Ted Kulfan | The Detroit News
Detroit — Danny DeKeyser hadn’t been playing, and was recuperating from offseason herniated disk sugery, but you still didn’t see this coming.
The Red Wings waived the veteran defenseman Sunday in a somewhat surprising move.
DeKeyser, 30, had surgery for a herniated disk early last year, which limited him to only eight games.
There was expected to be a difficult return this season, given the gravity of the surgery and DeKeyser’s age and lack of actual playing hockey over the calendar year, heading into this season.
But the transition has been more difficult than expected.
DeKeyser has struggled to return to form this season, while playing in 10 games this season, DeKeyser has one goal and no assists with a minus-1 rating, while playing about 15 minutes per game (about six less than his career average).
DeKeyser has been a healthy scratch (but not really healthy) in the last six games.
“Danny is available to play,” coach Jeff Blashill said recently, explaining DeKeyser’s inability to crack the lineup. “Right now, it’s a coach’s decision, but it’s not like we have a 100% Danny DeKeyser. He’s recovering from the surgery.
“Danny is recovering from a major surgery that’s taken him longer than any of us want and, most importantly, him. He’s played with not a lot of strength in his one leg and that’s how he played the first six games or so.
“We’ve made the decision to go with other guys right now because Danny isn’t 100%, not close.”
An undrafted free agent out of Warren De La Salle and Western Michigan — DeKeyser is from Macomb — DeKeyser quickly became one of the Wings’ most reliable defenseman upon signing with his hometown team.
DeKeyser has played 451 games in his NHL career, all with the Wings, and has 30 goals and 94 assists for 124 points, with a plus-8 plus-minus rating.
But DeKeyser’s future with the Wings now looks hazy.
DeKeyser has a cap hit of $5 million remaining for this season and next season. DeKeyser signed a six-year contract worth $30 million before the 2016-17 season.
If DeKeyser clears waivers, which he is expected to do given the money owed, the Wings could assign him to the taxi squad or the Grand Rapids Griffins, where he could attempt to get back to full health.
The Red Wings team that is returning to Little Caesars Arena on Monday, after completing a six-game road trip, isn’t resembling that one that began this trip.
The Wings have forwards Robby Fabbri, Sam Gagner, Adam Erne and Filip Zadina, and defenseman Jon Merrill all back from COVID-19 protocol, and all made a positive impact on the road trip at varying times.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier returned from an upper body injury Saturday and had a big hand in the 4-2 victory over Nashville.
But, most of all, this Wings’ team is playing with the defensive structure that Blashill feels is necessary, if the Wings are to be competitive this season.
The Wings only won two of six games on the trip, but after opening with a lousy loss against Tampa Bay, have played well enough to have deserved points in each of the games.
“You look at the Boston Bruins and every year they are one of the least scored upon teams, and they’ve got some talented players and you think of them as an offensive team, but really what they are is real stingy defensively,” Blashill said. “Certainly that’s our recipe for success. When you do a good job checking, you realize you get more offense, you create transition chances and you have the puck more, and those are things that create more offense.
“Guys are understanding that and totally bought into. We just have to build on it.”
Bernier feels the Wings have been effective since the start of the season.
“We had a good start to the season and when we lost all those guys (to COVID protocol), it seemed to take a lot out of us,” Bernier said. “But our last four or five games have been pretty good. We just have to keep doing the right things and good things will happen.”
Luke Glendening returned to the lineup Saturday and had his career-best three-point game (one goal, two assists).
“I don’t think a lot of people see what he’s doing out there, doing all the little details the right way like blocking shots, great faceoff guy, he’s real hard to play against every night,” Bernier said.
… Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) missed the entire six-game road trip, and Blashill wasn’t sure if Bertuzzi would be ready to return to the ice this week.
… Fabbri has goals in three of the last four games, and has recovered well from the virus, which struck Fabbri as hard as any of the players who had it.
“He’s competed and when he competes, that’s when he’s at his best, and he uses his skill set,” Blashill said. “I was a little bit hard on him after (Fabbri’s first game back). The reality is, it was a lot to ask of him.”
Blackhawks at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Fox Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: Chicago (7-5-4) swept a two-game series from the Red Wings (4-10-2) earlier this season. … Chicago has won four of its last five games, three of them in overtime…RW Patrick Kane is having an MVP-caliber season (seven goals, 22 points).