General manager Steve Yzerman is rebuilding the Detroit Red Wings with a confident, calculated, patient approach. He’s a model of professionalism. When he speaks about his plan, it’s evident he is embracing a clear-eyed vision of how to build a championship-caliber team. When he took this job, he warned everyone that it was going to take a long time to find success.
But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t sometimes become frustrated that it isn’t going quicker.
“It’s an emotional roller coaster,” he said. “And it’s an emotional roller coaster for our fans. I understand that. Myself included. There are days you walk out of the rink and you’re like, ‘I’m real happy with the way things are going.’ The young guys from GR are playing well. Your prospect in juniors or college is having a good time, the team’s played well. And then two weeks later you walk out of the rink thinking, ‘Oh my God, there’s no end in sight.’ What I try to do is just stick with it.”
Headed in the right direction.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) April 14, 2023
By all accounts, Yzerman has hit on each of his first-round picks. Moritz Seider is developing into one of the NHL’s most complete defensemen. Lucas Raymond is a dangerous offensive threat. Trade-acquisition defenseman Jake Walman took a giant leap in his development. Most of Yzerman’s offseason acquisitions helped, some like David Perron and Olli Maatta exceeded expectations.
“The veteran free agents that we signed, good stats, bad stats, whatever,” Yzerman said. “I really liked them as people. I like what they’ve brought to our team. Not only did they help us this year, I think they’re gonna help us next year and moving forward. ”
Slow Climb to the Top
The Red Wings made progress this year, were far more competitive, better on special team, but they only improved by six points. They missed the playoffs by 12 points. They have now been out of the playoffs for seven seasons.
“The reality in the NHL, in a 21-team league, 16 teams made the playoffs,” Yzerman said. “Now with 32, 16 are still making the playoffs. It’s harder than ever. I don’t use that as an excuse, but that’s the reality. If you look around at some of the teams that are currently the leaders in number of years in the playoffs, it took some of these teams a long time to get into that position. They were the Detroit Red Wings at one point, where we’re at today. I would love to make the playoffs next year, absolutely. It would be such good progress for us and I hope we make the playoffs next year but I’m not gonna do anything out of desperation that I’m not prepared to do.”
What Yzerman plans to do this offseason is make changes in the name of more improvement, and he hopes another younger player or two steps up to be a difference-maker.
The Red Wings will be looking to add some size and toughness, and probably some scoring help. They were not a quality five-on-five scoring team this season, and trading away Jakub Vrana, Tyler Bertuzzi and even Filip Hronek didn’t help.
“We’ve got to be a more physical team,” Yzerman said. “We’ve got to be a more competitive team. That doesn’t necessarily mean I got to go out and get somebody who’s 6-6, 250, to go out and beat people up. Go out and win puck battles, block shots, win face-offs.”
Yzerman Will Do Some Shopping
Unless Yzerman goes back to Magnus Hellberg or Alex Nedeljkovic, which doesn’t seem likely, the Red Wings will also need a backup goalie.
Yzerman aggressively entered the free agent market last summer and signed a handful of players including David Perron, Olli Maatta, Dominik Kubalik and Ben Chiarot, and he’s expected to poke around this summer as well.
“I look at the group (of free agents) and believe there are players there that can help us and I’d like to sign,” Yzerman said. “The issue is there’s 31 other teams and the list isn’t really that long. So that makes it challenging.”
According to CapFriendly.com, the Red Wings have 15 players signed for next season for about $52 million. They have about $30 million in cap space remaining for eight players. They have decisions to make about their unrestricted free agents Adam Erne, Pius Suter, Robert Hagg and Jordan Oesterle and Mark Pysyk. The Red Wings like Suter, but he’s small. It seems likely most of those players will end up in the free agent marketplace.
Joe Veleno and Gus Lindstrom are restricted free agents, and neither is going to command a huge rise in salary.
“I’ll be active,” Yzerman said. “How much I can actually accomplish I don’t know. Last year there were a bigger group of players available in free agency. There’s not as big a group this year for whatever reason. It’s too early to say at this stage how active teams will be.”