Red Wings fans have a lot to be excited about heading into the season.
The NHL Entry Draft and the first day of free agency were exciting times for Red Wings fans. Six proven quality full-time NHL players were added to the 2022-2023 roster with many more talented players filling the prospect pipeline. Clearly, the rebuild has reached a new stage. And this stage is the secret ingredient of the ‘Yzerplan‘ that raises the ceiling and the sustainability of the rebuild. This team will be improved this season and excellent for many years to come. And there are many key parts to recognize.
The Typical Rebuild
The typical stages of an NHL rebuild are well understood. First, the team is to get rid of the long-term contracts and underperforming veterans. Second, Gather as many draft picks as possible in order to stack the pipeline with the new generation. Third, take low-risk, short-term chances on reclamation projects (e.g., Fabri), salary cap casualties (e.g., Nedeljkovic), and players languishing in systems that do not fit their skillset (e.g., Vrana). Fourth, use salary cap space as an asset. Fifth, plug in young players as they are ready for the NHL. Sixth, develop young players into the core of the team. And finally, fill gaps in the roster via free agency. But this free agency period shows the Yzerman twist on the traditional rebuild.
The New Signings
Prior to the free agency signings, Edvinsson, Berggren, and Johansson were apparently NHL-ready and poised to plug into the team. Wallinder and Soderblom were not too far behind. But, there was a different idea circulating the Red Wings front office.
After using the first 48 hours of free agency to sign three quality NHL defensemen(Maatta, Chiarot, and Pysyk), and three quality NHL forwards(Copp, Kubalik, and Perron), it may have pushed the young players out of the October starting lineup.
None of the free agent signings are superstars, but all are solid contributors to a playoff team. This stage of the rebuild does not lend itself to a giant trade or signing (such as Klingberg, Tkachuk, or Kadri). The goal of this year’s free agency is not to make a splash with the signing of a superstar, but to unlock the secret ingredient to the Yzerman rebuild.
The Secret Ingredient
The secret ingredient to the Yzerplan is creating a culture of internal competition. Although the new signings improve the team immediately, competition within the team is the long-term purpose of this year’s free agent signing class. For the last 6 years, being an NHL-ready replacement-level player would have been enough to make the team. But to play for Steve Yzerman’s rebuilt Red Wings, it is not enough to be an NHL-ready player.
Young players need to compete against high-quality, playoff-team caliber NHL players to win a roster spot and ice time. This not only influences whether new faces are ready for the lineup, but pushes other young players who still need to prove that they are key pieces of a playoff team (that is, Rasmussen, Hronek, Zadina, Veleno, and Suter). The new culture even pushes the first-line players to continuously produce or be replaced with other strong players.
The bar has been raised for every training camp session, practice, and shift within a game. Every player is now driven to improve like never before because quality competition is present at every position. The culture of the team has changed dramatically for the better this summer. The message sent by signing this UFA class is that Yzerman’s sights are set on being more than a quality NHL team, but on building the competitive culture of a sustainably elite NHL team.