. 14, Yzerman traded a fourth-round pick in the 2020 Draft to the Tampa Bay Lightning to acquire winger Adam Erne. He drafted Erne during his tenure with the Lightning, so this move looked like Yzerman reaching for a piece he was familiar with. Like most moves Yzerman would later make, Erne represented a younger player who could receive a more consistent opportunity with the Red Wings.
In 52 games this season, Erne has only amassed four points. He has moved up and down the lineup at various points of the season. His average time on ice (TOI) of 11:54 represents the largest total of his career thus far. In short, Erne has sort of just been there for the Red Wings.
This trade tells us that the phone line between Detroit and Tampa Bay is certainly open. If there’s a prospect in the Lightning’s system that Yzerman likes, he’ll most certainly pursue them.
Alex Biega plays an inoffensive game. By that, I mean he doesn’t do a lot to harm you, but he also doesn’t do a lot to help you. He’s a placeholder defenseman — you could do better, but you could do worse, too. On Oct. 6, Yzerman sent prospect David Pope to the Vancouver Canucks to acquire Biega’s services.
Biega had been phased out of the Canucks’ lineup, and he wanted an opportunity to remain in the NHL — can you blame him? The Red Wings, whose defense was and is still banged up, presented him with that exact opportunity. The move also allowed the Red Wings to keep their defensive prospects down in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Grand Rapids Griffins.
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In 40 games, Biega has two points. However, what is most remarkable is the fact that he only has a plus/minus of minus-nine for the year. Given that the team’s collective goal-differential is minus-106, Biega has been far from the team’s greatest offender on the back end. He’s not on the ice a ton given his average TOI of 15:42, but some players have done a lot worse with a lot less.
This trade tells us that Yzerman also believes in letting players marinate down in the AHL. If he isn’t enamored with a prospect in the system, he won’t hesitate to move them out, even if the benefits are short-term.
Sometimes you hit for a home run. Other times you hit for a single. Either way, you can say you swung the bat. In this trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Yzerman swung his bat, but only got on base.
Perlini was a great player to take a chance on. He has great size, was a former first-round pick in 2014, and he’s a player who produced at a decent rate in his first two seasons with the Arizona Coyotes. At the very least, Perlini represented a player that the team could acquire, let him produce, and then flip him by the deadline if the fit wasn’t quite right.
Instead, Perlini has struggled during his stay with the Red Wings. With just a single goal and three points, he is in the midst of his most impotent season in the NHL. He’s had chances, but for one reason or another, has failed to produce. He’s found himself in and out of the lineup as the calendar flipped over to 2020, the surest sign of the winger’s struggles.
To acquire Perlini, Yzerman sent defensive prospect Alec Regula to the Blackhawks. Regula, a native of Michigan, has produced very well during his time with the London Knights in the OHL, suggesting that the defender has an offensive touch to go along with his big frame. (from ‘Detroit Red Wings draft Alec Regula, whose dad was team’s dentist,’ Detroit Free Press, 06/23/2018) He was the type of defensive prospect that inspired excitement among Red Wing fans.
This trade is the first big swing at acquiring forwards who are in need of opportunity. These types of moves aren’t always guaranteed to work, as evidenced by this particular trade.
This is as close to a home-run hit as Yzerman has had in terms of trading this season. Not only is Robby Fabbri producing for the Red Wings, but he’s the only acquisition that could have a long-term future with the franchise.
Fabbri sits fifth in points on the team with 29 through 53 games. His 12 goals are tied for third on the team (a sure sign of the team’s struggles to score this season.) He has consistently played in the team’s top-six since arriving and could hold down a spot in the lineup in the future as a scoring winger.
To acquire Fabbri from the St. Louis Blues, the Red Wings sent fourth-line center Jacob de la Rose. Yes, the trade was one-for-one. De la Rose was claimed off waivers from the Montreal Canadiens last season by then-general manager Ken Holland. Essentially, the Red Wings used a free player to acquire one of their best scorers this season.
Simply put: Yzerman won the trade. This move proves that he is capable of pulling off the “give them opportunity” trade. Whether Fabbri sticks around beyond the deadline will also reveal something about Yzerman’s master plan.
Sometimes when you swing for the fences, you make contact. Other times, you completely strike out. When it comes to Eric Comrie, Yzerman struck out.
Comrie is the only player Yzerman acquired this season that is no longer with the organization. After the Winnipeg Jets claimed him off waivers from the Red Wings, the Jets placed the goalie back on waivers, giving the Red Wings the opportunity to reclaim the 24-year-old and place him down in the AHL. Instead, the Red Wings passed.
Yzerman acquired Comrie from the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for defensive prospect Vili Saarijarvi, whom the Red Wings picked in the third round of the 2015 draft. While Saarijarvi struggled to acclimate to the North American game at first, he did show promise during the 2018-19 season with the Griffins in the AHL.
While he may amount to nothing in the NHL, Yzerman sent the young Finnish defenseman away for a two-game audition of a goalie they decided they didn’t like. This move shows that Yzerman knows the state of the Red Wings’ goalie pipeline. He tried to address it, but in this instance, it didn’t work out.
This trade isn’t so much about who the Red Wings received, but rather about who they sent away. Kyle Wood is an AHL defender who provides the Griffins with depth on the blue line as they continue to push for the playoffs. But to acquire him, the Red Wings traded Oliwer Kaski, arguably the team’s biggest free-agent signing during the offseason.
During the 2018-19 season, Kaski won the Lasse Oksanen award as the Finnish Liiga’s most-valuable player — a high honor for a defenseman to obtain. At 24-years-old, he was exactly the type of player the Red Wings and their fans wanted to inject into the lineup.
Instead, Kaski couldn’t crack the Red Wings’ lineup, and he even struggled to assert himself with the Griffins. Yzerman quickly moved on from Kaski, turning him into a sturdy defender with a low ceiling in Kyle Wood.
This move wasn’t earth-shattering, but it did shift the landscape a bit. If nothing else, these are the types of moves Yzerman can and will make at the deadline if he feels he needs to. This move shows that he has the Griffins’ best interests in mind as well as the Red Wings’. If he can help them in their quest for the playoffs, he will.
If there’s one thing these moves illustrate, it’s that Yzerman is certainly far from gun-shy. He’s not immune to the occasional miss (Comrie), but he is also capable of pulling off a steal of a deal (Fabbri.) One tendency that stands out, is that Yzerman is willing to gamble on young players who are in need of an opportunity.
If the opportunity is there to acquire another Fabbri-like player, Yzerman should be all over it. Otherwise, look for him to be aggressive in bringing in assets that could help help the team now and/or in the future.
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I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.