What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Tony Wolak, Devin Little, Ian McNaughton, Patrick Brown and Peter Ploshehanski are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The 2020-21 NHL season is finally upon us. Ice is down at Little Caesars Arena and training camp is nearly complete.
After an offseason of retooling, the Red Wings are ready to go. But what should we make of this year’s revamped team?
In this week’s edition of The Grind Line, The Hockey Writers’ Red Wings coverage team answers just that question by putting on their fortune teller hats and predicting the outcome of Detroit’s 2020-21 season.
Tony Wolak: Baby Steps for Young Red Wings
Prediction: 20-29-7; 47 points | 7th in the Central Division
Considering the fact that the Red Wings managed to win only 17 times in 71 games last season, a 20-29-7 record would be a noteworthy improvement. They’re a much deeper team. Detroit should score more and give up less than a year ago – on a per game basis and possibly raw totals as well.
Winning a few more games comes with a cost, though, putting the Red Wings between a rock and a hard place – like a sasquatch in a crawl space.
Why? For one, the Red Wings won’t receive the best odds to land the top pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (not that it matters…). And two, the expansion Seattle Kraken will likely have the third-best odds of drafting first-overall, much like the Vegas Golden Knights did in 2017.
So with an improved record and Seattle’s entry into the NHL, I’m predicting that the Red Wings end up choosing seventh-overall in the draft and take defenseman Simon Edvinsson. Can’t hurt to have another elite Swedish prospect, right?
Devin Little: Mediocre > Abomination
Prediction: 18-30-8; 44 points | 7th in the Central Division
Like Tony, I’m expecting improvement from this group, but not enough to completely erase the memory of last season. The Central Division could have been a lot worse, but they still have to deal with both Stanley Cup Finalists from last season, as well as a few teams that would like to make serious playoff pushes of their own this season.
Teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets are not going to want to leave points on the table when they face the Red Wings. The only team in this division I think Detroit can potentially beat up on is the Chicago Blackhawks, and even that’s not a given as long as Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat are healthy.
The law of averages suggests that the ping pong balls are going to fall the Red Wings’ way eventually. Honestly, given that this draft class is considered to be a bit weaker than normal, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were the year the Red Wings find themselves with a top-three pick. That being said, it also wouldn’t surprise me if Detroit’s lottery luck doesn’t change until Aquaman drowns and the Human Torch starts swimming.
Alas, I think the Red Wings will land the fifth-overall selection in this year’s draft. As for who they’ll pick, I wouldn’t mind it if general manager Steve Yzerman went bold and selected the top goalie in this draft class, Swedish netminder Jesper Wallstedt. That being said, I see the Red Wings making a safer choice by coming out of the first round with Canadian defenseman Carson Lambos. A future top pair of Lambos and Moritz Seider would be something to get excited about.
Peter Ploshehanski: Top-Three Pick, Finally
Prediction 17-31-8; 42 points | 7th in the Central Division
I know what all you guys are thinking. This is a new year and the Red Wings have a revamped roster. But I just can’t get the taste of last season out of my mouth. I can’t help it.
The Red Wings will be marginally better. They’ll be more competitive, but still lose plenty of games. All of the free agents the Red Wings added are upgrades, but not needle-movers.
Don’t get me wrong there will be ups and downs; I do not think the Red Wings will be at the bottom right out of the gate. That said, my hot take is that both Anthony Mantha and Danny DeKeyser will miss a significant time during the first month of action and Detroit still manages to stay afloat. We should be used to this by now; Mantha has only hit 80 games once since becoming a full-time NHLer in 2016-17. DeKeyser has hit the 80-game mark just twice since the 2013-14 campaign.
After all is said and done, Detroit will finish seventh—maybe eighth—in the Central Division. As a result, they’ll draft third-overall and take the phenomenal center from the University of Michigan, Kent Johnson. Johnson leads the Wolverines with 15 points in 12 games scoring at a 1.25 point per game average. He is a gamebreaker that can feed the puck to Red Wings trigger men all night long.
Pat Brown: Slight Improvement; Draft a Goalie!
Prediction: 22-29-5; 49 points | 6th in the Central Division
Not that it’s saying a whole lot, but the Red Wings will fare markedly better this season. The divisional realignment this season offers familiarity with opponents, and with a youth movement now in full force, Jeff Blashill has more flexibility than ever to shuffle lines. The general consensus is that Filip Zadina has enough support to finally have a breakout year, which Detroit will need if it is even going to win 22 games this season.
An even greater emphasis this season, though, will be on defense. Steve Yzerman brought in some immediate blue line upgrades, which will help bring the team out of the basement and win some of the close games that were lost last season.
Player development will also be at the forefront. Hopefully Yzerman can flip a few veteran players at the deadline in an effort to strengthen the talent pipeline even more.
It will come as no surprise when the Red Wings drop yet again in the draft and ultimately select eighth overall. That said, to echo Tony’s sentiment, Yzerman will select yet another Swede, goalie Jesper Wallstedt, who recently had a solid showing at this year’s World Juniors. This will address the long-term questions in net that have lingered for quite some time now, and Detroit will finally be able to shake that stigma of being weak between the pipes.
Ian McNaughton: Hey, We’re Not Last!
Prediction: 21-29-6; 48 points | 7th in the Central Division
A positive note for the Red Wings coming into this season is that they’re in arguably the easiest division. Of all the teams they have to play on a regular basis, I’d say Tampa Bay and Carolina are going to be the most difficult to match up against. Although other teams in the division might have more talented players compared to the Red Wings, it’s Detroit’s solid goaltending and quality defenseman that could help them overachieve in a season like this.
I think we’re all expecting some kind of improvement since it couldn’t get any worse than watching this team flounder so many times last season. For myself, that improvement is getting themselves out of the basement and up to seventh (wooooo, seventh place baby) in this year’s Central Division. They should get enough points to do so, but again, that’s with the expectation that the goalies and defense has a solid season that isn’t giving up close to four goals per game.
At the upcoming draft, I have the Red Wings picking eighth overall because getting lucky in the draft lottery is not a thing with this team. With the eighth-overall selection, Detroit will take center Matt Beniers from down the road in Ann Arbor, Michigan with the Michigan Wolverines. Beniers is coming off an impressive performance at the World Juniors, in which he captured gold with Team USA, after he had eight points in 10 games with the Wolverines earlier this season. It makes sense for Yzerman to take a local kid to fill a future role down the middle of the ice and Beniers is the perfect prospect to do that. It’s all part of the road to recovery.