What Robby Fabbri’s extension shows about Steve Yzerman’s Detroit Red Wings rebuild

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Red Wings forward Robby Fabbri celebrated by FaceTiming with his parents and enjoying a nice glass of wine over dinner with his fiancée. It wasn’t his first contract, but it was a nice piece of job security.

Fabbri’s new three-year, $12-million extension runs through 2024-25; the $4 million annual average value bumps him from the $2.95 million he was at this season and last. It also shows that general manager Steve Yzerman has gotten a tremendous return on what was a low-risk investment when he traded for Fabbri in November 2019.

At that time, Fabbri said Yzerman told him coming to Detroit was a chance “to get my career back on track and playing at the level that I know I can play at.”

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Yzerman was seven months into his role as GM and what would become a dreadful season was taking shape with a 4-12-1 start. That’s when Yzerman made a deal with the St. Louis Blues: In exchange for Jacob de la Rose, a forward previous Wings management had claimed off waivers the year before, the Blues sent Fabbri to Detroit.

The Blues drafted Fabbri at No. 21 in 2014, but a series of knee injuries had derailed a promising start to his career and left him without a foothold in the lineup. Coming to Detroit was like coming up for air.

“I was excited,” Fabbri said. “It was a fresh start over here. Things got off to a good start and have been great ever since.”

Fabbri scored twice in his debut, and his 31 points in 52 games earned him a new contract in August 2020.

“When he came in, we definitely needed help,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Our team struggled that year — we didn’t play very good hockey and so right away, I knew he could help that team. The question you ask yourself is, can the player help you win long term. For a player to help you win long-term, one, he’s got to be a winner of a person. He’s got to be committed to win above everything else, and Robby is that. Two, he’s got to be the type of player who can win when it gets tough and hard, and I think Robby can do that. Robby has shown us that not only is he a guy who helped us over the last couple years, but can also help us win as we try to move up the standings.”

There was talk last season of Fabbri playing more at center than wing, but that abated when Yzerman signed center Pius Suter last offseason. Fabbri and Suter — who seven years ago played together with the Guelph Storm — have formed a solid pairing this season: Both are smart, play bigger than their 5-foot-11, around 180-pound bodies, and have some grit to their games.

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“I think him and Suits have been a pretty good pairing together,” Blashill said. “We’re just trying to figure out the best way for each line to be successful and figuring out what the best three-man combo is for that group is still important. They’ve created lots of chances over the course of the season. I didn’t think Robby got rewarded with the number of chances he created early and he’s been rewarded more lately. He can score, for sure.”

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Fabbri, who turns 26 in January, fits into the early-to-mid 20s age group of the core rebuild group.

Blashill described him as a winning-type player who had the mental fortitude to not let his knee injuries soften his play for long: “When he got here, we had a conversation early about, you’re not going to be a really good player if you play careful. You have to have that great intensity in order to make up for maybe a lack of size and a lack of speed. He’s done that.”

The payoff was the relief of having an extension done before Christmas.

“It was the plan going into the season,” Fabbri said. “It’s just such a great group we have going in there, improving each and every year, and it’s fun to a be part of and I wanted to be a part of it. It’s fun to be with this group and working towards what we want to be in the near future.”

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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