The Detroit Red Wings have not made the playoffs since 2016. Following a first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning that year, they began their rebuild and have not come close to returning to the postseason since. Yet, as we head into the 2022-23 season, it seems like this will be the year that things change on that front. In my opinion, they look like a legitimate playoff team, and here’s why.
Steve Yzerman Significantly Improved Red Wings’ Roster
Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman went on a shopping spree this summer, and the team looks significantly better because of it. Andrew Copp, David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, Mark Pysyk, and Robert Hagg were all signed through free agency. With that, he also acquired the rights of Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues and immediately signed him to a three-year, $14.25 million contract. With all of these additions, the Red Wings roster is a lot better, and there’s no denying that.
Adding Copp, Perron, and Kubalik to the forward group has made Detroit’s top nine extremely deep. Copp is expected to be the team’s new second-line center, but his versatility also allows him to play either wing if needed, and Perron is a grizzled veteran who only seems to be getting better with age. With the Blues last season, he scored 27 goals and recorded 57 points in 67 games, so he is guaranteed a spot in their top six. As for Kubalik, he is a former 30-goal scorer who is looking to bounce back from a rough 2021-22 season with the Blackhawks. If he can put up a 20-goal campaign on the third line, that would also be big for the Red Wings.
Defensively, the Red Wings look far deeper than they did in 2021-22. Although Chiarot’s contract is a bit expensive, he does produce fairly well from the point and will bring far more physicality to the top pairing. Maatta is an old-fashioned defensive defenseman who should work quite well with the offensive-minded Filip Hronek on the second pair. As for Pysyk and Hagg, they are veterans who should be solid depth options for the team when injuries arise.
Husso is coming off of a career season with the Blues, and he will provide the Red Wings with another starting goalie. In 40 games, he had a 25-7-6 record, 2.56 goals-against average (GAA), and a .919 save percentage (SV%). With all of these moves, they are simply a far deeper team.
Moritz Seider & Lucas Raymond Should Only Get Better
The youth movement truly began for the Red Wings last season when Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond put together excellent rookie campaigns. Seider cemented himself as a legitimate top-pairing defenseman and won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie because of it. As for Raymond, he scored 23 goals and recorded 57 points in 82 games, so it’s clear that he is already capable of being a top-six winger at only 20 years old.
There’s no question that these two made a lot of noise as rookies, but there’s plenty more to come. As Seider and Raymond prepare for their second NHL season, we should expect to see even more from them as they continue to get more comfortable playing in the sport’s most competitive league. Furthermore, they both have more weapons to work with after Yzerman’s busy summer, so that should only help them improve.
So, what are some reasonable expectations for both players? Seider just put up an impressive 50-point season in 82 games, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to see him hit 60 points this year given Detroit’s roster moves. With that, he should become more defensively sound and could even get some consideration for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. As for Raymond, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him score 30 goals and reach 70 points. He has players like Copp and Perron around him now, so that should help him take that next step offensively.
Red Wings Now Have Strong Goalie Tandem
One issue that the Red Wings had last season was their goaltending. Alex Nedeljkovic struggled a bit during his first year in Detroit as a full-time starter, while Thomas Greiss sported a rough .891 SV% and 3.66 GAA in 31 appearances. Thus, it makes sense that Yzerman did not re-sign Greiss and instead elected to bring in Husso to help strengthen their goaltending. Now, heading into the new year, their tandem of Husso and Nedeljkovic has the potential to provide far more stability.
Although Nedeljkovic did not reach expectations during his first season with the Red Wings, it’s important to note that he had an abundance of responsibility as the team’s lone starter. By bringing in Husso, he has less pressure to be the Red Wings’ only guy in the net and can simply work on aiming to bounce back. When looking at how well he performed for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2020-21, there’s reason to believe he can rebound. In 23 starts that season, he had a 15-5-3 record, 1.90 GAA, and .932 SV%. If he can get find some of that magic again while in a tandem with Husso, the Red Wings will be in excellent shape when it comes to their goaltending.
As stated above, Husso just had a very strong season with the Blues and will be aiming to translate that over to Detroit. If he does, and Nedeljkovic plays at the level fans know he’s capable of, the Red Wings can cement themselves a spot in the playoffs. Furthermore, both goalies may benefit from a 1A/1B setup, as that is what they were in with their previous teams.
Nevertheless, things are looking quite promising for the Red Wings. With teams like the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals getting older, this may be the year that they get past one of them and earn a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. We will have to wait and see what happens, but there’s no question that they are heading in the right direction.