The 2022-23 season is poised to be something of a turning point for the Detroit Red Wings. Since Steve Yzerman took over as general manager (GM) back in the Spring of 2019, the team has languished at the bottom of the standings. This has allowed them to build up one of the NHL’s top prospect pools, but now the focus really seems to have shifted towards adding more W’s to the team’s record.
As is the case with many times of transition, there are numerous questions lingering in the air that the Red Wings will seek to address at some point this season. With training camp opening up in a matter of weeks, it’s time to take stock of these questions and look at how the answers will affect the Red Wings’ season.
1. How Will the Red Wings Look Under Lalonde?
For the first time since the Obama presidency, the Red Wings have a new head coach. Jeff Blashill is out, and former Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde is in. Lalonde is Yzerman’s first head coach hire as GM of the Red Wings, and with all the talent added to the roster this offseason, the expectation is that the new bench boss is going to get more out of this team than his predecessor was able to.
With a new head coach in town comes a certain amount of uncertainty that the Red Wings haven’t had in this decade. This is Lalonde’s first go at being a head coach in the NHL. While he built up an impressive resume while coaching in the United States Hockey League, the ECHL, and the American Hockey League (AHL), his real claim to fame is his time as an assistant on Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. That begs the question: did the Red Wings hire the next Cooper, or will Lalonde handle things differently than the longest-tenured coach in the NHL?
On top of that, it will also be interesting to see how Lalonde envisions the lineup. Will last season’s top line of Tyler Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond stay together, or will the coach shake things up and try a different combination at the top of the lineup? Furthermore, how different will Lalonde’s systems be from Blashill’s, and what kind of adjustment period are we looking at while the team tries to form a new identity?
The answers to these questions may be the most crucial when trying to determine how the Red Wings’ season will play out.
2. Will Nedeljkovic & Husso Form an Effective Duo?
The Red Wings enter the 2022-23 season with quite possibly their most exciting goaltending tandem since Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood shared the crease from 2006 to 2008. Alex Nedeljkovic returns after enduring an up-and-down season that mirrored the Red Wings’ season as a whole. Joining him this season is 27-year-old Ville Husso, who Yzerman acquired from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for the 73rd pick of the 2022 draft.
The Red Wings’ overall team save-percentage (SV%) was south of .900 last season; Nedeljkovic led the team with a .901 SV%. The team’s inability to get saves on a consistent basis was a big reason why the wheels fell off in the second half of the season. If Nedeljkovic and Husso, together, can give Detroit even just average goaltending this season, that’s going to help propel this team forward. If they can’t, Nedeljkovic, who is in the final season of his contract, could find his name popping up in trade rumors as the calendar flips to 2023.
3. Will Filip Zadina Have a Breakout Season?
When Filip Zadina signed his new three-year deal late last month, the narrative basically wrote itself. Despite receiving a deal with some term on it, the former sixth overall pick may have just one more season to prove he belongs in Detroit as part of the Red Wings’ rebuild. In order to do that, the 22-year-old needs to have the breakout season that everyone has been waiting for.
Now to be clear, a breakout season for Zadina does not necessarily mean leading the team in goals or points. Instead, it means that he’s visible and doing good things on the ice more often than not. He should produce on a fairly regular basis, and if he can end the season with somewhere around 20 goals and 40 points, that will be a big step forward from where he was in 2021-22.
The Red Wings cannot afford to rely on Larkin, Raymond and Jakub Vrana for all of their offense; they need guys like Zadina to step up and provide the team with legitimate scoring depth if they’re going to become a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference.
4. How Many Rookies Will Be in the Red Wings’ Lineup?
The 2021-22 season was one of the Red Wings’ most fun in recent memory due, in large part, to the influx of rookies on the team’s roster. Moritz Seider, Nedeljkovic, Raymond, and Joe Veleno were all considered rookies last season, and Seider ended up walking away with the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. The “Yzerplan” has never been more evident than it was last season.
Entering this season, there are really only two rookies/prospects that seem like they have a legitimate shot at making the Red Wings’ roster: Simon Edvinsson and Jonatan Berggren. But with all of the team’s free agent signings and returning players, it’s not even a guarantee that either of those players will be in Detroit for their Opening Night game against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 14. Both players will need excellent training camps to make it happen, but even then it seems like Edvinsson is the only one with a clear path to the roster.
Beyond those two players, the Red Wings should have a handful of other prospects that are knocking on the NHL’s door throughout this season. Even if they start the season in the AHL, you can expect to hear the names Albert Johansson, Donovan Sebrango, and Elmer Söderblom (among others) throughout the year as Detroit inevitably has to call players up due to injuries, sicknesses, etc. It won’t happen right away, but it shouldn’t be too surprising if the Red Wings’ lineup features up to five rookies at some point in the season.
For a team that is building for the future, that is exactly what you hope to see.
5. Will Larkin & Bertuzzi Sign Extensions?
This is perhaps the biggest question that is still hanging over the team as training camp approaches. Both Larkin, the team’s captain, and Bertuzzi are in the final year of their respective contracts. They make up two-thirds of the team’s aforementioned top line from last season, and they were the team’s top-two point-getters, with Larkin leading the way with 69 and Bertuzzi following up with 62.
Larkin, who switched agencies this offseason in anticipation of working out a new deal, is the team’s top center and longest-tenured player on the roster. Most projections have him signing an eight-year deal with an average annual value of around $8 million. As of July 13, a no-trade clause in the final year of his current contract kicked in, meaning that Detroit cannot move him without his consent. If Larkin and the Red Wings get deep into the season without a new deal worked out, it will be very interesting to see how Yzerman handles the 26-year-old forward.
For what it’s worth, this isn’t uncharted territory for Yzerman. Back in 2016 when he was the GM of the Lightning, Steven Stamkos was just days away from becoming an unrestricted free agent before the two sides agreed on an eight-year deal. While Red Wings fans would certainly prefer to see their captain sign a lot sooner than Stamkos did, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Larkin waits until the last minute to re-sign with the team that drafted him back in 2014.
As for Bertuzzi, the 27-year-old’s name has already popped up in numerous trade rumors going back to last season. As a pending free agent that plays a game tailor-made for the playoffs, he may very well be Detroit’s best trading asset when the trade deadline comes around in 2023. However, the scrappy forward is one of the most popular players in the locker room and among fans. Should Yzerman move on from Bertuzzi, it would undoubtedly be an unpopular decision across “Hockeytown”.
In his two previous contract negotiations with Yzerman, the two parties went short-term both times, including an arbitration-awarded one-year deal in 2020. To this point, Bertuzzi is the only player Yzerman has had to go to arbitration with since joining the Red Wings as GM. Given this history as well as the style that Bertuzzi plays, it will be very interesting to see if the two sides can agree on an extension, and for how long and how much.
Larkin and Bertuzzi aren’t the Red Wings’ only pending free agents, but they are easily the team’s biggest. What happens with them between now and the start of the 2023 free agency period will go a long way towards shaping the Red Wings’ future.
Answers Are Just Around the Corner
Some of these questions won’t get answers until later in the season. Others will receive answers almost right away. Now that the calendar has flipped to September, there is palpable anticipation in the air as fans (and writers) are excited to start finding the answers to questions like these. It goes without saying, but training camp cannot get here soon enough.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.