Red Wings team grades: From forwards to front office

Winging It In Motown

Somehow, the end of the season crept up on us.

It feels like just yesterday that we were writing letters to Mrs. Blashill, pleading for Lucas Raymond to make the team. Just a few months prior, a few fans thought the team could potentially sneak their way into the playoffs.

Oh, how times have changed. How naïve we were back then. How little we knew. Nearly half a year later, the team has experienced euphoric highs and endured pathetic lows. 82 games later, the picture is a little clearer. The front office and fans alike saw how much the team improved — and far it still has to go in order to contend.

But enough about that.

The offseason is here. Retrospectives and re-evaluations are the name of the game now. There’s a lot to take away from each person’s performance — and what better way to review professionals than with an archaic letter grading system?

Evaluations will be conducted on a full-season basis, including slumps, streaks, and everything in-between. Rather than grading on an objective scale of “good” and “bad”, each player will be evaluated based on the role they were expected within the roster and what they did with the time they had. So, giving someone like Sam Gagner a B+ doesn’t make him as good as, say, Tyler Bertuzzi.

Just to make sure we’re being fair, I recruited your friendly neighborhood loudmouth J.J. from Kansas to chuck his opinions in here as well. J.J. promises to try to behave in my post but also promises to be grumpier because he’s old.

There’s a lot to dive into, so, without further ado, We’d like to present the officially official Detroit Red Wings Team Grades:

Dylan Larkin: A

There’s not much more you can ask out of Dylan Larkin. From putting the team on his back to churning out the best points-per-game of his career, Larkin had a marquee year in his first full season as a captain. He capped off the season with a nice 69 points in 71 games. Any doubt of Larkin’s efficacy as an elite 1C were assuaged this year.

[J.J. – I also give him an A, but grumpier. I don’t care if somebody wants to call Larkin “elite”. I care that Larkin wears the C while bringing his skill, passion and work ethic every night.]

Lucas Raymond: A

Making an NHL roster as a 19-year-old is impressive. Remaining a consistent candidate for the Calder is just otherworldly. Raymond stepped right into his role as a first-line winger and ran with it. What truly inspires confidence about him is that he’s barely gotten his sea legs at the NHL level. There’s still so much to go with his career. From here, the sky’s the limit.

[J.J. – This is too easy. It’s an A. The kid has got it.]

Tyler Bertuzzi: B+

Bertuzzi brings a gear to the game of hockey that teams spend years seeking out. He’s a fixture on the team’s top-six and a fantastic addition to the team. Having said that, there were several nights where the forward was nowhere to be seen. It makes you wonder what kind of season Bertuzzi could’ve had if he made the decision to play in Canada.

[J.J. – It’s funny talking about the performance relative to expectations because I’m not sure I expected him to be a 30-goal scorer and to still be mad that it should have been closer to 35 if he hadn’t missed 14 games. Bert showed hustle all season, but he had some stretches where the heart was sending too much power to the legs and not enough to the brain. I’d send him down to a B-]

Pius Suter: C+

The Red Wings hoped to answer the 2C question with Suter. Unfortunately, it appears they’ll be knocking on the free agency door again this offseason for another one. That isn’t to say Suter didn’t have a solid season — but expectations and results didn’t quite match up. Suter is a good middle-six forward and remained a decent stopgap for the team’s next 2C.

[J.J. – Pius Suter’s points output put him just inside the 2nd line among forwards for Detroit, so that it can even be argued that Suter lived up to to 2C potential is a statement on one of Detroit’s biggest weaknesses in this season. He would have been fine if we had counted on him for third line duties, but he was one of the weak links. I give him a D-]

Robby Fabbri: B-

Fabbri earned himself a nice contract this season. He’s a great middle-six forward who adds depth scoring that the team needs. Cold streaks and a few boneheaded defensive plays knocked his grade down. Learning that he suffered another ACL tear was heartbreaking. Here’s to hoping for a speedy recovery for the forward.

[J.J. – Nothing to add to Jake’s analysis here. It’s a B-]

Jakub Vrana: A

Offseason retrospectives always contain their fair share of “what if”s. In Vrana’s instance, we’re left wondering what a full season could’ve done for the team. He’s electric on the ice, practically scoring at will. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the forward pot 40+ goals next season.

