Steve Yzerman is used to being busy: In a span of a three days in mid-April, the general manager flew from Detroit to Tampa, Florida, back to Detroit the next day, and the day after that, to Germany to scout at the U18 World Championship.
Now his business will keep him closer to home, as the Detroit Red Wings have entered another long offseason. They won their final game Friday to finish 32-40-10 and 74 points, well below the 100-point minimum that all eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference reached.
The Wings’ season was marked by first-half promise and second-half demise. Chief on Yzerman’s to-do list is hiring a new coach, after announcing Saturday he would not renew Jeff Blashill’s contract.
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The tasks extend beyond the coaching situation, though. Here is a look at Yzerman’s to-do list as he enters his fourth offseason in charge of the rebuild.
These used to be conducted in person, but the pandemic has facilitated accomplishing them via video. Numerous players are headed out of town within a week or so, with a contingent going to Finland for the World Championship: goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (USA), forward Lucas Raymond and goalie Magnus Hellberg (Sweden), defenseman Moritz Seider (Germany), forward Pius Suter (Switzerland), and forward Jakub Vrana and defenseman Filip Hronek (Czech Republic). With some of the older players, Yzerman is expected to let them know whether there is interest in retaining their services.
Deciding on his free agents
Players eligible to become unrestricted free agents this summer include defensemen Marc Staal and Danny DeKeyser, forward Sam Gagner, and goaltenders Hellberg and Thomas Greiss. Yzerman made overtures towards re-signing Nick Leddy, but he wanted a contract in the $5 million range. That was far more than the Wings were considering, so Yzerman traded him. That leaves an opening for at least one veteran. Staal has been a good fit since arriving prior to the 2021 season. DeKeyser was waived multiple times over the past two seasons, signaling he doesn’t have a future with the team. Gagner is another possibility to stay — 13 goals and 18 assists from an $850,000 player is a pretty good deal. Greiss is a goner. Hellberg played one game; it came against the non-playoff New Jersey Devils on Friday, so little can be read into that performance. Maybe he will be invited to camp to earn a job.
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Finalize draft plans
The Wings will find out where their first pick in the 2022 draft falls when the lottery is held May 10. There will be two draws, one for the No. 1 pick and one for No. 2. After that, the order is determined by teams’ regular-season records. The Wings, who finished with the league’s eighth-worst record, have 6% odds to get the No. 1 pick, and 12.4% odds to pick in the top two. The Wings haven’t had the first overall pick since 1986 when they drafted Joe Murphy, and haven’t had the second overall pick since 1971 when they chose Marcel Dionne. The Wings have 54.4% odds to pick eighth, 30% odds to pick ninth, and 3.2% odds to pick 10th. Forward Shane Wright, who has 32 goals and 62 assists in 63 games with Kingston of the OHL this season, is the projected No. 1 pick this summer; the Wings sorely need a guy who projects to be an elite center.
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While the Wings’ amateur scouts are busy preparing final rankings ahead of the July 7-8 draft in Montreal, the team’s pro scouts are readying travel plans for the playoffs. Every series is worth scouting to explore potential trade scenarios or, more likely, preparing for free agency. Someone to keep an eye on, for example, is Carolina’s Vincent Trocheck. The 28-year-old right-shot center is a pending unrestricted free agent. Trocheck isn’t big (5-foot-10, 183 pounds) but he’s skilled and just posted his fourth 20-goal, 50-point performance. He’s worth considering as an option for a second-line center. The Wings also need a proven backup goaltender, and most likely will look to add another veteran defenseman even if Staal is re-signed. Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, the Wings’ first-round pick from 2021, is expected to challenge for a job, but Yzerman has shown he won’t fast-track a prospect he doesn’t deem ready for the NHL. Edvinsson is considered on par with Seider, but Seider was a year older, already had an AHL season to his credit, and had starred in the Swedish Hockey League before he swaggered into the Wings lineup.
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Yzerman has done a masterful job in this three years as GM of the team he used to captain, but the second half of the 2021-22 season served as a reminder of how much still needs to be done before the Wings can be viewed as a playoff contender.
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.