The Detroit Red Wings are now a little over halfway through the 2021-22 season. After winning 36 out of 127 games over the two previous seasons, the Red Wings have 19 wins through 44 games this season. It’s clear to anybody that has watched the team this season that this group is much better than Red Wings teams of the past couple years. With that in mind, it’s time to hand out some awards.
Now, to be clear, not every award given out in this article will be positive. Just as some players have stood out for the right reasons, others have stood out for the wrong reasons. It’s that mix of players exceeding and not meeting expectations that has led the Red Wings to a season where they have mostly hovered around .500. We point out who these players are today so that we can see how those trends progressed at the end of the season.
Without further ado, put on your finest tuxedo or your dress that sparkles the most – it’s award season baby!
Best Rookie: Moritz Seider
If you watch our Red Wings YouTube show/podcast The Hockey Writers Grind Line, you’ll know that I am a HUGE fan of Lucas Raymond. While the Swedish winger deserves every bit of praise that he has received this season, I would make the argument that his German teammate hasn’t received the praise that he deserves this season. Sure, Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras leads all rookies in style points, while Raymond leads all rookies in actual points, but what Moritz Seider has done on Detroit’s blue line this season is remarkable.
Despite a number of highly-skilled rookie forwards making their debut this season, Seider has remained in the top five for rookie scoring all season. He has brought an offensive prowess to the Red Wings’ blue line that they sorely needed. This is especially evident on the power play, where he can be seen quarterbacking the play from the point, consistently feeding his teammates with crisp, clean passes. While Detroit’s power play has struggled this season, you cannot attribute those failures to the 20-year-old German defender.
With Seider and Filip Hronek, the Red Wings have two right-handed defenders that the team can count on to contribute in the offensive end. But where Seider really stands out is on defense. It took all of a month, two at the most, for him to cement himself as the Red Wings’ top defenseman due to his ability to log a ton of minutes while playing consistently good hockey.
Whether it’s using his stick to disrupt a shooting or passing lane, or simply his ability to get back on defense when the play suddenly changes directions, he has stabilized Detroit’s defense in a way that we haven’t seen since now-retired defenseman Niklas Kronwall’s play started dropping off. It is so hard for rookie defensemen to be effective right away in the NHL, but you wouldn’t know it while watching Seider play this season.
Best Forward: Tyler Bertuzzi
If you asked 20 Red Wings fans to name the best forward for Detroit so far this season, you would probably get an even mix of three answers: Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin. The three of them made up the Red Wings’ top line up until the last couple of weeks. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio have a Corsi-For percentage of 50.3 at even strength in just over 300 minutes together, as well as a Goals-For percentage of 69.2. They also controlled 51.1 percent of high-danger chanced while on the ice together. All of this is to say that the three of these players have been highly effective together, and picking one of them as the team’s top forward is also a reflection on the other two players.
But there’s one player that has taken his game to another level this season, and the Red Wings have felt his absence whenever he’s missed a game.
Bertuzzi is tied with Larkin in both points and goals to this point this season. However, Larkin has played in three more games than Bertuzzi. “Bert” leads the team in terms of points per-game with a rate of 1.09. If he does not miss any more games besides the Red Wings’ remaining games in Canada, he’s on pace for 74 points through 68 games, which would shatter his previous career-high of 48 points through 71 games, set during the 2019-20 season.
Bertuzzi leads the Red Wings with five game-winning goals this season. He also leads the team in plus/minus with a rating of plus-13 – a rather impressive feat considering the team as a whole has a goal differential of minus-29. And, perhaps most importantly to his teammates, he is always the one to grab the puck when somebody reaches a milestone, and he almost always seems to be smiling and cracking jokes on the bench. In short, he has been elite at what he does this season, and his stock has never been higher.
Biggest Disappointment: Filip Zadina
There are so many articles out there that tackle this topic, so instead of piling on, I’m simply going to state that Filip Zadina has not lived up to expectations entering this season. The talent is still there, and people who are super into numbers will tell you that he just needs a lucky break and then he’s going to explode offensively. But until that happens, he’s hanging out with 12 points this season while bouncing around the lineup as head coach Jeff Blashill tries to get him going.
The Jonathan Ericsson Memorial Award: Danny DeKeyser
During most of his tenure in Detroit, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was a popular target for fans to voice their displeasure about online. While few can argue that he was a valuable player at one point in time, his play fell off over time while playing on a contract that made him heavily overcompensated for the level play he put forth. If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because there’s another defenseman on this year’s team that fits this description as well.
This season while wearing the alternate captain’s “A” on his sweater, Danny DeKeyser has unfortunately looked lost out on the ice more often than not. While he makes the odd good play here and there, he’s off in no man’s land more often than not when the puck finds its way into the Red Wings’ net. Part of the argument for Seider as a Calder Trophy winner this season is that he’s done as well as he has this season while playing primarily with DeKeyser this season.
As the longest-tenured Red Wing and a Michigan-native, you hate to see it go this way for DeKeyser. He turns 32 years old in March, and you have to wonder if the back injury/surgery he endured a couple seasons ago has prevented him from ever getting back to the player he was before. It’s a real shame, too, because he was somewhat underappreciated before that happened.
Red Wings MVP: Alex Nedeljkovic
During the 2021 offseason, general manager Steve Yzerman made a handful of moves that have undeniably made the Red Wings a better team this season. Pius Suter has been solid while holding down the second line center role. Nick Leddy hasn’t been everything we hoped when he was acquired from the New York Islanders, but he’s had his moments of being effective for Detroit this season. Without a doubt, however, the biggest addition Yzerman made was in goal when he acquired goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic from the Carolina Hurricanes.
With all due respect to current Red Wing Thomas Greiss, as well as former Red Wings Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings haven’t had this level of goaltending in quite some time. Nedeljkovic is flat out fun to watch. Whether it’s because of the way he battles and scrambles in the crease, or because of how willing he is to play the puck, the game simply seems to move faster when he’s in net. His play has directly led to the Red Wings winning and sticking in games that they otherwise had no business being in.
There’s an old saying that goes “goaltending is 75 percent of your team – unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100 percent.” That has been the case for the Red Wings over the last few seasons. Previous tandems were extremely streaky and were unable to bail the team out, regardless of how flawed some of those teams were. This season, Nedeljkovic has seized the starting role in Detroit, and has played very well despite playing behind a defense that still leaves their goalie out to dry too many times.
The transition from playing for a Stanley Cup contender like the Hurricanes to playing for a rebuilding team like the Red Wings can be a tough assignment for even the most veteran goaltenders in the NHL. That hasn’t been the case for Nedeljkovic this season, and while it’s fair to wonder if he’s starting to get a bit overworked, the Red Wings have to feel confident that they have their goalie of the present, and they can roll into the future with him while their goaltending prospects marinate elsewhere. Simply put: nobody has helped the Red Wings win games more than “Ned” has, and that’s why he’s the team’s MVP through the first half of the season.
Red Wings Face a Tough Second Half
According to Tankathon, the Red Wings have the toughest remaining schedule in the NHL. Their success through the first half will be hard to repeat in the second half, especially since players will likely be shipped out before the trade deadline. Just because the team projects to start losing with more frequency does not mean that it’s time to start focusing on what the Detroit Tigers are up to. The award winners listed here will be doing everything in their power to continue their strong seasons or, in the case of some, do everything in their power to reverse their fortunes.
If enough players can step up between now and the end of the season, their remaining schedule may not cause the type of damage that we’re projecting at this time. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance that we’ll be honoring a bunch of different players at season’s end.
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.