The Detroit Red Wings probably aren’t concerned today about sorting out who the odd man out is on their defense because they understand the game will likely do it for them.
After the Jeff Petry acquisition, the Red Wings have seven defensemen with noteworthy NHL resumes. If Detroit had a game today, one of them would be a healthy scratch.
But by the time the season launches on Oct. 12, one of those players may be injured. Last season, Red Wings defensemen lost 44 games to injury. That’s more than half a season. Moritz Seider is the only Detroit defenseman to play all 82 games. Last season, Petry missed 21 games last season with injuries. At one point, Petry’s Pittsburgh Penguins had four of their top six defensemen sidelined with injuries. It seems like a 50-50 proposition that an injury will make this decision for the Red Wings.
However, if the Red Wings are lucky enough to avoid injuries in the preseason, here are factors to consider when assessing who will be in Detroit’s top six:
- Seider and Jake Walman played extremely well together last season. Coach Derek Lalonde will be reluctant to break up that pair.
- Shayne Gostisbehere was brought in to be one of the power play point guys. The Red Wings want to see what he can do. He is a left-shot, but is very comfortable playing on the right side.
- Petry and Ben Chiarot played together in Montreal. They have chemistry together. Chiarot didn’t play as well as the Red Wings hoped he would last season. His plus-minus (-31) was the Red Wings’ worst. Chiarot was a minus player with every defensive partner he had. But he also tips the scales at 237 pounds. He’s hard to play against. The Red Wings want to play a bigger, edgier game. You don’t do that by removing Chiarot from your lineup. He posted 147 hits last season and blocked 163 shots. Petry was playing 22-25 minutes for Pittsburgh down the stretch. He’s a two-way defenseman with size.
- Fans in Toronto made Justin Holl a target last season. Many didn’t like his play, but analytics say he was a helpful performer . The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Holl had 151 hits and 139 blocks.
- Coaches liked Olli Maatta last season. He was better offensively than they thought he would be. He is reliable and understands his game. Takes pride in his defense. GM Steve Yzerman rewarded him with a contract extension. But Maatta wasn’t as strong later in the season as he was at the beginning. Maatta had a couple of poor games in March. He might be the leading candidate to sit. But if he looks strong in the preseason, he can make it difficult on Lalonde, especially if one of the other veterans struggles.
- Lalonde isn’t against playing seven defensemen at times, but he’s certainly not going to do that on a regular basis.
- Whatever Lalonde decides to do with his personnel, the defense should be bigger, stronger and more effective in 2023-24.
The other big complication resulting from Petry’s arrival is the rise of young player Simon Edvinsson. It may not be a problem in October because Edvinsson had offseason surgery. His status for training camp, and the start of the season, is unknown.
Yzerman had certainly made it clear that Edvinsson doesn’t have an NHL job guaranteed for this season. But he has also said that if a young player shows he can play at the NHL level, he will find room for him.
If Edvinsson begins to dominate at the AHL level, the Detroit overcrowding on defense becomes more complicated. But that’s a problem the Red Wings would love to have.