And just like that, general manager Steve Yzerman put a period on his third trade deadline as the man in charge of rebuilding the Detroit Red Wings. It wasn’t as wild as last year’s deadline; in total, the Red Wings made three deals, two of which came on deadline day. They dealt away three pending free agents (Nick Leddy, Troy Stecher and Vladislav Namestnikov) and, in return, acquired forward Oskar Sundqvist, defenseman Jake Walman, a 2022 seventh-round pick, a 2023 second-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick. It won’t get your blood pumping, but it was still a solid day’s work for the Red Wings’ GM.
After all was said and done, Yzerman met with the media to discuss the day’s events, as well as what might be ahead for the Red Wings in the final quarter of their season. As always, he was equal parts candid and reserved depending on the topics on hand. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Yzerman’s remarks.
Yzerman Has Liked Walman for a While
When the Red Wings took on the Philadelphia Flyers the night after the trade deadline, fans got their first good look at Walman, a defenseman selected 82nd overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 2014 draft. The game marked his 33rd appearance of the season, and just his 58th game in the NHL. In 17 minutes of action, he looked confident in bringing the puck up ice, facilitating play, and even unloaded a confident-looking slap shot on Flyers goaltender Carter Hart. It was a rather impressive debut for the 26-year-old defenseman, but that likely wasn’t a surprise to Yzerman.
“Even going back to my time in Tampa, (I) kind of had my eye on him at one point,” Yzerman revealed. “But I have a pretty good handle on what he is as a hockey player, and (as a) person as well.” As for what he is, Yzerman elaborated.
“(Walman) was playing behind some pretty good players in St. Louis. We’ve kind of watched him for a while, going back to his days at Providence (College) and kind of followed him through the minors…He’ll get some opportunity to play here. We think he has a chance to be a regular in the NHL and just hasn’t been able to do that behind a pretty good defense core in front of him in St. Louis. With the acquisition of Olli Juolevi and Jake, (we’ve got a) couple of guys that we get to try out and see how they do and decide where they fit for us for next year.”
As for the other player acquired in that deal with the Blues, Yzerman noted that Sundqvist gives them another right-handed shot in the forward group that is signed for next season (he has one season left on his contract that carries a cap-hit of $2.75 million). The only other right-handed forward signed for next season is Lucas Raymond. Yzerman and his staff received rave reviews about Sundqvist’s character and his presence in a locker room.
Sundqvist, who celebrated his 28th birthday on Wednesday, is a three-time Stanley Cup champion, winning it with the Blues in 2019 as well as with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017 (though, due to a games played threshold, he only has a ring from the 2016 championship.) He replaced Leddy as the only player on the Red Wings’ roster to win the Stanley Cup.
Oh! Did I forget to mention that he’s Swedish?
Yzerman Dismissed Question About Jeff Blashill’s Future
The Red Wings currently sit with a record of 26-30-7, good for fifth place in the Atlantic Division. Most would agree that they have exceeded expectations this season, but a rough stretch of games since the beginning of February seems to have left a sour taste in Yzerman’s mouth – so much so that he brought it up when asked about the future of head coach Jeff Blashill.
“You know, we’re here to talk about the trade deadline…and the moves that we made. This has been an up and down year for us. We’ve had a lot of progress. The last six weeks of the season have been disappointing for all of us – give or take the last six weeks. Jeff and I will sit down at some point and talk about our team and where we’re going with our team and what we need to do, but I don’t really think this is the time to discuss our coaching staff or our coach for that matter.”
This is a stark contrast to last season when he was asked a similar question and gave a quick but decisive answer:
“Jeff and I will sit down very quickly after the season and discuss (his future).” As we all know now, Blashill received an extension following last season, reportedly carrying a two-year term.
Blashill, the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind only Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning, holds a 198-251-69 record through almost seven seasons with the Red Wings. While it’s not wise to jump to conclusions – especially when Yzerman has always seemed to have Blashill’s back – it does seem like the coach’s seat is hotter than it was at this point last season. One thing we can definitively say based on Yzerman’s response: no coaching change will happen until the end of the season at the earliest.
Red Wings May Have to Wait to See Jonatan Berggren
In his first season playing North American hockey, 21-year-old winger Jonatan Berggren has gained a lot of fans, especially in west Michigan where he currently plays for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League. The 33rd pick of the 2018 draft has 14 goals and 40 points through 53 games this season, with a handful of those goals and points coming off of highlight reel plays. Yzerman made it known that he was pleased with what he’s seen out of the Swedish winger.
