| The Detroit News
Detroit — The last game the Red Wings played was March 10 at Little Caesars Arena. The Wings lost, 5-2, typical of the season.
The Wings practiced the next day, traveled to Washington, but on March 12 their game against Capitals was canceled and the NHL regular season paused due to the pandemic.
And that was it.
The NHL returned during the summer to hold a playoffs and conclude the prolonged season, but only the top 24 teams were invited back.
With the worst record in the NHL, the Wings weren’t called back.
General manager Steve Yzerman was all over the news cycle for a week in October with the entry draft and an extremely active free-agency period.
But it’s been quiet, again.
Not for long, though.
There will be an NHL regular season soon. It won’t be as long, it might look different (no fans in arenas, at least initially), but there will be hockey.
And the Red Wings will be part of it.
They might not finish last in the league, either.
Here are 20 questions surrounding the Wings as we await official confirmation, and information, regarding next season.
When will the Red Wings begin the season?
Let’s get some of this particular housekeeping out of the way first.
The way negotiations are proceeding between the NHL and its players association, having a Jan. 1 start (as was planned), looks unlikely.
Expect a Jan. 15 start, or somewhere around there, with training camp starting a couple of weeks before then.
Will they get extra training camp time?
The Wings, and six other teams that didn’t qualify for the NHL’s “return to play,” haven’t been on the ice together since March.
They’ve requested some more time before training camp, and likely will get an extra week or so to get reacclimated.
Will there be preseason games?
Not the usual eight or nine, that’s for sure.
There will not be enough time for something like that; not to mention, you don’t want to jeopardize players/staffs to the virus because of scheduling a glorified scrimmage.
Expect two to four preseason games before jumping right into the regular season.
About how many regular-season games will be played?
As each day and week passes, the chances for more get slashed.
Owners and players, both, reportedly want to get close to 60 games, but the window is rapidly closing.
The general thinking now is a 48-game season, and similar to baseball, the schedule will be all within the division to reduce travel.
The playoff format would return to the 16-team model used before this summer’s one-time deal.
Which teams would be in the Wings’ division?
It is so difficult to tell. There have been so many different models floated, and scrutinized.
It’s going to be impossible to cleanly and efficiently divide all these teams.
We took a stab at this earlier, but how about placing the Wings in some sort of Central Division with Buffalo, Carolina, Columbus, Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota and Pittsburgh?
That’s one guess.
Are the Wings going to be better?
The Red Wings were 17-49-5 last season, with 39 points. The next worst team, Ottawa, had 62 points.
It’s difficult to be that bad in professional sports.
The Wings aren’t going to improve by leaps and bounds, but yes, they can — and will — improve on last season.
They can’t get worse.
In what areas are the Wings better?
Across the board.
Yzerman, and his staff, did a fine job of improving the depth and talent level across the lineup.
Goaltending, defense, forwards, special teams — all of them — are better from a personnel standpoint. Deeper.
There are many more NHL-caliber players in the lineup. That wasn’t always the case last season.
Who’ll get more starts in net?
Jonathan Bernier and free-agent signing Thomas Greiss (who replaces Jimmy Howard) form the goaltending duo.
Greiss has shown he can handle a large workload. If Greiss gets off to an outstanding start, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get a lot of starts.
But don’t underestimate the play of Bernier last season. You could make a strong case of Bernier being the team’s best player last season, playing so well in front of a defensively challenged team.
Bernier likely will get the opening night start, but Greiss mightly ultimately get the slightly heavier workload by season’s end.
How important is it to have two solid goalies?
With the regular-season schedule expected to be extremely tight, so many back-to-backs or three games in four nights, having two reliable, stable goaltenders is crucial.
Bernier and Greiss give the Wings, on paper, a chance to be competitive on a nightly basis.
Why so many changes on defense?
For various reasons, this unit needed an overhaul.
