After a torrid start to the season, the Detroit Red Wings have come back to earth a bit in recent weeks, in large part due to poor injury luck. They’ve lost their leading scorer, Dylan Larkin, their third highest scorer in Filip Hronek, and one of their highest scorers from last season in Tyler Bertuzzi.
The loss of these three players is huge, but there are even more players who have missed time lately. Olli Määttä has been one of the most underrated offseason acquisitions in the NHL so far this year as a stabilizing presence on Detroit’s back-end, and he has missed the Red Wings’ last four games with an illness. He was recently put on the Injured Reserve so there’s a chance he could miss a few more games.
Määttä and Hronek have combined to make Detroit’s most formidable defensive pairing so far this year so losing both will be a real test of the team’s defensive depth as well as the ability of their top healthy defensemen. Ever since returning from an offseason surgery, Jake Walman has been very impressive on the third defensive pairing, and he has moved into the top-four with Määttä out, but why stop there?
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I think that the Red Wings should give Walman a chance to play with Moritz Seider as the team’s top defensive pairing for the next few games. In a very, very small sample size, the two have dominated play at 5v5, so I think it would be worth a try over the next week or two.
Training Wheels Come Off Again for Seider
When Seider took over as Detroit’s top defenseman last year, many people (myself included) expected him to hold that title for the next decade or so. We expected him to take another big step forward this year, but so far he has struggled with the same things he excelled in during his rookie year. His breakout passes are getting picked off, his defensive game isn’t quite as polished, and he’s having a much harder time producing points at a consistent rate.
Thankfully, Seider’s struggles have occurred at the same time that Hronek took a massive step forward, taking a lot of the pressure and attention off Seider and onto Hronek’s own Lucky Horseshoe Moustache. With Hronek out for the foreseeable future, Seider must take back over and be the no-doubt top guy on the team again because there is nobody else who is remotely pushing for his spot.
The time is now for Seider to bust his slump and look like the player that endeared himself to fans last year. If he hasn’t broken out quite yet on his own this year, then it is time for the Red Wings’ coaching staff to try something new to get him going.
Walman Jumps up the Depth Chart
After Detroit added a ton of defensive depth (particularly on the left side) over the offseason, it seemed like Walman might not have an NHL roster spot with this team. He would be joining the team late after an offseason surgery kept him from participating in the Preseason and the Red Wings’ training camp. Jordan Oesterle and Robert Hägg struggled early this year on Detroit’s third pairing so the spot was wide open when Walman made his return in mid-November.
Määttä has been excellent but since he’s been out of the lineup this week, Walman has lined up in the top-four to solid results. Since he has been impressive in a variety of roles so far this year, I think it might be time to give him a chance to play with Seider for the foreseeable future.
Ben Chiarot has been Seider’s even strength partner for most of the season and that has clearly not worked out very well for either of them. Chiarot has had a rather disappointing beginning to his Red Wings tenure and hasn’t had the desired stabilizing effect on Seider. The hope was for Chiarot to play as a stay-at-home defender to allow Seider to play as a rover that can support plays all over the ice. That hope has not come true, so it’s time to try something new.
Seider and Walman Deserve a Shot
How large of a sample size do we need before we can officially decide that the Chiarot-Seider pairing is not working? There are 20 defensive pairings across the NHL that have played at least 350 minutes of 5v5 together. Chiarot and Seider have the worst Expected Goals For Percentage (42.95%) and Corsi For Percentage (42.68%) in that whole group (Stats via Natural Stat Trick).
Simply put, there is no defensive pairing in the NHL that has put up consistently poor results without being split up and paired with someone new. If Detroit has any hope of making the playoffs this year, they need to give up on this pairing for now because they haven’t developed chemistry and are weighing the team down on a nightly basis.
After Hronek left Wednesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild following his collision with Ryan Reaves, Derek Lalonde and the Red Wings’ coaching staff tossed their defensive pairings in the blender. We saw a brief glimpse of a Seider-Walman pairing, playing just over six minutes of even strength hockey together. They had a Corsi For Percentage of 75% and an Expected Goals Percentage of 86.89% (via Natural Stat Trick).
It goes without saying that this is an absurdly small sample size, but it is also very encouraging. Perhaps giving these two a few games to see if they could keep it up (to a reasonable extent) over a longer period wouldn’t hurt.
Seider Needs a New Partner
The only thing I’m sure of is that Seider should be given every chance to succeed and that includes giving him time to play with other d-partners. I doubt Gustav Lindstrom, Oesterle, or Hägg are the answer so that leaves Määttä and Walman. The recent surge of injuries has made Detroit’s playoff hopes look a lot more distant so I think it’s time to try and get Seider going again and breathe life into this banged up team.
As of Saturday morning, Hronek and Määttä were skating at the team’s practice which is a positive sign, but hopefully the brief look we got at Seider-Walman has opened the team’s eyes to some of the other possibilities even after their injured defenders return to the lineup.