While four teams are still battling to win the Stanley Cup, Steve Yzerman is simply hoping he can soon get his team back on the ice.
The Red Wings’ general manager has enjoyed watching playoff hockey as the NHL created a pair of bubbles when its season resumed after being shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that’s not what’s primarily on his mind these days.
As one of the league’s seven teams that didn’t make the cut when the season was restarted, the Wings haven’t been on the ice together since early March. That fact, alone, has Yzerman feeling good about the idea of getting back perhaps a bit sooner than many of the playoff teams.
“Ideally us along with the other non-playoff teams would love to and prefer to start a little bit early, and get more time in together,” Yzerman said on “Word on Woodward,” which airs on the Red Wings’ website. “So we’re optimistic that we’ll be able to work something out with the National Hockey League and the players association, as well.”
The NHL tentatively has set Nov. 17 as the beginning of training camp, with a Dec. 1 start to the regular season. But with pandemic concerns still strong, some believe that schedule could be pushed back about a month.
More: Michigan youth hockey players, leagues ‘pumped’ to finally get back on the ice
Regardless, it’s a later start than usual and puts a team like the Red Wings – an organization firmly in the middle of a rebuild – in a tough spot when it’s trying to put together its roster for the upcoming season. With so many young players vying for a spot in Detroit, the shutdown has likely stunted development for some while making it difficult to project if a player is ready to play in the NHL.
“The later start will I think affect every team, but more so the teams that weren’t in the playoffs or played very few playoff games,” Yzerman said. “The fact we’ve been out since March, (there is) a little bit of unpredictability as to what to expect from our team.
“There will be changes in our lineup. Are some of our younger players ready? Ultimately, we don’t really know because we won’t have a normal preseason, we won’t have had an opportunity to really assess them. So the decision will be made over a short period of time, so I think it makes it a little bit more difficult as the know what to expect from our team.”
Who some of those younger players might be remains to be seen. Yzerman referenced a handful of familiar names when talking about who could end up in Detroit next season, including first-round picks Moritz Seider, Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen, while also mentioning the likes of Gustav Lindstrom and Givani Smith, a pair of second-round picks.
Their seasons were all cut short last season, too, but Yzerman doesn’t sound like he’s rushing any of them along, stressing they need to be able to contribute at the NHL level before securing a spot in Detroit.
“We haven’t seen them since March, so I’m curious to see once we get into playing where they’re at, but all these guys aren’t far off,” Yzerman said. “They were all really excelling as the year went on, and I mentioned those names just because they’re the closest (to reaching the NHL). They are in Grand Rapids, playing in the American League, and potentially some of those say, one or two or more could push for a spot on our team.
“But again, our decision would be come down to for these younger guys, if they’re playing in Detroit we want them playing regular, and if they’re not going to play regular, I’d rather I prefer them playing whether it’s American League or back in junior for that matter or in their European leagues.”