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The Detroit Red Wings will probably not be a great team in 2021-22. However, in hockey, there’s always a chance. Even if they don’t make the postseason, some players could have outstanding individual performances. Many Red Wings could win awards, but these are three most likely to earn some hardware at the end of the season. Of course, it would surprise no one, including me, if the player who ends up being nominated for an award doesn’t end up on this list, but I’ll give my predictions a shot.
Alex Nedeljkovic: Vezina Trophy
One of the newest additions to the roster is a goaltender who had an elite 2020-21 season. Alex Nedeljkovic was the primary backstop for the Carolina Hurricanes after Petr Mrazek and James Reimer fell victim to the injury bug. He proved his worth in the relatively small sample size of 23 games, wracking up a .932 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.90 goals-against average (GAA). He ended as a Calder Trophy finalist, and despite losing out to the Minnesota Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov, Nedeljkovic showed that, at his best, he could contend with the goaltenders at the top of the food chain.
The Hurricanes were the best team in the redesigned 2020-21 Central Division, which helped their goaltenders. Some are skeptical that Nedeljkovic’s performance may be bolstered by excellent defense. However, I can tell you that there is hope. Per Evolving-Hockey, the Red Wings were better, yes, better, than the Hurricanes in expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) at even strength. The problem was with the penalty kill, where they ranked 25th in the same stat. To their benefit, however, the Red Wings had the 22nd most penalty minutes. If Nedeljkovic performs as well as he did last season, I have no doubts that he will contend for the Vezina.
Moritz Seider: Calder Trophy
I wrote a piece detailing why Moritz Seider is a top defensive prospect and, alongside Simon Edvinsson, could make one of the best pairings in the NHL in the future. He’s going to be one of the key pieces coming out of the rebuild. If management and the coaching staff decide that he’s ready for the big time after an impressive preseason, I could see him winning the Calder Trophy. However, there will be some stiff competition. The Montreal Canadiens have Cole Caufield; the Los Angeles Kings will (most likely) have Quinton Byfield; the Anaheim Ducks will have both Trevor Zegras and Jamie Drysdale, and the Nashville Predators will have Phillip Tomasino. Of course, there are other rookies that I didn’t name who have a shot at the trophy, but I’d like to put the competition into perspective.
Seider has shown that he can compete at the highest levels. His time in the SHL–although brief–will help him sort through the debris of the rookie landscape in 2021-22. He scored 28 points in 41 games and showcased why general manager Steve Yzerman picked him sixth overall, though it surprised many on draft day in 2019. He’s taller than one might think at 6-foot-4, and he uses his size to his advantage on the rush and in the corners. His physicality is remarkable and integral to how he plays the game. He’s developed it over the last couple of seasons, both in the SHL and with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and I think it puts him over the edge in the Calder race.
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Seider is a very mature defenseman for his age. No matter where he’s played, he’s shown that he can produce at a high level and simultaneously play an excellent two-way game. He has all the tools to become a Calder winner; all that matters is how the team around him performs when he’s on the ice. Seider’s point totals could go through the roof if he’s given favorable minutes with forwards like Jakub Vrana, Pius Suter, Dylan Larkin, and others. Many factors go into his case, but if all goes according to plan, he should come out of this season with some hardware.
Sam Gagner: Selke Trophy
Sam Gagner is one of the more underrated Red Wings. On the most recent episode of THW’s ‘The Grind Line,’ we talked about possibilities for the open spot as an assistant captain (you can check out the article where we cast our votes here as well). My first choice was Tyler Bertuzzi, but my second choice was Gagner. He’s 32 years old and has the experience to help lead a young team out of the bottom of the standings. Not only is he a strong leader, but there’s a real possibility that he could win the Selke Trophy.
Gagner is coming off of one of his best performances in the last few seasons. His seven goals and eight assists in 42 games may not seem like a lot, but considering the numbers he’s put up since 2017-18, it’s an improvement. Over an 82-game schedule, he was on pace for 29 points. However, the kicker here is his analytics.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Gagner was 48th in expected even-strength goals above replacement (xEVD) among forwards and was even better in the category that describes actual results, even-strength goals above replacement (EVD). He placed 22nd in that metric. In terms of regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM), he was 40th in expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60). He was primarily a depth player, but his results in that role were among the league’s best.
Even if you aren’t fully on the analytics train, it’s easy to understand the value of having a player among the league’s best in defensive stats. Gagner could easily improve those numbers with a better team around him. It was the best defensive season he’s had in his entire career, and I think that has to do with understanding his role on the team. If he can improve in 2021-22, I can easily picture a Selke Trophy being handed to him.
Other Red Wings could contend for awards, like Vrana, but given the criteria I’ve talked about in this article, I think it’s safe to say that these three players would be the best choices. If I had to choose the one most likely to win, I would go with Seider. I can brag about him all day long, but watching him play shows how successful he can be in the NHL. I think he’s one of the best rookies coming into this season, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him win the Calder.
Jeff is a consistent source for Red Wings content at The Hockey Writers. He was formerly a member of the Predators writing team, and he enjoys watching all sorts of hockey, from juniors to the pros. Jeff enjoys playing for his high school and local teams in Nashville as well. He’s a big proponent of hockey analytics, and you’ll often see him using lots of statistics and data to back up his main talking points. You can find his work here or check out his contributions on his Substack, Last Word on Hockey, On the Forecheck, Broad Street Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, and Puck Empire. Lastly, you can listen to him on the Youth Movement Podcast presented by On the Forecheck and the Triple Shift Podcast. For any inquiries about interviews or questions about statistics, analytics, or just general hockey opinions, you can message his Twitter, @jjmid04.