We are now weeks away from NHL season openers, in which we’ll see the Detroit Red Wings host the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 14. We are also less than a week away from the Red Wings training camp, as they’ll look for up to 29 players (23 roster players, four to six taxi squad members) to join them this upcoming season. One of those players is D-man Alex Biega, who’s entering his sixth NHL season and is motivated to play in all 56 games, which would be a career-high. Here’s a look into what the 2020-21 season will look like for the man nicknamed Bulldog.
What Has Biega’s NHL Career Been Like So Far?
Entering the 2020-21 NHL season, Biega has played in 228 regular-season games between the Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks. In those games, he’s scored four goals and 35 assists for a total of 39 points. His best season came in 2018-19 with the Canucks when he had two goals, 14 assists, and 2.7 point shares, although Vancouver missed the playoffs by nine points.
Last season was a disappointment for Biega in many ways. He did not score a single goal in 49 games, which was the first season he didn’t score since 2016-17 (he played in 13 fewer games that year), and finished with a minus-nine plus/minus, his lowest total since 2015-16. Now, goals and plus/minus shouldn’t be the only factors in player evaluation, but they still hold some relevance.
For Biega, he’s averaged almost 16 minutes of ice per night during his six-year career. He’s not someone that you want to trust entirely if he’s in your top-four on defense, but if he’s filling out your bottom D-pair, you’re doing ok. If Biega is the seventh defenseman on your team who fills in when someone has an injury, your team has a decent shot at competing.
How Does Biega Fit With the Red Wings Right Now?
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, if Biega is your seventh D-man, your team has a decent shot of competing. That’s what I see happening with the Red Wings this season. On Wednesday, I wrote about some fun ways the Wings could spend their remaining cap space, including adding a couple of D-men. However, barring some significant changes to the roster, pencil Biega in as Detroit’s seventh blueliner.
The Red Wings have acquired several D-men over the offseason already, including Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill, and those additions seem more likely to get a roster spot than Biega. Something to keep in mind is that Danny DeKeyser is returning from major surgery and should he not perform at or near expectations, Biega will be the first in line to get a spot in the starting lineup. He’s the second-oldest D-man on the team at age 32 (behind Marc Staal), which is something else to keep in mind as the Wings look to get younger during the rebuild.
What helps this season is that, at the very least, Biega should be a member of Detroit’s taxi squad, which will feature four to six extra players in case of a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. THW’s Devin Little discussed the unique opportunity the taxi squad brings to the Red Wings (an excellent read in case you haven’t seen it yet), and he mentioned that Biega would be one of the extra skaters on the team, not a taxi squad member. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll start as a healthy scratch who can work his way into the starting lineup.
What Should the Expectations For Biega Be?
The expectations for Biega should be pretty tempered and level-headed. He’s most likely going to be the seventh D-man, barring injuries or disaster. It’s the role he’s served for most of his NHL career and I don’t imagine Biega or the Red Wings differentiating themselves from that too much. Now that the role is established, let’s look at production.
Biega had just three points total last season, all of them being assists. That production has to improve in 2020-21, or he won’t see the ice very much. It’s a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” conundrum where Biega could say he needs more ice time in order to score points, while head coach Jeff Blashill might argue that his ice time is a result of the lack of production. Either way, the Red Wings need more points from the Harvard grad, and they don’t care if it’s from shooting or passing more.
Stats wise, look for Biega to score between seven and nine points this season. His Corsi for (CF%) in 2019-20 was at 45.1%, his lowest percentage since 2014-15, so that should go back up to his career average of 48.1% next season. Finally, his expected plus/minus last season was minus-eight and I think it’ll be closer to zero this season because he’s a much better player (on a much better team) than a minus-eight expected plus/minus. Last season was an anomaly and it doesn’t represent Biega’s career as a whole.
It’s Now or Never For Biega
Bulldog is on the back-nine of his NHL career as a fringe starter at 32 years old. If he wants a spot on the starting lineup, he’ll have to work harder than anyone to make it happen. He signed an extension with the Red Wings right before their final game of last season, so he’ll have to prove he’s worthy of another extension in a rather rushed timespan. There is an opportunity for Biega to prove himself, especially on a team that’s looking for talent on the daily in the Red Wings. How he performs is a big question mark heading into this season that could help or hinder his current team.