Detroit — Sam Gagner’s future with the Red Wings is uncertain, especially with Monday’s trade deadline approaching.
But Gagner, an unrestricted free agent in July, has made it known he would like to stay and contribute for one clear reason.
“This team isn’t as far off as people might think,” Gagner said.
Now, that might not entirely be reflected in the standings.
The Wings are last in the Central Division, with 32 points (13-22-6) entering Wednesday’s games. Their .390 win percentage ranks 28th of 31 teams.
But if you delve into the numbers, and have watched them consistently this season, this is a better hockey team than in recent seasons.
And there is hope.
“You want to be a playoff team and help the team win,” Gagner said. “But we’re closer than people think and I’d like to be around for it.”
Gagner has observed progress in specific areas.
For subscribers: Analysis: Cap issues, quarantine obstacles might impact NHL trade deadline
“Defensively we’ve done a good job,” Gagner said. “Where we want to continue to grow is spending more time in the offensive zone and creating more high-danger changes and some sustained pressure.
“There’s been a lot of growth. You see a lot of the young guys have really stepped up in that (defensively) and because of that, we really give up a lot less (defensively). And, if you’re going to be a winning team, that’s really important.
“Obviously the offensive side is important, too, and we have to continue to grow in that area. But that sometimes takes time, and it’s something we’re continually working on and hopefully continue to see improvement.”
Gagner, 31, has four goals and five assists in 28 games and has been a steadying, veteran influence in the locker room.
“I feel like I can help a young group,” Gagner said. “I’ve been through that process before and learned a lot about myself as years have gone on about what works and what doesn’t, and I feel like I can help.
“The big thing is I feel like I’m a good player in this league and I want the opportunity to continue to play as long as I can, and I’ve really enjoyed it here and everything that has gone on.”
Quiet trade deadline
Count coach Jeff Blashill among those who feel like Monday’s NHL trade deadline will be a dud.
“It doesn’t feel like there will be a lot of action this year,” Blashill said. “Knowing the salary cap, I know when when I talk to other teams how tight everybody is, and it’s going to be real difficult for people to make moves. The economics of the whole thing, there’s no fans in (arenas) for the most part, and it’s hard to bring in money just to bring in money.
“You throw, on top of that, the whole aspect with the coronavirus and the quarantines that can be required if you’re going to Canada, and I don’t know if the trade deadline this year is as big a deal as past years.”
Blashill had respectful words for veteran forwards Frans Nielsen and Valtteri Filppula, each of whom have been healthy scratches for long parts of the season, but both re-entered the lineup in the last week and made positive contributions.
“Those two guys have sat a lot, and both have had great careers and are proud people and that is not an easy thing at all,” Blashill said. “(But) what they’ve done is come to work every day to get better and make sure they’re ready when their opportunity came and they’ve been great leaders and done an excellent job of being selfless teammates.
“I can’t applaud them enough for that. Certainly any player out (of the lineup) generally doesn’t agree with that decision, which I totally get and understand. It’s not necessarily their job to agree with it, it’s my job to make decisions and their job to do it right, and they’ve absolutely done it right.
“It’s because of the approach they’ve taken that they’ve been able to step in and play well.
“They’ve also been an excellent role models for our younger players.”
Blashill said forward Robby Fabbri (upper body) is unavailable for Thursday, and defenseman Patrik Nemeth is questionable. Blashill wouldn’t commit to goaltender Jonathan Bernier or forwards Bobby Ryan and Gagner, returning to the lineup, although all three have been practicing.
Filip Hronek and Marc Staal weren’t on the ice Wednesday, but Blashill called it “maintenance days” for both defensemen.
… Goaltender Thomas Greiss has a .940 save percentage over his last five games, another sign Greiss has found consistency in his season.
“He’s been through a lot in his pro career, and he knows how to handle it,” Blashill said. “That’s part of the advantage of having a guy like that. Obviously, everybody’s confidence is shaken at times but he’s able to stay with it, just work and he’s done that, and he’s put himself in a better spot.”
Predators at Red Wings
► Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
► TV/radio: Bally Sports Detroit/97.1 FM
► Outlook: The Red Wings (13-22-6) and Nashville (21-18-1) conclude a two-game series, and Wings homestand. …Nashville has surged into the playoff picture, having won eight of its last nine games. … This is the final game between the teams this season, with Nashville having won five of seven games.