During the 2022-23 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning will play their Atlantic Division foes 26 times, including four games against the Detroit Red Wings, which includes the scheduled final game of the regular season. The Red Wings have not made the playoffs since 2016, when they lost in the first round to the Lightning. This year, there is optimism in the Motor City that they can break that playoff drought this season.
Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman, who was also GM of the Lightning from 2010-2018, was very busy in the offseason. Andrew Copp, David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, Mark Pysyk, and Robert Hagg were all signed through free agency. Also, Ville Husso was acquired from the St. Louis Blues. The team that the Lightning will first face in December looks very different from the Red Wings squad that took the ice last season. The Red Wings also have a new coach in former long-time Lightning assistant coach Derek Lalonde.
All of the additions to the forward group will join the Red Wings’ top forward, Dylan Larkin. The seven-year veteran was on pace to top his career-best numbers from 2018-19 when he registered 32 goals and 41 assists to total 73 points in 76 games. However, he had core muscle surgery in April, ending his season early. The captain led the team with 31 goals and 69 points in 71 games. He has been skating with NHL players all summer and is expected to be fully healthy when the season starts.
The additions of Copp, Kubalik, and Perron give the Red Wings size and scoring to provide solid depth to their internal talent. In adding these players, Yzerman stated that his goal was “to have more depth up front that we can match up better, whether it’s strong offensive teams or strong defensive teams.” The addition of these players has made the Red Wings’ top nine much deeper than last season. Copp and Perron are versatile forwards, while Kubalik is a former 30-goal scorer for the Chicago Blackhawks. This depth will also help the talented 20-year-old forward Lucas Raymond.
Overall, the Red Wings’ forward group will provide much more of a challenge to contain than they had last season when the Lightning won three of their four contests. One of the areas that the new additions will help the Red Wings is on special teams. Last season, the Lightning dominated the power play in their three victories, going 8-14 in those games.
Chiarot, Maatta, and Pysyk give the Red Wings needed depth at this position, which will also benefit last year’s Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider. The 21-year-old led all rookie defensemen in assists (43) and points (50) and was second with seven goals. The addition of Chiarot will provide a big and physical blueliner to complement Seider, who some feel could contend for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman.
This unit will definitely provide more of a challenge to the Lightning forwards this season than they did in 2021-22. This depth will also help them with their penalty-kill unit, which the Lightning took advantage of last season. The emergence of Seider is also problematic and may provide the Lightning with the same headaches that Cale Makar did for the Colorado Avalanche in last year’s Stanley Cup Final. Overall, this is another much-improved unit for this up-and-coming team.
Last season, rookie Alex Nedeljkovic had a 20-24-9 record, a 3.31 goals-against average (GAA), and a .901 save percentage (SV%) for a team that gave little help in front of him. His season was a bit up and down, struggling somewhat in the second half of the season. He did have many bright spots in his play, finishing tied for the fifth-most shutouts in the league. Husso was brought in to provide some stability to the goaltending tandem that Greiss did not provide. The native of Finland played in 40 games for the Blues last season with a .256 GAA and a .919 SV%.
Along with the improved defense, this Red Wing tandem of goaltenders should provide a lot tougher challenge to score against for the Lightning this year. They have the luxury of being able to play both goaltenders and possibly giving more time to the goalie that really steps up in 2022-23. The biggest drawback to their success is that they combined for less than 150 career NHL games, and the Lightning may be able to capitalize on their lack of experience.
Overall, the Red Wings are not better than any team in the top four of the Atlantic Division. However, if either one of their two young goaltenders steps up, they may be able to make a serious run at a playoff spot. At the very least, they will be a much more difficult team for the Lightning and the rest of the league to take points off.
Jim Bay writes about the Tampa Bay Lightning for THW. A retired Special Education Teacher, Jim enjoys writing about hockey and all sports when he is not slashing his way around local golf courses. For interview requests or to provide content info, follow Jim on Twitter. (https://twitter.com/baysports007)