The Detroit Red Wings have had an intriguing offseason, to say the least, making bold moves in free agency as well as in the 2022 draft. Big moves make sense since the team didn’t take much of a step forward in the 2021-22 season, finishing 25th in the league by points following a promising start to the season, where they looked like they could compete for a wild card spot.
However, last season was by no means a failure, as the emergence of Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider as top-of-the-lineup players at the NHL level has given many Red Wings fans hope for the future. Detroit’s general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman was very active this offseason, adding last year’s breakout goaltender in Ville Husso via trade and greatly improving the team’s depth in free agency.
Yzerman has made plenty of headlines this summer, but only time will tell if his offseason boldness will translate to success for the Red Wings. There are plenty of reasons to pay attention to the club next season, so let’s go over four of the biggest storylines of Detroit’s 2022-23 season that are worth watching and how they will impact the team’s future.
Playoff Race vs. Stacked Draft Class
After missing the playoffs for the sixth straight year, it’s clear that Red Wings management is ready to return to postseason hockey. Detroit was very active on the first day of free agency in July, adding two second-line forwards in David Perron and Andrew Copp, among several other depth pieces. Making the playoffs next year isn’t a must, but the club has shown that they intend to be much more competitive for the entirety of next season.
The playoff race in the NHL’s Eastern conference will be difficult next year, with teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Ottawa Senators also making significant additions to their team, those being Johnny Gaudreau and Alex Debrincat/Claude Giroux, respectively. To even make a wild card spot, Detroit will need to pass at least four teams in the standings who finished ahead of them last season. They will likely need to earn at least 95 points to sneak into the playoffs, which would constitute a massive improvement considering they finished the 21-22 season with 74 points.
One of the most interesting facets of the Red Wings’ playoff pursuit next season is the tension that comes with trying to improve your team in the year with the strongest draft class since 2015. Detroit is planning on stepping out of the league’s bottom 10 and into the 17-22 range. That large of a rise in the standings could leave you drafting 14th overall when the season ends rather than somewhere in the top 10, which could be a huge difference in a draft class with so many difference-makers at the top. The Red Wings amateur scouting team must have confidence that they will still get an excellent and impactful player at a slightly later draft slot, and after all, why should they doubt their ability to draft well?
The tension between the playoff race and the chance to draft a franchise-defining player in the top 10 of next year’s draft will be a very interesting storyline next year, so keep an eye out for it every time the team wins or loses a handful of games in a row.
Where Do the Red Wings’ Youngsters fit?
When the offseason began, there were several of Detroit’s top prospects who seemed to have an NHL roster spot all but guaranteed for themselves next year. With a lack of NHL quality depth and wildly successful seasons for said prospects in various professional leagues around the world, this seemed like the perfect chance to see what the youngsters could do in the NHL.
Three meaningful additions to the team’s top-nine forward group and the signing of two NHL defenders on the left side of the defensive corps have improved Detroit’s depth remarkably while also making it much more difficult for some of their top prospects to crack the NHL.
The sixth overall pick in the 2021 draft, Simon Edvinsson, still has the clearest path to playing NHL games in my opinion, considering the lack of competition that he will face in training camp for the opening on the left side of the third defensive pairing. The recently extended Jake Walman will miss the start of next year recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. And the team only has one other left-side defender for Edvinsson to compete with.
Jordan Oesterle is that competition, a depth defender who the team could certainly lean on for a while if they believe Edvinsson needs to start the season in the American Hockey League (AHL), though I don’t expect such a stint would last long. In fact, the player who I think will be Edvinsson’s stiffest competition for the 3LD spot in training camp will be fellow prospect Donovan Sebrango.
Despite being only 20 years old, Sebrango has already played two full seasons for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. He also wore an ‘A’ on his jersey earlier this month when he was selected to play for Team Canada at the 2022 World Junior Championship. It has been over two years since Sebrango has played against his own age group, and the defensive game he showed during seven tournament games was well above average amongst his peers. He played a shutdown role for Canada as they won the gold medal, excelling alongside slick puck-mover Olen Zellweger.
