The Detroit Red Wings have had quite the offseason, improving their team’s future in the draft with the addition of prospects like Marco Kasper, Dmitri Buchelnikov, and Dylan James. However, they also significantly improved the present of the team with the extensive moves they made in free agency, adding difference makers at all positions with no acquisition cost. They even added a fresh face behind the bench in new head coach, Derek Lalonde.
There is no doubt that the team’s outlook improved significantly this offseason, but the playoff race in the NHL’s Eastern Conference is going to be incredibly tough this season, and there are several other teams that have made significant improvements as well.
Despite the busy offseason, I don’t think the Red Wings improved enough to make the playoffs next year, considering the stiff competition they will face in the battle for a wildcard spot. Some of the reasons I believe are the best teams in the Atlantic division remaining excellent, several middling teams improving, and my perception of the team’s actual plans for the year, among others.
Let’s dive into some of those factors and why I expect the Red Wings to be on the outside looking in once again when the playoffs come around next year.
Top Atlantic Teams Didn’t Slip
The big three teams at the top of the Atlantic Division (those teams being the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning) don’t appear to be going anywhere, and I don’t see a world where the Red Wings surpass any of these teams in the standings, at least not this season.
There are valid questions about Toronto’s goaltending situation with Matt Murray poised to be their starting goalie, but elite players like Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews can paper over any issues that a team has in net. They will be an excellent regular season team this year, no matter the quality of goaltending they receive.
Despite losing a couple more players that have been important in their three straight runs to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning are going into this season as a lock for the playoffs in my opinion. A healthy Nikita Kucherov, a still-dominant Andrei Vasilevskiy and the resurgence of captain Steven Stamkos means that Tampa Bay will be as dangerous as ever next year.
Even though the Panthers have traded away a ton of valuable assets in the last six months (traded away Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, three future first-round picks, and more) with only Matthew Tkachuk to show for it, they are still a great team with a ton of depth. They won’t be the dominant offensive juggernaut that they were last season when they won the President’s Trophy, but they will almost certainly make the playoffs in the Atlantic division.
To become a true playoff contender in the next few years, the Red Wings will need to surpass at least one of these three teams in the standings, which would be a tall order for roughly 75% of the NHL. The only thing that Detroit needs at this point to get to the level of these elite teams is time. The maturity and improvements made by their top young players will be what sets them above their competition, but there is no way to rush that process.
Eastern Wild Card Race Will be Crowded
I fully expect all the teams that made the playoffs in the Metropolitan division last season (Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins) to hold onto their spots, and I think that the free agent signing of Stanley Cup champion Darcy Kuemper makes the Washington Capitals a likely candidate for one of the two wild-card spots.
The only team that made the playoffs in the East last year that I could see falling out of the mix this season is the Boston Bruins, simply due to injuries. Both Charlie McAvoy and Brad Marchand are currently recovering from offseason surgeries and will likely not be available until December. There is a very real chance that the team finds itself in a deep enough hole by the time those players return that they can’t dig out of it by season’s end. You can’t win a playoff spot in the first few months of the season, but you can certainly lose it.
Okay, so that leaves one wild card spot up for grabs in the East, with at least six fanbases believing that their team will be the one to snag it. The New York Islanders will hope to bounce back this year after some horrendous luck, and an absurdly long season-opening road trip saw them finish outside of the playoffs and fire their head coach Barry Trotz. They have a recent history of playoff success, so we will soon find out if last year was a fluke or if their contending window has closed.
Columbus Blue Jackets fans were the beneficiaries of one of the offseason’s most exciting moments when free agent Johnny Gaudreau chose Ohio as his new home. Adding a world-class playmaker and extending streaky sniper Patrik Laine means that the Blue Jackets have a realistic path forward to a wild card spot. They also have an excellent core of young talent in players like Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger, who will look to make a difference this year.