[J.J. – Vrana had the benefit of playing like an early-season player and didn’t have the time to get into the tough grind part of the season before it was over. I’m thrilled with his output over those 26 games and can’t give him anything but an A for scoring on a 41-goal pace. I’m concerned about how next season drags on for him. Staying consistent in scoring like that is the hardest thing to do.]

Filip Zadina: C-

Zadina is the most divisive forward on the roster. Some people long for a future without him on the roster, while others yearn for a fresh start. He made good improvements on the defensive end as the season went on, but his poor shot selection, low point totals, and the fact that he never found a line that fit leaves him squarely middle-of-the-pack on the season.

[J.J. – I don’t want to give up on Zadina here because I’m wondering how much the next coach will be a fresh start for him. When he was playing hockey right and getting terrible results early, we saw that he’s capable of fitting into a key role in the lineup. Throughout the season he remained tough to play against, but never developed the part where you also have to be hard to stop. I’ll give him a D+]

Michael Rasmussen: B+

At the start of the season, Rasmussen looked completely lost. As the year went on, he gradually improved, culminating in carving his own niche on the roster. With enough improvement, Rasmussen could become the middle-six player the roster needs. Growing pains are part of the game. Rasmussen appears to have transformed his into a growth spurt.

[J.J. – No disagreements here. B+]

Sam Gagner: B+

You can see Gagner’s fingerprints all throughout this roster’s development. His mentorship of Rasmussen helped to elevate his game. Veleno’s improvement was directly tied to his time with Gagner. The team’s penalty kill was measurably better while on the ice. In terms of value vs. impact, Gagner took his league-minimum salary and ran with it. This was another good season for the vet.

[J.J. – This is the only player that I’m going to give a higher grade than Jake gave. He gets an A. Gagner was exactly this season what this team needed in a solid veteran presence who showed up with a good attitude and did work. 31 points out of him for this was fantastic.]

Joe Veleno: B-

Like Rasmussen, Veleno had somewhat of a rough start. As the season progressed, he worked harder and smarter, pushing his way up the lineup. He even had a brief stint as the team’s 1C after Larkin’s injury. While he’s still got some development to go, this was a very encouraging season for the forward. There’s plenty of optimism around Veleno.

[J.J. – I’m probably a victim of my own expectations that when Joe Veleno was given a spot in the lineup, he’d never look back, but as the season went on it looked like Joe Veleno kept getting into the lineup simply because the Wings were out of acceptable substitutes who were better than Veleno. He’s a great prop for blaming Blashill’s system because there were a lot of times when he skated to an area without an obvious reason why he should be going there and the only logical conclusion is because he was somehow programmed to. I’d like to see better decision-making out of him. C-]

Adam Erne: D

Expectations were too high and impact was too low to justify Erne’s placement on the roster. He would go months at a time without scoring a goal, yet, somehow, he managed to earn consistent placement on the power play. His defensive impact, one of the best components of his game since joining Detroit, took a nosedive this season. He’ll need to battle next season for a roster spot if he remains with the Red Wings.

[J.J. – I didn’t expect Erne to keep shooting better than 15% another season, but I also didn’t expect Adam Erne to start shying away from contact. He deserves an F.]

Mitchell Stephens: B-

Stephens was an excellent depth add during the offseason. It’s hard to complain about his game. Despite the small sample size, his work on the team’s bottom-six injected just the right amount of offense to make an impact. In nearly every way, he was the team’s best 4C when healthy.

[J.J. – I’d just as soon give him an incomplete. I’m amazed how many games he got into. I’m bummed that he got hurt right as he seemed to start fitting in.]

Givani Smith: C

Smith isn’t an offensive threat or a stalwart defensive forward. He’s a grinder and a fighter. It feels like he played a lot less than the 46 games he has on the season. If he can fine-tune another facet of his game, he’ll be a fixture on the fourth line. He finishes the season with an average grade and a follow-up question: does he have what it takes to make the roster next season?

[J.J. – When Smith focuses on playing hockey I think he’s got the skills to be an effective fourth liner, but when he tried to focus on intimidation, distraction, or enforcement, he didn’t measure up. D.]

Oskar Sundqvist: B

At first, Sundqvist and Jake Walman appeared to be just extra pieces thrown in for the Nick Leddy trade. As time went on, Sunny revealed a unique niche to his game and provided some depth scoring to a team starved for goals. There’s a future for Sundqvist on Detroit’s third line.