“Jonatan Berggren has had a very good year. We’re pleased with his play. He’s gotten better from start to this point in the season. He’s worked extremely hard, he’s an important player for us there. (Calling him up is) something to consider.”
Despite all of that, Yzerman pumped the brakes a bit on the idea of him making his debut with the Red Wings this season, saying, “We’re in a dog fight for the playoffs in (Grand Rapids) and that’s important; I want to make the playoffs, so I kind of trade that off with seeing him up here.”
While the Red Wings start to shift their focus to next season, the Griffins are still very much focused on this season. They sit fifth in their division with just 17 games remaining on their schedule. Playoff games and the playoff chase produce an atmosphere that cannot be replicated, and young players can learn a lot when the stakes are at their highest. With that in mind, there is zero doubt that removing Berggren from their lineup would likely doom the Griffins’ playoff hopes, costing the team a valuable opportunity to grow as individuals and as a team.
That same principal applies to the organization’s young defensemen, as Yzerman made it clear that the Red Wings would go a different route if they have to recall a defenseman.
“There’s not really a need with having eight (defensemen) here – unless we run into injury problems – to recall them,” Yzerman said. “But we would really defer on the defensive side to the veterans like Dan Renouf and Brian Lashoff.”
As for getting a look at some of the team’s prospects playing over in Europe, Yzerman mentioned that they will not be able to get some of their prospects signed to contracts until an agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) is signed by the NHL (notable players this applies to include Simon Edvinsson and Elmer Söderblom.) As for players over in Europe that are already signed to contracts with the Red Wings, such as defensemen Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro, he said the organization will try to get them over to North America when they can.
One other thing to note: Yzerman did confirm that the Red Wings have interest in a few undrafted free agents in the NCAA. He did throw some cold water on any excitement, though, mentioning that the Red Wings would be excited to get even one player signed to a contract, let alone multiple. One player to keep an eye on: defenseman Nick Blankenburg from the University of Michigan. The 23-year-old captain of the Wolverines is a Michigan-native, and has had a successful season, recording 28 points in 35 games this season.
Red Wings Will Look to Extend Larkin & Bertuzzi
Both Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi have one season remaining on their deals, with both set to become unrestricted free agents in the summer of 2023. With Larkin sitting at a $6.1 million cap-hit and Bertuzzi sitting at a $4.75 million hit, both players should be due a nice raise on their deals. Bertuzzi is in the midst of a career-best season with 25 goals and 52 points in 52 games this season. Larkin needs five more goals and 13 more points to set new career marks for himself.
Yzerman stated that he will look to get both players locked up to new deals based on what they bring both on and off the ice.
“My hope would be to, sometime between now and…18 months from now or whatever, is to sign them to extensions,” Yzerman said. “We can’t do anything before July 1 of this year, but…my plan would be to sign them…. They’re good players, they’re good people, they like playing here and they’ve played very well for us.”
As for a player that is set to become a free agent this summer, Yzerman also offered his thoughts on bringing back veteran defenseman Marc Staal, who recently celebrated his 1,000th career game in the NHL.
“We’re going to need defense on the left side. Marc’s been a great addition on and off the ice for our organization. While I can’t make any commitments to anything right now, that’s something that we’ll consider between now and July.”
An alternate captain for the Red Wings this season, Staal’s current deal carries a $2 million cap-hit along with a no-trade clause. Should Yzerman elect to bring the 35-year-old back, his new deal would likely look very similar. In 112 games with the Red Wings, Staal has six goals and 23 points, and holds a relatively impressive plus/minus rating of plus-6.
Yzerman was once quoted as saying “I really wouldn’t read into anything I do.” However, he’s never said to not read into anything he says.
Yzerman’s comments during this presser came during a season where the Red Wings have had some success – the most success they’ve had during his tenure as GM in fact – but it is clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done. With 19 games still on their schedule, the rest of this season will be evaluation time for Yzerman and his staff as they decide which players and coaches will be around to lead this team into the 2022-23 season.
The future is still bright, and the assets acquired at the trade deadline should make the future even brighter, but the Red Wings aren’t out of the woods yet. That fact may never have been more clearer than it was following this year’s deadline.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.