Are the Red Wings Playoff Contenders or Pretenders?

Is it too soon to think about the Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs? Absolutely not

The franchise is off to their best start in years, sporting an 11-5-4 record through 20 games. All facets of the game are trending in the right direction – offense, defense, goaltending, and special teams. But are the Red Wings good enough to reach the playoffs? Let’s dive in and find out.

Thanksgiving Playoff Picture

As many of us sat down for Thanksgiving dinner, the Red Wings occupied the third seed in the Atlantic Division standings – surely something to be thankful for. 

Why is this important? Well, 75 percent of the teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving last year went on to reach the postseason. In the salary cap era, that number is 76 percent

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
It’s been quite awhile since Dylan Larkin played a playoff game. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Red Wings have a 75 percent chance of making the playoffs. History is on their side, though. 

Analyzing the standings further, Detroit’s .650 points percentage through 20 games ranks fifth in the East. They also have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule among Eastern Conference teams according to Tankathon.

Related: Dylan Larkin Gaining Leverage in Contract Negotiations

Looking at this from the highest level, the Red Wings are in good shape. Let’s see how things look when we dive deeper, though.

2022-23 Red Wings vs. Past Playoff Teams

Putting aside Detroit’s place in the standings, I wanted to see how the Red Wings stacked up against past playoff teams to truly gauge their postseason odds. So I selected team-level key performance indicators (at five-on-five) and compared them to playoff teams from the last five years. Here’s how the Red Wings measure up:

Category Performance Rank (Out of 89)
CF% 44.49% 89th
GF% 48.72% 83rd
xGF% 45.94% 88th
SCF% 42.82% 89th

As you can see, these numbers are *not good* – especially when it comes to Corsi-for percentage (CF%) and scoring chances-for percentage (SCF%). Sure, these are all playoff teams, but it’s never good to be the worst in any category. 

Detroit’s expected goals-for percentage (xGF%) and goals-for percentage (GF%) aren’t much better. The fact that the Red Wings aren’t above 50 percent in any of these categories is concerning. 

Detroit Red Wings Celebrate
Despite Filip Hronek’s best efforts, the Red Wings still need to improve their five-on-five play. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Further, the playoff teams noted above include the eight additional franchises who took part in the qualifying round of the 2020 COVID-19 bubble postseason. In other words, Detroit’s five-on-five metrics are worse than eight normally non-playoff teams.

Simply put, the Red Wings are not good enough at five on five to be dangerous come playoff time. Actually, let me rephrase that – if Detroit wants to even reach the playoffs, they need to improve their five-on-five play.

Verdict: Playoff Contenders or Pretenders

At the moment, the Red Wings are pretenders. They are in danger of being among the 25 percent of teams that hold a playoff spot on Thanksgiving, but fail to reach the postseason in the spring. 

As it currently stands, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, Florida Panthers, and Washington Capitals all trail the Red Wings by just a few points. If Detroit slumps one week and two of these teams catch fire, the Red Wings will quickly find themselves on the outside looking in. 

Related: Diagnosing Alex Nedeljkovic’s 2022-23 Struggles

Finally, Detroit’s five-on-five numbers leave much to be desired. Sure, their power play is clicking and the penalty kill is the best it’s been in some time, but you’re not going to win many playoff games when the ice is tilted against you at even strength. So until the Red Wings improve their five-on-five play, they are, in fact, playoff pretenders. 

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.