[J.J. – Yep, B]

Carter Rowney: D+

Rowney was a strange signing during the offseason. With players like Smith fighting for depth roster spots, Rowney’s addition only further muddied the waters. He had a fairly underwhelming season, regularly flubbing defensive plays and failing to make an impact on the offensive end.

[J.J. – Rowney seemed to be a diet-Gagner and in every way the real thing satisfied, Rowney just left a weird aftertaste. F]

Vladislav Namestnikov: C+

Namestnikov went from journeyman forward to fan favorite in just a few short games. Watching him go to the Dallas Stars was bittersweet, but it was clear his movement was almost inevitable. He was a great depth presence for the Red Wings and played a key role as a defensive forward.

[J.J. – I lied about Gagner being the only higher grade. I give Vlad a B. His points output has him in the C range, but that he got us a deadline return boosts a little AND the fact that he very clearly cared a whole lot about making sure he didn’t shy away from a scrum boosted it more.]

Mortiz Seider: A

Nobody expected 20-year-old Seider to make the impact he had. He’s had such a good season that calling him a top-10 defenseman in the NHL is nearly justified. While he made a few small rookie mistakes, his top-to-bottom impact makes him one of — if not the — best player on the roster.

[J.J. – A+]

Marc Staal: B

Marc Staal is an agent of chaos. He’s either bolstering the team’s offense to otherworldly levels or making a silly defensive mistake. Staal has had a spectacular season as a veteran defenseman. On a defensive corps full of glaring flaws, Staal was often a diamond in the rough.

[J.J. – I expected a real bad and mostly-washed Marc Staal to drag the Wing’s defensive corps down. Instead what we got was a Marc Staal who couldn’t anchor an overwhelmed defense himself, but also wasn’t the weak link. I give him a B-]

Gustav Lindstrom: C

The first half of the season was a quietly efficient campaign for Lindstrom. His confidence came crashing down after the 9-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes. It seemed like he shut down whenever a goal went against Detroit. As far as first seasons go, things could’ve been worse.

[J.J. – I was really high on Lindstrom coming out of the expansion draft as a real solid third-paring option with the opportunity to grow above that role. He was flat unwatchable in the 2nd half of the season. All of the calm and confidence he had shown evaporated. I give him an F.]

Filip Hronek: D+

A few years back, fans would sigh with relief when Hronek took to the ice. This season summoned more headaches than hallelujahs. It’s hard to tell what specifically went wrong when everything seemed to fall apart. Defensive mistakes, offensive miscues, and everything in-between marred Hronek’s season. Fortunately, the rise of young up-and-comers should further relax his workload.

[J.J. – I’ve come to expect Hronek to start out strong and fade as the season goes along. In that regard, he did not fail to meet expectations, but I don’t accept that’s how he should be. F.]

Danny DeKeyser: D-

DeKeyser hasn’t been the same since his back injury. This was the worst season of the defenseman’s career. It got so bad that he was actually waived by the team. It’s bittersweet to see it turn out this way. He did have a fantastic play against Connor McDavid, though. That counts for something.

[J.J. – I don’t really want to argue about Danny DeKeyser anymore. I think the complete lack of expectations means giving him an F would just be mean so he can keep the D- if for no other reason than I’m looking forward to having a D minus him in the future.]

Nick Leddy: D

Leddy was brought in to stabilize Detroit’s defensive core. To call this an underwhelming season for him is an understatement. While he excelled at zone entries, he failed to make any real impact on the offensive or defensive end. Having said that, he’s looked quite promising for the Blues. Sometimes, players just don’t fit within a system. All the best to Leddy and his future endeavors.

[J.J. – Nick Leddy got us Oskar Sundqvist and Jake Walman. I’m ok to give him a C. He didn’t live up to his old self.]

Olli Juolevi: D

Juolevi was a late-season waiver claim — a low-risk, decent-reward pickup. The former fifth overall pick has failed to make an impact on any roster he’s made. Detroit, unfortunately, is no exception. He had all the opportunity in the world to take the reins on a porous defensive corps. It’s not that he played particularly bad; he just didn’t do anything to justify his placement on the roster.

[J.J. – I had no expectations for a waiver claim. D is fine]

Jordan Oesterle: C-

Oesterle was a decent acquisition during the offseason. He played a solid role on the team’s bottom-four pairing, but, beyond that, he didn’t do very much. For better or worse, he was an average player on the roster. It probably helps that the bar was so low for the team’s defense. He’ll likely rotate in and out of the team’s bottom pairing next season.

