At the outset of the season, the Detroit Red Wings were envisioning defenseman Danny DeKeyser filling a top-four role on their back end.
A year out from back surgery, the thinking was that DeKeyser’s missing strength would return and thus, so would his once-solid defensive game.
It was a noble thought. In practice, though, it has turned out to be patently frightening.
Instead of the DeKeyser of old, this season the Wings are getting an old DeKeyser. His Corsi of 45.5 is the worst of any Detroit defenseman who’s played at least 20 games this season.
Finally on Wednesday, it would appear that the Red Wings have seen enough. After two quick goals against during a 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the team severed the pairing of DeKeyser with rookie sensation Moritz Seider. Nick Leddy was moved in alongside Seider.
“We felt [that Colorado had] a really strong top line and we’re going to see another one in [Toronto’s Auston] Matthews [line on Saturday],” Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “We just decided to try Leddy and Seider together against that group. Leddy is pretty strong on his skates and can battle a little bit against some of those bigger, heavier guys, like a [Mikko] Rantanen and a [Gabriel] Landeskog, like a Matthews”
DeKeyser-Seider Pairing Struggling
Seider presents a unique dilemma to the Detroit coaching staff. Generally, rookie defenders need a veteran to cover up for their miscues. In Seider’s case, the Wings are finding it difficult to locate a veteran defenseman who doesn’t hold him back.
According to Natural Stat Trick, the pairing of DeKeyser and Seider are the NHL’s 729th tandem in Corsi For (46.11) and 653rd in Shots For Percentage (47.06).
This will be Leddy’s second opportunity to skate alongside Seider. They started the season as a tandem but it appeared to also be a failed experiment.
“There were times it wasn’t a great pairing,” Blashill admitted. “Overall, there were moments of good, moments of not.”
DeKeyser’s Game Hasn’t Come Back
The hopes that DeKeyser would be rebounding physically to his old form are long since dashed. Even Blashill has to admit that it hasn’t been the case.
“Danny before the back surgery had a certain strength and skating power that he might never have at the same level again,” Blashill said. “That’s just the reality of having a major injury. Is he to that same strength, power in his skating, same fluidity? Probably not. So he doesn’t have quite the same level of strength.
“I don’t know if he’ll have it again or not. Is he striving to continue … yeah, he works hard in the weight room, works hard off the ice, works hard with our sports science staff to try to get him to be the best he can. At the same time, as you get older sometimes that stuff is harder, too.”
Danny’s Swan Song
DeKeyser, 31, is in the last season of a six-year, $30-million contract. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Wings offer him a new pact. At the same time, he’s unlikely to be a sought-after commodity at the NHL trade deadline. DeKeyser does have a limited no-movement clause in his deal.
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) February 18, 2022
The fact of the matter is that DeKeyser is certainly winding down his final days as a Red Wing and perhaps as an NHLer.
There’s an old saying about when a veteran player loses their game. They’re usually the last one to know.