Detroit Red Wings midseason grades: A few disappointments, but not as many as you’d think

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The enthusiasm with which the Detroit Red Wings began the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season dissipated within a week.

That’s when COVID-19 forced five players who were in the opening night lineup into a two-week quarantine. The Wings lost two players from their second line, and four power play guys, and just like that, an encouraging 2-2 start crumbled into an eight-game skid. They also lost their best goaltender for two weeks.

Two games shy of the midpoint, the Wings are 7-16-3. While that matches last season’s record after 26 games, the Wings have played better.

The Wings have looked noticeably better defensively; there have been some blowouts, but on the whole they are keeping the score close. Scoring is still an issue, but the lines that looked so good during training camp didn’t even last past two games because of the pandemic.

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The power play has been atrocious, going through an 0-for-40 stretch that’s left the overall percentage at 10.7, worst in the NHL. Individual players have disappointed, none more so than Anthony Mantha. Others, like Bobby Ryan and Filip Zadina, have been bright spots in what has been a dreary and challenging first half of the season.

G Jonathan Bernier

Age: 32.

Stats: 6-5-0, .910 save percentage, 2.94 goals-against average in 13 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3 million salary cap hit.

The word: He consistently has given his teammates a chance to win, withstanding barrages and high-percentage shots. He has been their MVP of the first half, and the Wings missed him when he was sidelined two weeks by injury.

Grade: A-minus.

F Tyler Bertuzzi

Age: 26.

Stats: Five goals, two assists, even rating in nine games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3.5 million salary cap hit.

The word: He was off to a great start, with a 0.78 points-per-game average, but hasn’t played since leaving the Jan. 30 game with an upper-body injury. The Wings miss his rambunctious style, grit and his net-presence.

Grade: A-minus.

F Mathias Brome

Age: 26.

Stats: One goal, minus-9 in 23 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $925,000 salary cap hit.

The word: Brome brings speed and hustle, but considering he’s been on the top line and on the power play, his lack of production is a disappointment, and shows he’s better suited to a role in the bottom six.

Grade: C-plus.

D Danny DeKeyser

Age: 30.

Stats: One goal, two assists, even rating in 17 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $5 million salary cap hit.

The word: He hasn’t fully regained his pre back-surgery (Dec. 2019) form, and maybe never will. Still a solid defender, but he can’t be the workhorse he once was.

[ DeKeyser cleared waivers. Here’s what the Red Wings hope to see next ]

Grade: C.

D Christian Djoos

Age: 26.

Stats: Two goals, four assists, minus-10 in 22 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $1 million salary cap hit.

The word:  He has provided an offensive threat, which the Wings don’t have much of from their defense corps, but he has also made some doozy turnovers and in general needs to improve in his own end and be more assertive.

Grade: C-plus.

F Adam Erne

Age: 25.

Stats: Two goals, four assists, minus-2 in 18 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $997,500 salary cap hit.

The word: He’s been noticeably more engaged offensively than last season, but needs to step up the physicality.

Grade: C-plus.

F Robby Fabbri

Age: 25.

Stats: Four goals, five assists, even rating in 17 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $2.95 million salary cap hit.

The word: He missed two weeks after testing positive for COVID before the third game of the season, but had his form back within a few games. Has adapted well to playing center, and is generally good at putting himself in a position to score.

Grade: B.

F Valtteri Filppula

Age: 36.

Stats: Two goals, 3 assists, minus-four in 20 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3 million salary cap hit.

The word: He has been used mostly on a defensive line but he has also subbed onto the top line and been on the power play, so his production really should be better. He has also struggled in his own zone. Has been a healthy scratch and through waivers.

Grade: D.

[ Why the Wings want to hear what Valtteri Filppula has to say ]

F Sam Gagner

Age: 31.

Stats: Four goals, three assists, plus-3 in 18 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $850,000 salary cap hit.

The word: He didn’t score until a hat trick in his 14th game (he missed two weeks in pandemic protocol), but he has been consistently involved in scoring opportunities. He has a solid work ethic, and is a good role model for younger players in the locker room.

Grade: B.

F Luke Glendening

Age: 31.

Stats: Two goals, five assists, minus-2 in 24 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $1.8 million salary cap hit.

The word: He’s won 65.2% of his faceoffs, ranking first in the NHL among players who had taken at least 350 draws. A relentless defender, he has rediscovered a knack for contributing offensively (he’s two points shy of his total in 60 games last season).

Grade: B-plus.

G Thomas Greiss

Age: 35.

Stats: 1-11-3, .885 save percentage, 3.37 goals-against average in 16 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $3.6 million salary cap hit.

The word: He played better than the stats showed in January, but didn’t handle the extra workload while Bernier was out well, and struggled throughout February. Overall, he hasn’t brought the stability hoped for.

Grade: C.

F Darren Helm

Age: 34.

Stats: One goal, two assists, minus-4 in 17 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3.85 million salary cap hit.

The word: He plays hard and is good at tracking down pucks, but there’s very little offensive threat in his game, even when he’s subbed into the top-six mix.

