Steve Yzerman is generally pleased with the Detroit Red Wings, despite record. Here’s why

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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Steve Yzerman is not so much watching the record, nor even, really, individual statistics. What he is paying attention to — when he can stay awake — is how the Detroit Red Wings are progressing within the framework of a rebuild, and how he can bolster that effort by all means possible.

Nearly two years after he was named general manager of the team he captained to three Stanley Cup championships, Yzerman seems satisfied the Wings are going in the right direction. They have endured a turbulent first month of the season, including losing five players to COVID-19, but this past weekend offered an example of why Yzerman is optimistic. After being routed Friday by the Florida Panthers, the Wings responded with a 2-1 victory against one of the best teams in the NHL.

“Our guys are playing hard, they’re working at it,” Yzerman said Monday during a video conference for the Detroit Economic Club. “We’re in a lot of close games, which is a positive. We played a close game on Saturday and we won it. We didn’t self destruct. We played disciplined, we played really hard. I was very, very encouraged by that.

“Overall, with where we’ve been for the last month since we got our guys back healthy, I see a lot of positive things. It’s not necessarily showing up in goals and assists and wins and losses, but a lot of things we are doing have been a significant step in the right direction, and it’s based on playing hard and being competitive and being a more difficult team to play against.”

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The Wings endured an eight-game winless streak while players including Robby Fabbri and FIlip Zadina battled COVID-19. There were low points — a 6-2 loss at Chicago, a 7-3 loss at Dallas, a 5-1 loss at Tampa Bay, but since that blowout to the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning, the Wings played a string of tight games, and redeemed themselves after losing their way to the Panthers.

“Since the first game in Tampa, we’ve got to be generally pleased with the effort, the competitiveness, the way we are playing, apart from the Florida game,” Yzerman said. “Our first four games, I thought we played pretty well. Then over the course of a week we lost five players and the decision was made to continue to play through it. Unfortunately we lost every single game. And these were key players to us. It’s difficult to win, with the position we’re in, with a healthy squad, and it’s a challenge. We missed a lot of key guys and we paid for it.”

Media were not able to ask questions during the event. Yzerman touched on subjects including the draft, the Wings’ top prospects in Europe, and how he scouts games in the age of COVID.

With junior hockey leagues still so drastically impacted by the pandemic, Yzerman doesn’t think it’s fair to hold the draft in June as is usual.

“I would hope they push it back and give us a chance to watch these kids and give these kids a chance to play and put their best foot forward leading up to the draft,” Yzerman said. Regarding the draft lottery — the Wings are on track to be participants for a fifth straight year — Yzerman said it’s his understanding that “the league is looking at different options, taking things into considerations and potentially will present something to the teams at some point. But they’ve been quiet about it.”

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The 2020 draft was postponed until October. Yzerman used the fourth pick on Swedish forward Lucas Raymond, who had 18 points in 34 games for Frölunda in the Swedish Hockey League before suffering an arm/elbow injury. Yzerman said Raymond will undergo a procedure that will sideline him around eight weeks, but added that “it’s not that big a deal. I expect it to heal and be fine.”

Yzerman’s first draft pick as Wings GM, defenseman Moritz Seider, recently returned from injury and has 24 points in 33 games for Rögle in the SHL.

The Wings finished 31st last season, and the expectation was they’d be more competitive this season. That hasn’t shown in the record, but then that’s not what Yzerman looks for so much as he looks at individual performances. Are the young guys like Zadina and Filip Hronek progressing? If it’s an older player in the last year of his contract — such as Luke Glendening — is it someone who should be re-signed? Then there’s how the team plays, regardless of outcome.

“Collectively, the progress I see, from last year to this year — and it’s still relatively early — is a much harder team to play against,” Yzerman said. “Defensively we are playing much better. We are not winning a lot of these games, but I go back to the last game, a 2-1 game, a tight game. As that game went on, we didn’t make a lot of mistakes to hurt our chances of winning that game. We just hung around and hung around and scored a good goal in the third period and did a really good job after in winning the game.

“So from last season to this season I see progress. And our younger players, regardless of their numbers — because I know some of their numbers are down – that’s not a big concern.”

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Yzerman is more concerned that young players “develop into better overall hockey players,” he said. “Learn to do the little things that help you win games. It’s not all goals and assists. That’s kind of how I watch their progress.”

Yzerman’s priority is watching the Wings, but he tries to catch as many NHL games as possible because part of his job is scouting, whether it’s for a potential trade or a free-agent signing.

“You have to watch the rest of the league,” Yzerman said. “But it is a bit of challenge. Those late games are tough to stay up for. I have a hard time staying awake through the late games, and trying not just to watch it, you’re trying to watch it with a purpose and watch specific players. So it has been a little bit more difficult. Part of that I will blame on COVID and part of it I will blame it that I’m not a kid anymore.”

Contact Helene St. James at Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 


Steve Yzerman: What encourages him about the Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, Feb. 22, 2021.

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press

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