Helene St. James | Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Red Wings hope Danny DeKeyser can be an impact player for them again, but it does not sound promising.
The veteran defenseman cleared waivers Monday. He will remain with the team, but this roster management move enables the flexibility to assign him to the taxi squad.
DeKeyser has had a tough time making a comeback since injuring his back in October 2019. He underwent surgery that December.
“He’s recovering from a major back surgery that can take up to two years,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We’re about a year and some out. The good thing for us is, he’s making progress. Will he ever have the exact same power that he had? Most guys that have major surgery probably are never quite to that. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a really effective player, still. But it’s just the reality of what happens when you have major surgery.”
DeKeyser turns 31 in March. He is signed through 2021-22 at a $5 million salary cap hit.
The decision to expose DeKeyser shows the team’s lack of confidence that he can make a contribution to the lineup. He had one goal in 10 games before being pulled, and was, as Blashill put it, “playing on one leg.”
DeKeyser isn’t injured — he’s just not healthy.
“Danny is making progress from a strength standpoint,” Blashill said. “He is making from getting a little more power out of his leg and hopefully he can be closer to 100%, to where he can be the type of player that he has been.
“Right now he’s playing at way less than 100%. We’re hoping to get him fully healed, and the sooner the better.”
The concern over DeKeyser’s health was one of the reasons general manager Steve Yzerman acquired defensemen Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher during the offseason, and Christian Djoos during training camp.
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DeKeyser used to be the Wings’ workhorse. He averaged nearly 22 minutes a game in 2018-19, and was their top shut-down defenseman.
“He’s a great person,” Blashill said. “He’s worked his tail off. He wants to be in the lineup. He wants to help us win. But yet he’s not able to be at 100%. That’s life right now.”
DeKeyser has been in the organization since March 2013, when the Wings signed him as a free agent out of Western Michigan. He debuted April 5 that year, and played 11 games, plus the first two games of the playoffs. DeKeyser had been pursued by multiple NHL teams, but the Wings offered him a chance to play for his hometown team. In return, they got a 6-foot-3, 190-pound late bloomer who twice had been named best defensive defenseman in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
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