Here are five important Detroit Red Wings issues to follow after the COVID break is completed:
1. Jakub Vrana’s Return
There’s no firm timetable. But the original prognosis was for a post-Olympic return from his shoulder surgery.
“I haven’t heard that from the surgeon, who ultimately would dictate that,” Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said earlier this week. “Nothing in the foreseeable future, meaning in the next couple of weeks he’s not going to be available.”
Blashill said Vrana seems to be “progressing well.”
“He’s doing his rehab, he skates but can’t do much on the ice yet,” Blashill said. “He’s restricted in that sense. Certainly nothing pressing yet. Just continue to wait and be patient and do it right.”
The return of Vrana is important because he adds another proven scorer to the lineup. The other question is what his return will mean to line combinations. Blashill isn’t likely to break-up the Lucas Raymond-Dylan Larkin-Tyler Bertuzzi line. That would mean Vrana would play with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri. Vrana could join Larkin’s line on the power play. Plus, Vrana’s line will give Blashill better options when he wants to line juggle.
2. Cleaning Up Defensive End
To stay in playoff contention, or just to remain competitive, the Red Wings must be better defensively in their own zone.
“One thing, through the course of the rest of the season that will have to be better for us to improve our record or even maintain our record is give up less chances,” Blashill said.
Blashill said the team needs to learn when they can make a play and when they can’t make a play.
“And also how to push pucks up the wall with slash support so you can keep possession without making hope plays in the middle of the ice,” Blashill said.
The Detroit Red Wings have been sloppy defensively, particularly on the road. They have won at home because they have overcome their defensive shortcomings. But to win on the road, they have to be better defensively.
“Another area would be just continue to work on D-zone coverage and become great at it,” Blashill said. “Making sure we’re not giving up Grade A chances in D zone coverage. That’s a big area.”
3. Pushing Through the Wall
Rookies Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider and Joe Veleno have never played an 82-game regular-season. They haven’t come close. Seider’s high is 49 games and Raymond has never played more than 46 games.
They will have to fight through the mental fatigue that comes from the longer season. Plus, they must deal with the reality that teams now understand who they are. That’s particularly true for Raymond. Teams are playing tougher against him because they know how dangerous he is.
Raymond is already adjusting. He had no shots on goal in three of his last five games. Raymond turned himself into a playmaker and registered five assists in those three games.
4. Jonatan Berggren’s Progress
Berggren isn’t quite ready to play in the NHL. That’s the read we are getting. He’s playing well for Grand Rapids. His numbers: seven goals, 17 points in 23 games. But the Red Wings want more from him.
If you remember what GM Steve Yzerman said when Lucas Raymond was trying to make the team, he likes to see players dominate at the American League level before he puts them on his NHL roster. What he wants to avoid is players going up and down. That doesn’t help their confidence.
Berggren owns undeniable offensive gifts. The Red Wings hope Berggren begins to take charge more in the second half of this season. That’s how he would earn his ticket to the NHL.
5. Trade Deadline Decisions
Crazy thought: Could the Red Wings be a buyer at the March 21 NHL trade deadline? The answer is probably ‘no’. However, you can’t rule out the possibility that Yzerman will make a hockey trade that could help his team now and in the future.
Remember the Anthony Mantha-Jakub Vrana deal? The Red Wings would like to add a proven defenseman in his mid-20s to mesh with Seider and Simon Edvinsson in 2022-23. Other than rookies, no member of the Red Wings is untouchable.
The more likely scenario is Yzerman will have to make a decision about trading Nick Leddy and Vladislav Namestnikov and decide what his asking price will be to eat some salary for a team trying to make a deadline trade. If you recall, he did that last spring to help facilitate the David Savard trade to Tampa Bay.