The Red Wings prospect affected the most by the team’s increased forward depth is, without a doubt, Jonatan Berggren. He seemed like an early favourite to make the team out of training camp when his record-breaking AHL rookie season concluded, but it seems more likely now that he will remain in Grand Rapids until he is promoted either due to another run of excellent play on his part or to fill in for injuries on the NHL squad.
With the additions they made this offseason, the Red Wings have effectively delayed the NHL debuts of several of their prospects, but I believe that’s a good thing. The only teams that guarantee roster spots to their young prospects are bottom-feeder teams who are in the tanking business, and we know Yzerman is not interested in that. These decisions were made in the interest of maximizing prospect development through the AHL, so here’s to hoping it works out.
The Impact of New Head Coach Derek Lalonde
One of the most exciting Red Wings storylines to watch next year will be how the team changes under new head coach Derek Lalonde. The much-maligned tenure of Jeff Blashill came to an end following another lacklustre season in 2021-22. And Lalonde has a lot of people very excited, myself included, despite this being his first gig as an NHL head coach.
Lalonde is a winner through and through, coaching his teams to excellent records and being named the coach of the year in both the ECHL and the United States Hockey League (USHL), not to mention winning two Stanley Cup championships as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is deserving of this chance to build a contender in Detroit, and it’ll be exciting to see what he can do with the roster that Yzerman is building.
This storyline is the most up-in-the-air right now because there are so many questions that will remain unanswered until the season is well underway. One such question is if underperforming young players (read: Filip Zadina) will finally hit their stride with a fresh start under a new head coach. Such was the effect that the introduction of Bruce Boudreau had on Elias Pettersson, among other young players, last year for the Vancouver Canucks when former head coach Travis Green was fired mid-season. Could a similar improvement be seen with Zadina?
New Contracts for Larkin and Bertuzzi
Signing a contract extension with Dylan Larkin, the team’s captain, is of the utmost importance, and the decision whether to extend Tyler Bertuzzi will be an important one for the future of this team’s core as well. Larkin emerged as a first-line caliber center last season with an impressive 69 points in 71 games. This also means that he will need to get paid like a top-line center, so he’s in for a significant raise from his five-year deal worth $6.1 million per year, which expires next July.
It seems likely at this point that Larkin and his representatives will reach an agreement with Detroit regarding a long-term contract extension sooner than later, possibly before 2022-23 even begins. While this situation could extend into the season a bit, there are no doubts that Larkin wants to stay with the Red Wings and that management will do what it takes to retain his services.
The Bertuzzi situation, however, is much less certain. He is also heading into the final year of his current contract, which pays him $4.75 million per season. Since his tenure as Detroit’s GM began, Yzerman has signed Bertuzzi to two contracts; one was for a single season, and the other, his current one, was for two seasons. Surely the Red Wings could have mined some serious value from this deal if they had signed him for several more years last offseason, especially considering the excellent offensive results he put up last season as he returned from back surgery. So, what’s the deal?
Perhaps the team is nervous enough about Bertuzzi’s long-term health that they aren’t prepared to commit a significant portion of their salary cap to him. Perhaps the lack of chatter around an extension is due to a significant disparity between the two parties when it comes to the salary. While there is no way to know for sure, Bertuzzi’s contract situation should be very interesting to watch as the season progresses. The longer it takes for him to sign an extension, the less likely it is that he will be in the lineup when the 2023-24 season begins.
Stories for Everyone
Next year is set to be an exciting year for Red Wings fans, rich enough with storylines to satisfy Hockey Town fanatics and casual fans alike. There were many other interesting storylines that I couldn’t get to in this article, such as the goaltending tandem of Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic, the possibility of the sophomore slump for Seider and Raymond, and the need for improvement on the penalty kill and power play, among other things.
Though the team has certainly improved this offseason, expectations have risen as well, meaning that some tangible results will be necessary to prove that this team is truly on the rise.
Which storyline are you most excited to follow next season? Are there any storylines that I didn’t get to that you are excited to watch? How many of the Red Wings’ top prospects do you think will crack the NHL roster at any point next year? Sound off in the comment section below!
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Logan is the director of prospect coverage (including the World Junior Championship and NHL Draft) for The Hockey Writers, and he’s also a part of the Detroit Red Wings writing team. He loves reading about statistics and advanced analytics, and discovering how they can enrich his hockey analysis and writing.