Buffalo Sabres fans will be hoping that a full season of Alex Tuch and top prospect Owen Power will be enough to finally pull them out of the league’s basement following the dark cloud that was the Jack Eichel injury situation. The Sabres are in a similar situation to Detroit where they are waiting on young talent to break into the NHL to elevate them into the playoff race, and their prospect pool looks exceptional despite already having a ton of great young players on their NHL roster.
The Ottawa Senators had a very exciting offseason, adding sniper Alex DeBrincat through a trade, and signing Claude Giroux as a free agent. This is another team that has been heavily focused on building through their young players and could be ready to take a big step forward this year, especially if rookie defender Jake Sanderson makes a quick transition to the NHL.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see the New Jersey Devils in the mix for a wild card spot for much of this season, as Jack Hughes appears to be ready to establish himself as a superstar in the NHL. With a full healthy season from Hughes and Dougie Hamilton, their big addition in last year’s off-season, the Devils should look much improved next year, though I don’t expect them to contend at any serious level before they sort out their goaltending situation.
There are so many good teams competing for a wild card spot, but no one team stands out as a clear favourite in my eyes, which makes it tough to expect the Red Wings to earn it. The Red Wings are one of four Eastern conference teams who are on the tail-end of their rebuilds, hoping to improve enough to make the playoffs.
Are the Red Wings Trying to Make the Playoffs?
I don’t think it’s a crazy thought that the Red Wings could make the playoffs this year. In fact, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be the best team Detroit has iced in several years, and I wouldn’t even consider myself surprised if they somehow managed it. I believe that the additions made by general manager Steve Yzerman and co. were intended to set this team up for serious success in two or three years, not to jump the team from 74 points last season and into a playoff spot this year.
Every move this management group has made over the last few years has been made with the intention of setting the team up for future success. When your future arrives, as it did in Detroit last year with the emergence of Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, you can’t rush or buy your way to the playoffs. Patience is the most important trait in the general manager of a rebuilding team, as short-sighted moves can alter the outlook of a team for an entire generation.
None of the team’s moves this summer have signalled to me that they are in a rush to make the playoffs, which is a good thing. They weren’t serious contenders for top free agents like Gaudreau or Nazem Kadri, and they weren’t often mentioned in the trade talks for players like DeBrincat or Tkachuk. The Red Wings’ management team clearly believes in the team they have been building through the draft and wanted to surround those young players with some veterans and depth players so that they youngsters aren’t forced into the NHL before they’re ready by necessity.
I believe that all the free agent signings this year were meant to bridge the gap between the 2021-22 roster and the future roster that will hopefully be led by the wealth of prospects that the Red Wings have in their pipeline. If Detroit makes the playoffs in the next year or two, then great, but I think this is very much a “figure it out” season with a ton of new faces and names, including a very new coaching staff and a first-time NHL head coach in Lalonde.
Red Wings Will Make the Playoffs Soon
My expectations for the Red Wings next year are for them to improve significantly as a team, finishing roughly 10 points out of the playoffs, which would be a huge improvement from last season, where they missed out by 26 points. I expect Detroit to be a legitimate contender within four years, and I would be shocked if they missed the playoffs in the 2023-24 season.
If Detroit makes the playoffs next year, my guess would be that at least three of the following four things took place; Simon Edvinsson had an excellent rookie season and established himself as a top-four defender, Seider and Raymond both took a significant step forward and proved themselves as elite NHL talents, the team’s new goaltending tandem excelled, and Filip Zadina established himself as a top-six winger in the NHL.
I don’t think this is the year that the Red Wings return to the playoffs, but I do believe that the improvements the team made will be important to their future success. I am encouraged by the team’s patience over the last year, and I expect another aggressive offseason next year that will finally bring post-season games back to Hockey Town.
Do you think the Red Wings can beat out their competitors and make the playoffs this year? What do you think it will take for them to get a wild card spot? Which offseason addition do you think moves the needle the most for the Red Wings this year? Sound off in the comment section below.
Logan is a sports writer for the Detroit Red Wings as a member of The Hockey Writers team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing. Logan also writes about more general hockey topics on his blog https://www.crashthecrease.blog.