Oh, look, another article discussing how awful the Detroit Red Wings were in 2020. What are the odds? Better than getting first overall in the NHL Entry Draft apparently. In all seriousness, it wasn’t all terrible for the team from the Motor City. With the Red Wings posting another solid draft class, bringing in quality free agents, and re-signing core members to the team, Hockeytown has a lot to be thankful for entering 2021. Here’s your 2020 year in review for the Red Wings.
A Case of Bad Ice (January-March)
The Red Wings were already performing awfully on the ice during the 2019-20 season by the time January hit. Their record was 10-28-3 entering the new year and that came after beating the San Jose Sharks 2-0 at home on New Year’s Eve. January was a big month for forward Givani Smith, who scored his first career point (an assist on a Frans Nielsen goal) on Jan. 7 to help give Detroit a 4-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
Forward Valtteri Filppula reached a significant milestone, on Feb. 1, when played in his 1,000th career NHL game.
While Valentine’s Day is usually a time for love, there wasn’t much to love when it came to Red Wings hockey. By Feb. 14, Detroit had an abysmal record of 14-41-4 and was in the driver’s seat for the first overall pick, which meant selecting Alexis Lafreniere from the Rimouski Oceanic.
At the 2020 Trade Deadline, the Red Wings didn’t make any major moves, but they had two noticeable trades with the Edmonton Oilers. Detroit first acquired Kyle Brodziak and a conditional draft pick in exchange for Mike Green (while retaining 50% of his salary). That draft pick will come into play later on in the article. The Red Wings then sent Andreas Athanasiou and Ryan Kuffner to the City of Champions for Sam Gagner and two second-round picks.
With the Red Wings already eliminated from playoff contention by the time the trade deadline rolled around, the only choice general manager Steve Yzerman had was to sell off remaining pieces. With the help of his predecessor, Ken Holland, in Edmonton, the return was quite a positive one for Detroit. To get a second and a third-round pick for two players with a combined 35 points that both needed contracts for the upcoming season was a nice addition.
On March 10th, the Red Wings clinched the worst record in the league following a 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. It was the first time since 1985-86 that Detroit would finish at the bottom of the NHL standings, while league officials would officially suspend the season two days later on March 12. Of all 31 teams, the season stoppage probably had the least effect on Detroit considering everyone knew the fate of their season and it wouldn’t be a total loss if they didn’t play another game. But just like everything else in mid-March, no one knew what the future would hold for the Red Wings.
The Waiting Game (April-June)
April and May was just a bunch of wait and see for the Red Wings. No one really knew what the future of the season would look like, or how hockey would come back all together. People were waiting for any crumb of news for several weeks when there was just nothing happening. However, things would get better on May 26 when the NHL announced their return to play plans.
The NHL’s return to play plan did not include the Red Wings, whose season officially ended on March 10 as they would not make the 24-team postseason tournament. For fans of the seven teams who’s team did not return to play, they would be given the seven best-odds in the upcoming NHL Draft Lottery, which would be held on June 26, 2020.
The Red Wings had the best odds of any team for the first overall pick with an 18.5% chance of earning the selection. The anticipation among Hockeytown faithful was choosing Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus first overall selection and already touted as the next elite NHL playmaker. While I, like many fans, were willing to overlook Detroit being three times more likely to pick fourth overall than first, it was still a gut punch to see Bill Daly reveal the Red Wings logo at fourth overall.
Were the results surprising? Not for myself, personally. This is the NHL, who creates more parity than any other major North American sports league and, this year, it came at the Red Wings expense. If trying to extend the playoff streak meant that the Red Wings would have no draft lottery success, I would totally understand. I just wish someone would tell us instead of having to get myself hyped up, then disappointed when Detroit doesn’t get the top pick.
Summertime & The Livin’s Easy (July-September)
Living as a Red Wings fan through this time was similar to the previous time period of April through July. There wasn’t much news to report on the team during the summer months as the biggest storylines over the summer were the NHL playoffs and return to play, which the Red Wings weren’t a part of obviously. However, as a fan of good hockey, it was nice seeing the players and teams back on the ice in a safe and healthy environment.
Most of the moves the Red Wings made at this point were assigning players to play in Europe. It was obvious the NHL wasn’t going to be starting at its regular time for the upcoming 2020-21 season so Yzerman loaned many of his players (mostly younger players who are trying to get a roster spot this year) overseas to get into game shape. One somewhat interesting move by the Red Wings occurred on Aug. 23 when Robby Fabbri signed a two-year extension, giving them stability in the middle-six.
Yzerman was able to strike up a deal at the end of September when he acquired Marc Staal and a second-round pick in the 2020 draft from the New York Rangers for future considerations. The move was mostly a cap dump for the Rangers, who needed space to retain upcoming RFA’s, and the Red Wings were the benefactor of an extra draft pick because of it. Feeding off what my buddy Devin Little said, look for Staal to be a veteran defenseman who adds experience to a group that needs it, especially on defense.
Cold November Rain (October-December)
October was a fun month for Red Wings as they got an insight into the future of the team with the NHL Draft and NHL Free Agency both being held that month. At the NHL Draft, the Red Wings selected 12 players, including taking left-winger Lucas Raymond from Frolunda HC fourth overall. Other notable draft choices include Swedish center Theodor Niederbach and Czech goaltender Jan Bednar, who Detroit took in the fourth round thanks to the conditional draft pick the Oilers sent as part of the Green trade.
After the Red Wings had a successful draft, the team and their fans then turned their focus onto free agency. Detroit had plenty of cap space to use, something that not many other teams could say, giving them several options on how to go about their offseason. And to say they were busy might be an understatement.
Following the buyout of Justin Abdelkader, after he was placed on waivers, Detroit signed eight new players in the month of October. Starting with Bobby Ryan and Jon Merrill on Oct. 9, the Red Wings then signed Thomas Greiss and Troy Stecher to two-year deals the following day. Wrapping up the free agency signings for the Red Wings was former Colorado Avalanche center Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year contract.
The remaining offseason was largely quiet for the Red Wings. Trevor Daley announced his retirement on Oct. 26, joining the Pittsburgh Penguins as a hockey operations advisor. Two days later, Tyler Bertuzzi was awarded a 1 year, $3.5 million contract from an independent arbitrator after setting a career-high in points (48 points) and tying his career-high in goals (21 goals) last season. Then, on Nov. 3, Anthony Mantha signed a four-year deal worth $22.8 million with an AAV of $5.7 million.
Here’s to a Better 2021
As someone who tries to take the positive from most things, there wasn’t a lot to love about the Red Wings in 2020. However, they managed to strengthen their prospect pool with another fantastic daft, while continuing the improve the overall talent of the team. While the results might not show it on the ice this season, most of Hockeytown faithful will tell you that they’re optimistic about the future of this team. For the Red Wings, it’s all about building back better, and they’re on the right path to doing that.