[J.J. – I don’t think Oesterle was anywhere near good enough this season. On a defensive corps that needed people to step up and play solidly, he found himself an extra, going so far as to be used at forward for stretches. F.]

Jake Walman: C+

Walman has a shoot-first mentality. This is a good thing for the Red Wings’ defense, which mustered all of 17 goals between nine defensemen. While it didn’t result in any goals this season, it helped to add an offensive edge. Next season will be the true test of Walman’s impact on the roster. There’s something to be about deployment, and, given the status of Detroit’s defense, he’ll have all the time in the world to do so.

[J.J. – I’m thrilled with the promise shown by Walman. I’ll give him a B.]

Troy Stecher: D

Stecher suited up for 16 games with the Red Wings this season, but wasn’t able to muster much of anything. His strong 2020-21 campaign gave the impression that he had more. This season’s efforts, combined with his trade to the Los Angeles Kings for a seventh-round pick, revealed that the rest of the NHL doesn’t covet him quite like Detroit fans did.

[J.J. – Who?]

Alex Nedeljkovic: B-

A great first-half of the season was mired by an underwhelming second-half. Still, it’s hard to place the blame squarely on Ned. He can only do so much to keep the roster afloat. In addition, this was his first full season as a starting NHL netminder. He exceeded expectations and has plenty of opportunity to build on the successes of this season.

[J.J. – A netminder who managed to give us a save percentage above .900 this season is a small miracle. He wasn’t consistent and didn’t play well enough to solidify a role as our starter for the coming years. I give him a C.]

Thomas Greiss: D

If Nedeljkovic’s season inspired confidence, Greiss’s did the exact opposite. There were very few games that felt like Greiss helped the roster more than harmed it. Clumsy rebound control and a lack of awareness exposed an ugly blind spot on the team’s roster.

[J.J. – Yeah that’s a D from me too.]

Jeff Blashill: D-

Speaking of blind spots, this season may have been one of Blashill’s worst for the team. From rumors about players’ unhappiness to a series of horrendous losses, this was a season to forget for the former head coach. Some improvements were made, but the blowout losses were just too much to justify another extension.

[J.J. – I didn’t care about the team competing for a playoff spot but wanted a team that competed all season. They had large stretches where they did not play competitively. Way too many terrible games to pass this guy. F.]

Alex Tanguay: C-

In his first season as the power play coach, Tanguay looked very promising at the start. As the season commenced, the team fell into the same doldrums they have in previous seasons. The blame can’t be placed squarely on Tanguay, but it’s up to him to find ways to succeed — regardless of the input from other figures.

[J.J. – The power play coach started the season with a promising look but didn’t adjust to the units as they went and could not find a way for the team to gain zone entries after Larkin went down. F.]

Doug Houda: D+

Where Tanguay was in charge of the power play, Houda handled the penalty kill and defensive work. There were mild improvements by a few players, but Houda gets the lower grade because he’s had time to establish and refine his system. His contract, like Blashill’s was not renewed for next season.

[J.J. – I agree with everything Jake says here except the grade. That’s another F.]

Jeff Salajko: D

Like Houda and Blashill, Salajko was let go following the final game of the season. Nedeljkovic and Greiss’s struggles can’t be squarely placed on Salajko, but, after six years of coaching at the NHL level, the front office should have a game plan if things go south. It didn’t seem like that was the case with Salajko.

[J.J. – Both goaltenders were absolutely under siege all season long, but there were plenty of times they had chances to steal games or simply stop the bleeding and instead they couldn’t stop getting pulled. F.]

Steve Yzerman: A-

What more can Steve Yzerman bring to the table? From the draft to the deadline, Yzerman did everything in his power to ensure the team stayed afloat. The return on investment from the Leddy trade, coupled with the pieces netted from the Namestnikov and Stecher deals, give Yzerman more shots at the draft board. Stevie’s got his eyes on the prize — and there’s nothing more you can hope for out of a general manager.

[J.J. I don’t know how I can give Steve Yzerman an A after giving literally every member of the primary coaching staff failing grades. I get why Blashill didn’t get canned partway through the season but I view that decision as a detriment to an overall solid season-long strategy to stay the developmental course. I give him a C+]

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