Yzerman knows firsthand how hard it is to make the postseason, much less be a championship contender. It took Yzerman 14 years as a player to skate a lap with the Stanley Cup for the first time, and that was eight years after the draft that netted Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov. As GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010-2018, Yzerman was in charge of a competitive team — and the Bolts still missed the playoffs three times in that span.
That leads to the subject of this mailbag, which focuses on a question from Chad R.: “If you were forced to pick just one area that kept the Detroit Red Wings from qualifying for the playoffs for a fifth straight season, what do you think it was? I thank you for your time.”
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My answer is multipronged. In the simplest terms, specifically to this season, the Wings didn’t score enough goals. They were solid defensively, allowing 171 goals in 56 games. Comparatively, the St. Louis Blues allowed 170 goals and the Montreal Canadiens allowed 168, and they both advanced to the playoffs. But the Wings scored just 126 goals, which ranked second-to-last in the NHL, ahead by one goal of the Anaheim Ducks.
On special teams, the Wings’ penalty kill had a 78.7% success rate, better than playoff teams Montreal and the Toronto Maple Leafs (both 78.5%), as well as the Pittsburgh Penguins (77.4%). But the Wings’ inability to score even when they had a man advantage resulted in a power play that operated at a dismal 11.4%, again ahead only of the Ducks (8.9%).
The Wings looked like they’d have two solid scoring lines during training camp, with Dylan Larkin centering Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha and Robby Fabbri between Bobby Ryan and Filip Zadina. That didn’t even last a week; COVID-19 sidelined Fabbri after opening weekend, and two games later, ditto Zadina. In fact, the Wings had five players in pandemic protocol when they played their fifth game of the season, and by the time that group returned from quarantine in early February, Bertuzzi had suffered a season-ending back injury.
It’s doubtful the Wings would have made the playoffs even without such a turbulent opening month or so many season-ending injuries, but those were major deterrents.
With all that said about needing more offense, the one player the Wings need most in order to start advancing to the playoffs and eventually emerge as a Cup contender is an elite defenseman. That’s why Yzerman’s first big move after taking control of the Wings was to use the sixth pick in the 2019 draft on Moritz Seider.
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Seider is a 6-foot-4 207-pounder who shoots right and projects to be a No. 1 D-man in the NHL. This month he finished his season with Rögle in the Swedish Hockey League with 28 points in 41 games, followed by five points in 13 playoff games. He’s currently playing for his native Germany at the World Championships in Latvia, recording three points in the first four games.
Time will tell whether Seider, 20, can become a player who moves the needle on the rebuild. More immediately, the draft lottery is June 2, when the Wings have the sixth-best odds, or a 7.6% chance, of landing the first pick in the draft. They have a 15.4% chance of landing in the top two spots, and while they cannot select third, fourth of fifth, they can fall back as far as eighth.
Need a Father’s Day gift?
What: “The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings.”
Author: Helene St. James, who has covered the Red Wings at the Detroit Free Press since 1996. Foreword by Chris Osgood, winner of three Stanley Cups as a Wings goaltender.
Publisher: Triumph Books.
Pages: 336 pages (paperback).
Availability: Available in leading bookstores and online from booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
About the book: “The Big 50” brings to life the men and moments that made the Red Wings such a dynamic and iconic franchise for nearly a century. The book features never-before-told stories about the greats such as Howe, Yzerman, Lidstrom and Lindsay, the near-greats beloved by fans and the great memories of Fight Night, the Fabulous Fifties, the Team for the Ages, the Grind Line, The Joe and much more.
Get it signed! For a personalized copy of “The Big 50,” contact St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Helene St. James at email@example.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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.