Playoffs? Are we talking about the Detroit Red Wings making the playoffs?
Maybe you are, but Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman isn’t. It’s commonplace for teams to talk about what are often unrealistic expectations at the start of a campaign. As the Red Wings open training camp in Traverse City, Michigan on Thursday, Stevie Y isn’t talking playoffs.
“I’m not prepared to say that,” Yzerman answered when asked whether he thought the Red Wings would be making a push for a playoff spot during the 2022-23 NHL season.
Last February, the Red Wings sat six points out of an Eastern Conference Wild Card playoff spot. But it proved to be fool’s gold. Detroit faded badly after the all-star break. The Red Wings wound up finishing 26 points out of a postseason place.
Even Yzerman could see that his club was more pretender than contender.
— Carley Johnston (@carleykjohnston) September 21, 2022
“I look at our season last year,” Yzerman said. “You look at your schedule. Obviously our goals against was a concern. We were beating teams. I felt it was progress, because I felt the teams we expected to be competitive against for the most part we were.
“Then we had to play a lot of the top teams in the league on the road in the second half our schedule. Even the first part of the schedule, when we went on the road against real good teams, we weren’t all that competitive.”
Detroit was 14-24-4 on the road in 2021-22. That was 25th in the NHL.
“To me all the indicators of us were I don’t think we’re ready to contend last year. In the second half, it kind of brought us back down to earth.”
Season Change For Red Wings
Offseason moves brought coach Derek Lalonde, goalie Ville Husso, defensemen Ben Chiarot and Robert Hagg, and forwards Andrew Copp, Dominik Kubalik and David Perron to Detroit. Excitement is in the air. Hope is trending toward dreams coming to fruition.
Yzerman is at least willing to go the Lloyd Christmas route and admit that if a lot of things fall neatly into place, there could be a chance at the playoffs.
“This season, we’ll see how we progress,” Yzerman cautioned. “If we can be more competitive on the road, match up a little bit better against the top teams when we go into their building. If we can win on back to back nights. That would give me some optimism that hey maybe we can push forward.
Steve Yzerman said he does expect the Red Wings to be a better hockey team this year. #LGRW
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“But for me to talk about the playoffs now, it’s so far off. As we were talking about our division, today, not knowing what’s going to happen, you’d say probably Toronto, Tampa and Florida, there’s the three teams in our division we expect to make the playoffs. Pick whichever three in the Metro. Then the rest of us are competing for two Wild Card spots. That’s a real challenge. I’m hoping we’re there, but time will tell.
Red Wings Must Keep Puck Out Of Their Net
Shoring up the defense and honing the special teams are other areas that Yzerman will be needing to see significant improvement in before he’ll utter the P-word with any level of conviction. The Red Wings were 31st in the NHL in both goals against (310) and goals agains per game (3.78). Detroit was 26th on the power play (16.3%) an dead last in the 32-team NHL on the penalty kill (73.8%).
“We can talk about all the new advanced statistics and all that,” Yzerman explained. “They lead to ultimately are your goals against improved? The best teams in the league reduce their goals against. They reduce their chances against. Their special teams are good.
“So I look at those areas. If we can reduce the chances against, reduce the shots against. If we can generate more chances, generate more shots. Those statistics produce more victories. If our team can he a harder team to play against. Be more competitive in games, that’s improvement for us. That’s advancing for us.
“I hope it translates in points in the standings. We’re all gonna look at 32 wins this year (Detroit’s 2021-22 win total). Any number above 32, that’s progress. More importantly, as a hockey team, being harder to play against and that is and I’ll kind of keep harping on it, is being stronger defensively. That’s most important.”
Yzerman sees a bright future for his club. He just isn’t sure that brightness will be illuminating right now.
“You just look at those obvious stats. If we can reduce our goals against, our shots against, our chances against, improve our special teams, that should translate to wins. But even if it doesn’t this year, we’re on the right path.”