Grade: C.

D Filip Hronek

Age: 23.

Stats: 10 assists, minus-10 in 26 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $714,166 salary cap hit.

The word: The team workhorse, averaging almost 24 minutes per game and playing both special teams. Often used against the opponents top line. Has a good shot and doesn’t hesitate with it.

Grade: B-minus.

F Dylan Larkin

Age: 24.

Stats: Four goals, seven assists, minus-7 in 22 games.

Status: Signed through 2022-23 at a $6.1 million salary cap hit.

The word: Had a great start with four goals and four assists the first 10 games. Then he lost Bertuzzi as a linemate, and production slipped to three assists in 12 games. Larkin, named captain before the season, sometimes tries to do too much. He has been out since Feb. 27 with an upper-body injury, and maybe the break will be beneficial.

Grade: C-plus.

F Anthony Mantha

Age: 26.

Stats: Six goals, four assists, minus-16 in 25 games.

Status: Signed through 2023-24 at a $5.7 million salary cap hit.

The word: He’s enthralling to watch when he’s engaged, but he’s looked lethargic for far too much of the season, not what the Wings hoped for after signing him to a big contract in November. He needs to play more to his 6-foot-5, 234-pounds size — he’s on the top line, but has only four penalty minutes.

Grade: D.

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D Jon Merrill

Age: 29.

Stats: Three assists, plus-1 in 20 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $925,000 salary cap hit.

The word: A good skater and hard worker, he generally plays well in his own zone. He’s another who missed two weeks in pandemic protocol.

Grade: B-minus

F Vladislav Namestnikov

Age: 28.

Stats: Four goals, four assists, minus-5 in 24 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $2 million salary cap hit.

The word: He has had ample opportunities to score. He’s adept as a wing or center, and plays both special teams.

Grade: B-minus.

D Patrik Nemeth

Age: 29.

Stats: One goal, two assists, minus-5 in 25 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3 million salary cap hit.

The word: He hasn’t been as physical as he was last season, and he’s been prone to taking careless penalties.

Grade: C-minus.

F Frans Nielsen

Age: 36.

Stats: One goal, four assists, minus-1 in 21 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $5.25 million salary cap hit.

The word: Weighed against his salary, his production is dismal. But weighed against how he’s been used — in a bottom six role and no power play time, he’s been OK. He’s done a decent job defensively, with a minus rating in only three games.

Grade: C.

F Michael Rasmussen

Age: 21.

Stats: Three assists, minus-3 in 10 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at at $894,166 salary cap hit.

The word: He needs to watch video of his March 4 performance and play with more of that physicality on a consistent basis.

Grade: C-plus.

F Bobby Ryan

Age: 33.

Stats: Six goals, seven assists, minus-9 in 25 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 with a $1 million salary cap hit.

The word: Scored four goals his first three games, and even when production quieted, he was noticeable in creating chances and being in position to score. He’s a good influence in the locker room, and is certain to garner interest at the trade deadline. Leads the team in points.

Grade: A-minus.

F Givani Smith

Age: 23.

Stats: One goal, three assists, even rating in eight games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 with a $714,166 salary cap hit.

The word: Not currently with the team, but has certainly made a case to be in the lineup. He plays to his size (6 feet 2, 210 pounds) and has a great compete level.

Grade: B.

D Marc Staal

Age: 34.

Stats: Two goals, two assists, minus-5 in 26 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $5.7 million salary cap hit.

The word: He’s come up with a couple timely goals and largely defended well, helping stabilize the back end.

Grade: B-minus.

D Troy Stecher

Age: 26.

Stats: Four assists, minus-5 in 19 games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $3.5 million salary cap hit.

The word: He and Staal formed a nice partnership until Stecher went down with an injury Feb. 19. Stands out for his consistently high competitive level.

Grade: B-minus.

F Evgeny Svechnikov

Age: 24.

Stats: Two goals, two assists, minus-2 in four games.

Status: Signed through 2020-21 at a $874,125 salary cap hit.

The word: He was waived before the season began, and didn’t get an opportunity until Feb. 27. His place in the rebuild remains murky, but good for him to make the most of a small window.

Grade: B.

F FIlip Zadina

Age: 21.

Stats: Three goals, five assists, plus-1 in 19 games.

Status: Signed through 2021-22 at a $894,167 salary cap hit.

The word:  He’s still young and he needs to get stronger, but after a quiet start points-wise, he has started to produce more to the pace expected. Has done a good job adding a puck-retrieval aspect to his game.

Grade: B-plus.

Head coach Jeff Blashill and his coaching staff

Blashill and his primary assistants — defensemen and penalty kill coach Doug Houda, forwards and power play coach Dan Bylsma, and goaltending coach Jeff Salajko are all on expiring contracts. General manager Steve Yzerman likely will clean house after the season, but he has backed Blashill through two seasons, recognizing the limits of the roster. Blashill doesn’t have much to work with, and injuries and the pandemic have limited the lineup, but for the most part the team works hard and competes. Special teams, especially the power play, has been a sore point, though.

Grade: C.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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. 

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