Madison Bowey, Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson were not brought back. Danny DeKeyser missed nearly the entire season. The unit wasn’t good enough collectively most nights.
This is one area that needed a dramatic upgrade. Acquiring Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher deepens the Wings’ roster with NHL-quality defensemen.
Who could be the most important
Staal, acquired from the New York Rangers, because his old team had salary-cap issues.
Staal is 33, in the final year of his contract, and isn’t far removed from some real quality seasons.
This is a veteran player who can really help on the penalty kill, is a professional in the locker room, and if Staal returns to top form, can be flipped for a valuable draft pick at the trade deadline.
Will Wings fans see Moritz Seider?
The Red Wings’ best defensive prospect is playing in Sweden, and will finish the Swedish Elite League season there.
There might be a chance Seider would be able to get in some NHL games toward the end, depending on how the NHL and SEL schedules line up.
But it sounds like the Wings are content with Seider concentrating on this season, and be part of the Wings’ lineup from the start in October 2021.
And, with so many uncertainties in the short term, that sounds like a good plan.
Any thoughts on the forwards?
The Wings are more versatile and talented after the signings of Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov.
Coach Jeff Blashill has numerous options on where to play people — remember, there’s talk of Robby Fabbri being used at center — and the impact Ryan and Namestnikov can have is intriguing.
Ryan, if healthy, appears to be motivated to prove he is still an impactful, offensive player. Namestnikov can help on both special teams, and has underrated offensive ability.
If some young forwards continue to blossom, this could be a sneaky dangerous group of forwards.
What can fans expect from Namestnikov?
Much of the focus has been on Ryan, but Namestnikov could be a shrewd Yzerman signing.
Namestnikov is extremely versatile, can help the Wings in a variety of areas, and lends a veteran presence the Wings want and need.
He knows how to play, he’s been through a lot of different NHL scenarios, and he’s a good player.
How good can Dylan Larkin be?
This is one player that many analysts are suspecting did everything he could during this eight-month hiatus to train, and improve, himself because of his dedication.
Some people still regard Larkin as closer to a No. 2 center in a good lineup, rather than a true No. 1. But if Larkin can show he is the type of No. 1 center that teams crave, that just makes the Wings that much more better.
Will Larkin be named captain?
That is likely to be one of the items marked off the checklist when the normal hockey season resumes.
And it’s a deserved choice.
Can Anthony Mantha reach 30 goals?
Probably not this season, if it’s in the 48-game range.
But the next time the NHL has a full, 82-game season, count on it. Mantha appears to have everything in place, at the perfect time of his career.
But he still has to stay healthy. That has been his biggest downfall.
How big of an impact will Filip Zadina make?
We still aren’t going to likely get an accurate gauge on Zadina, in that this going to be closer to a 48-game season than a normal 82-game slate.
But Zadina certainly was trending upward before getting hurt and the pandemic hit last season.
Zadina has had stops and starts playing in the Czech pro league the Wings placed him in, but he’s largely played well.
If Zadina can show continued progress and development in 2021, that would be good to see.
What’s in store Luke Glendening
and Darren Helm?
These two veteran forwards have been Red Wings for a good, long time.
But given where the organization is heading, with so much youth on the way, it wouldn’t be shocking to see one, or both, dealt at the next trade deadline.
Helm is 33, and Glendening is a bit younger at 31. Given Glendening’s leadership role, and his age, it’s possible the Wings could extend him a short-term offer.
Helm is likely to be a valuable trade chip at the deadline. He could help a contending team.
Is GM Steve Yzerman done making moves?
Speculation continues to circle back to Tampa Bay, where the Stanley Cup champion Lightning are severely salary cap strapped, and need to unload players.
Yzerman, obviously, knows that roster well, having largely constructed it.
The Wings still have salary cap space available. Yzerman could acquire a player, and get a valuable draft pick from Tampa Bay, just for taking on that contract.
That undoubtedly would make the Wings’ lineup a little stronger.