Steve Yzerman: ‘I’m hoping we’re a better team’ after Detroit Red Wings’ free agency haul

Detroit Free Press

Steve Yzerman kept looking to his left, where he had a depth chart for the Detroit Red Wings hanging in his corner office at Little Caesars Arena.

It speaks to how much he has strengthened the team in his fourth offseason as general manager that he needed a cheat sheet, but in fairness, there were also multiple new names. Yzerman was thoughtful and hopeful as he addressed the media one day after signing free-agent forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, and defensemen Ben Chiarot, Olli Määttä and Mark Pysyk.

“We had needs to be addressed,” Yzerman said. “We filled an important need at center in Andrew Copp, a right-hand-shot forward in David Perron, kind of a pleasant surprise in what we consider a scoring winger in Dominik Kubalik, and adding some defensemen that we think will improve and help us on our special teams, in particular on penalty killing, and then defensively 5-on-5, as well. These are all areas we talked about in the spring that we needed to improve on. We were in position to bring in some new faces and players we think addressed some of these needs.”

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The Wings will need depth as forward Robby Fabbri (ACL) and defenseman Jake Walman (shoulder) both will miss the start of the season. Copp gives the Wings the second-line pivot they’ve long needed and adds faceoff prowess that also will help both special teams. Perron is a scorer and former Stanley Cup champion, and Kubalik is only three seasons removed from scoring 30 goals. Chiarot (6 feet 3, 234 pounds) and Määttä (6-2, 210) add size to the back end. Copp (28) Määttä (27) and Kubalik (27) are in the same age range as Dylan Larkin (26 on July 30) and Tyler Bertuzzi (27), two of the core pieces of the rebuild, and Perron (34) and Chiarot (31) add experience and will help bring along the Wings’ younger players: Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond and Simon Edvinsson.

It’s as aggressive as Yzerman has been in four years and reflects a growing confidence.

“I think we’ve improved our team, but we have to go on the ice in September and then play in October,” Yzerman said. “I’m hoping we’re a better team. I think we’re progressing slowly in this rebuilding of the Red Wings. Are we good enough to make the playoffs next year? I don’t know. I’m hopeful that we’ll score more goals, we’ll give up fewer goals, our power play will be a little bit better, our penalty killing a little bit better. Our goals against is a little bit better, and that pushes us up higher up the standings.

“Time will tell. I’m optimistic we’re progressing, but the plan really hasn’t changed. I’m sticking with what I intended to do and keeping our younger guys and be patient with them, keep our draft picks and continue to build this way.”

That depth chart Yzerman peeked at numerous times suddenly looks significantly better. New head coach Derek Lalonde will have plenty of options as he puts together his lines: Larkin, Bertuzzi, Raymond, Copp, Perron, Kubalik, Jakub Vrana, Pius Suter and Filip Zadina, among others, with maybe Jonatan Berggren and Elmer Söderblom, too. A defensive top four that includes Seider, Chiarot, Määttä and Filip Hronek, with Edvinsson pushing for minutes. A goaltending tandem of Ville Husso and Alex Nedeljkovic, both in their mid-20s, both eager to establish themselves as starters. Yzerman said in May the Wings need to be better defensively, and he has given Lalonde the pieces to make it happen.

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“Ultimately you need good players to win games and you need good players to be good offensively and defensively, it all comes down to that,” Yzerman said. “It’s up to the coach and coaching staff to try to maximize the talent they have and find a way to try to be most efficient in all areas with the players that we have.”

Yzerman hasn’t saved spots for young players; he wants them to earn their minutes. It was Raymond’s play that earned him a spot in last year’s lineup, not his pedigree as the No. 4 overall pick in 2020. An overflowing depth chart doesn’t prevent young players from surfacing.

“Another way we could have gone is to leave roster spots open and let younger plays come in and put them on the team,” Yzerman said. “I chose not to do that. If we come in and have too many good players, wouldn’t that be a great problem to have? We’d have to figure it out at that point. I’d rather have our young guys work their ways through the steps rather than putting them in the NHL because we’ve decided they’re going there and then in the middle of November, geez, we’re not very good and they’re struggling and we have to send them down. It’s not good for the team and it’s not good for the individual.

“If our young guys are really good, we’ll figure it out. We’ll create a spot for them. Having too many good players is not a problem.”

Määttä and Pysyk received one-year deals; Perron and Kubalik, two years; and Chiarot, four years. Yzerman was comfortable giving Copp five years because he’s in his prime and projects to have a significant impact. Ultimately, Yzerman added three forwards, three defenseman and a goaltender within one July week and he still has about $10 million in salary cap space. He has the finances and the flexibility to take advantage if a situation presents itself.

“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t exploring if there’s any other opportunities via trade,” Yzerman said. “I’m always looking at ways to try and get better.”

Contact Helene St. James at 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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