Trust the Yzerplan.
The phrase is repeated over and over again, like a broken record, drilled into the collective minds of Detroit Red Wings fans everywhere. Yet there is a sense of anxiousness in Hockeytown as the Wings continue to barely outperform the Buffalo Sabres as the worst team in the NHL during the 2020-21 season. With each loss in the Discover Central Division, the doubters are asking: should the Wings abandon the plan and start over from scratch?
The short answer is no.
Steve Yzerman has been in this situation before as a general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning and, while the Lightning made a playoff run in his first season with the Bolts, it took another two years before they finished near the top of their division. With that said, if Yzerman decides to be active at the trade deadline, don’t be surprised if one of your favorite players gets moved to help further the plan along.
The Trades: Swapping Captains & Drouin for Sergachev
Yzerman is no stranger to making moves that are unpopular with fans at the time. He once traded fan-favorite Steve Downie to the Colorado Avalanche for Kyle Quincey before flipping Quincey for the draft pick that was used to select Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning later that same day.
Throughout his tenure with the Lightning, Yzerman was not afraid to trade players who were considered key pieces of the franchise. He swapped captains with the New York Rangers before the 2013-14 deadline, with the Bolts getting two draft picks as well. That’s not to say we should expect the Red Wings to trade away Dylan Larkin, only that Yzerman will make any move that he sees fit.
As Craig Custance and Eric Duhatschek reported recently in The Athletic, “There’s also a belief that Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman would consider trading one of his younger forwards like Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha in the right deal” (from ‘NHL Trade Deadline Big Board: Taylor Hall, Mattias Ekholm and 28 others who could be dealt,’ The Athletic, 03/19/2021). This would be reminiscent of the Jonathan Drouin to the Montreal Canadiens for Mikhail Sergachev deal. While not at the deadline, Drouin’s point production for the previous season — 53 points in 73 games — was enough to bring back a high-potential prospect in Sergachev during the offseason.
The Draft: Turning Any Picks Into Players
No matter what Yzerman decides to do at the deadline, the likely return on any move will be future draft picks. Luckily, he has found a way to uncover gems deep in the draft — including Nikita Kucherov in the second round and Ondrej Palat in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Yzerman also used the Lightning’s third-round pick in 2014 to select Brayden Point, who is tied for second in points in Tampa Bay.
While the upcoming draft may not be as deep as the past couple of years, there will still be plenty of good players that will develop into assets for any NHL team. The key to Yzerman’s plan of stockpiling draft picks is to find another player like Anthony Cirelli, who he selected 72nd overall in 2015. Receiving multiple picks through moves made at the deadline will also increase his opportunity to build through the draft and solidify the Red Wings’ foundation.
Another player Yzerman selected in that 2015 draft was Mathieu Joseph in the fourth round. Joseph has cemented his place as an everyday player for the Lightning, proving that he can fill in at any forward position and on any line when needed. While the Red Wings need skilled offensive players to become contenders again, role players like Joseph are essential to making a deep playoff run.
When it comes to taking over an organization and building them into a Stanley Cup caliber team, Yzerman proved his worth during his time at the helm in Tampa Bay. In the end, if the Red Wings trade away a player who is near and dear to your heart, know that the reason for doing so is in the best interest of the future of the organization. Oh yeah, and trust the Yzerplan!
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.