We’re past the halfway point; as of right now, the Detroit Red Wings have more questions than definitive answers.
The success of the top line is evident. Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Dylan Larkin make up one of the most fearsome units in the NHL. Beyond that, however, depth becomes a very concerning issue. A few names stand out from the crowd — Robby Fabbri in particular — but, for the most part, depth has been an exercise in frustration with the team. Regression, bad puck luck, and a power play that can only be described as impotent are the key culprits. That, and a lack of talent — but we’ll get to that later.
The defense, on the other hand, is mired in a constant state of flux. When your top defender is rookie, it can mean one of two things: the team has obtained a very special player, or the defense needs a lot of work. In the case of Moritz Seider and the Red Wings’ defense, the answer lies a bit in both camps. Seider is one of the best players on the roster. In fact, he’s managed to succeed with Danny DeKeyser stapled to him — a sign of an incredible talent indeed.
Goaltending appears to be the closest thing to an “answer” the Red Wings can find. Alex Nedeljkovic looks like a bona fide top goaltender in the NHL. As Detroit crawls out of its rebuild, he’ll have to spend less time putting the team on his back and stealing some of the wins he’s managed this season.
Now that half of the season’s done, it’s time to ask some of those questions. Who’s stepped up to the plate — and who’s failed to answer the call? Who can the Red Wings count on in their future? Who should they part ways with once 2021-22 is through?
With 38 points in 35 games this season, Tyler Bertuzzi has become one of the premier offensive weapons on Detroit’s roster. His 20 goals are tied with captain Dylan Larkin for the lead — and his 22.5% shooting percentage is among the best in the league. This awe-inspiring season has come in bunches. Where many of the NHL’s great scorers add to their stats across long streaks, Bertuzzi earns them in bunches. In his last five games, Bertuzzi has scored ten points. Two of the five games were each three-point nights.
While there’s no doubt Bertuzzi is an outstanding player, it’s becoming clear that he’s more of a streaky scorer than a consistent point-producer. His game log this season features its fair share of lulls and lows as well as fun-filled highs. The trick with Bertuzzi is to understand that, while he’s having a career season, he should not be looked at as a star player or producer. At 26 years of age, Bertuzzi has likely reached his peak performance as a hockey player. Managing those expectations will be key if he remains on the team.
Marc Staal giveth, Marc Staal taketh away. It’s the tale of two players for the veteran defenseman. On some nights, he’s one of the best players on the roster, shutting down top lines and making big plays for key goals.
On others (sometimes in the same night)…he leaves a lot to be desired.
Believe it or not, Staal is actually one of the best offensive players on this roster. Take a look at his offensive output according to Evolving Hockey:
For a team that’s been defensively cratered this season, Staal hasn’t actually been all that bad. The thing to remember, though, is that Staal is 35 years old. He’s a veteran defenseman who provides stability and leadership to the lineup. Sometimes, he pulls off an impressive play — but, for the most part, it’s hard to know what to expect out of him. Lately, he’s been one of the better defenseman on the lineup, but that really isn’t saying much.
Whether you believe he’s a top-six performer or a certified draft bust, what he is right now is anything but certain. The flashy forward is one of the most snakebit players in the NHL. His shooting percentage is at an abysmal 4.9% — and it’s not for lack of trying. It seems like he’s in his own head, struggling to stay confident while every line he plays on suffers as a result. Zadina is scoring just a little over a quarter-a-point-per-game, with 11 points in just 40 games. That’s not the kind of result you’d like to see from a top-10 draft pick.
Something has to change to get him in gear. He’s played up and down the lineup and has even earned time on the power play. Whatever needs to happen has to happen soon. He might be due for a change of scenery, but it’s hard to make a trade when his value is at an all-time low. Still, it’s not that he isn’t trusted to make an impact. Jeff Blashill has gone on the record and said that he believes in the forward. Now, all Zadina needs to do is believe in himself.
Honorable Mentions: Pius Suter, Robby Fabbri
Last season, Adam Erne led the team in goals. This was, to put it lightly, an outlier. Erne has one goal in his last 21 games and just four points in that timeframe. The third-line forward has underwhelmed in just about every way this season. A regression was to be expected, but this seems like a much more troublesome sign than anything else. He’s among the bottom of the league in offense and has done little to make up for it on defense.
His team suffers offensively whenever he’s on the ice. On a third line made up of Erne, Vladislav Namestnikov, and Michael Rasmussen, firepower is exactly what they need to succeed. Erne’s done next to nothing to generate offense — in fact, the team appears to lose much of their offensive mojo when he’s on the ice. A clear role for Erne is becoming muddier by the day as Jonatan Berggren continues to light up the AHL. He’s bound to bounce back sooner than later, but if he doesn’t do it in time, he might quickly become obsolete.
Opening this can of worms has been long overdue. From the moment Leddy made his way to Detroit, I wasn’t a fan of the trade. The vision made sense: a veteran presence to help mentor Seider. But the wheels fell off the wagon almost immediately. Leddy has been a possession black hole on the ice. He has one of the worst Corsi and Fenwick percentages on the team and is consistently cratered when he’s in his own zone.
But how much of this is to blame on the team overall — and can it be turned around? The former definitely shares its portion of the blame, but the latter remains to be seen. There are only a few games left until the trade deadline. As of right now, it doesn’t look like Leddy could muster even a little bit of return on his investment. When paired with Seider, his numbers saw a noticeable improvement. Perhaps, as the team continues to phase out Danny DeKeyser, a spot can be made beside the German phenom.
Honorable mentions: Joe Veleno, Filip Hronek
When discussing underrated players in the NHL, names like Jonathan Huberdeau and even Dylan Larkin are frequently mentioned. The unsung heroes of the league are the depth players. The players that rarely make mistakes and quietly go about their business. Gustav Lindstrom is one such player. Where the rest of the defense (save for Seider) has been an inconsistent mess, Lindstrom has been a surprising force of stability on the team’s bottom defensive pairing. While he’s no offensive dynamo, he’s done the lion’s share of defensive work to help fill in the gaps for linemate Marc Staal.
When the Red Wings protected Lindstrom over Dennis Cholowski in the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft, many were surprised. Halfway through the season, Lindstrom has established himself as one of the better defenders in Detroit, while Cholowski has spent his season waivered, scratched, and stuck with one point in just seven games this season. Look to Lindstrom to remain one of the depth threats as Detroit continues to bolster its blue line.