Detroit — A new coaching staff, many new faces in the lineup, and expected progress from the holdovers who are a year older and more experienced.
That’s the Red Wings as they prepare Thursday for the first practice of training camp, and it all blends into an outlook that is more promising than it’s been recently.
In his state-of-the-team address Wednesday, general manager Steve Yzerman expressed optimism heading into training camp that this roster should be competitive.
“We’ve made several changes; we signed some free agents in the offseason, with the idea it would improve our team,” Yzerman said. “We’re hopeful our young players continue to take a step forward, and again, with the hope of becoming a better hockey team.”
No doubt, it’s a different-looking Red Wings team.
Start behind the bench, where new head coach Derek Lalonde takes over. Lalonde has been a head coach on every level but the NHL, as he takes over coaching duties for Jeff Blashill, who was not retained after missing the playoffs for six consecutive seasons.
Then, on the ice, Yzerman was aggressive in the offseason roster reconstruction, acquiring goaltender Ville Husso in a trade, and signing free-agent forwards Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, and defensemen Ben Chiarot, Olli Maatta, Mark Pysyk and Robert Hagg.
The numerous changes could necessitate some time for everyone to familiarize themselves with each other.
“I believe we’ll be a better hockey team — I expect us to be,” Yzerman said. “Having said that, with a lot of changes, it could take some time to settle in, including the coaching staff. It could take some time to get everyone familiar with one another, for the coaches to really understand and know the players and how to best utilize them and get the most out of them.”
Still, with the personnel changes, the continued development of young standouts such as Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, continued improvement from young veterans such as forwards Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana, and defenseman Filip Hronek and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, this does look like an improved roster.
Yzerman, cautiously, expects improvement that should result in a better look in the standings.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Yzerman said. “I expect us to be a better hockey team and I hope that translates to more wins.”
To get to where Yzerman wants the Wings to be, they must improve defensively and on special teams.
The Wings were ranked 31st of 32 teams defensively (both goals-against average and goals allowed) and ranked 26th on the power play and last on the penalty kill.
Those departments need to improve significantly for the Wings to become a winning team.
“Hopefully, the players we brought in that play those positions improve our team, and then, collectively, the whole mindset of the team has to change a little bit,” Yzerman said. “It’s not like we’re not going to try to score, but there is a certain responsibility for all players when they’re on the ice, in the back of their minds, of regardless where the puck is, to be on the right side of the puck and sometimes the right side of the puck is defensively.”
Yzerman has kept in touch with players during the summer and sensed an “excitement” from the acquisition of new players. Yzerman also feels the competition for ice time will strengthen the lineup collectively.
“What is important is they recognize there is some competition not only for jobs but ice time, and I believe that competition is really healthy and will push guys to perform,” Yzerman said. “I believe good athletes, mentally strong guys, really enjoy that challenge. They recognize that ‘I have to perform here or I might lose my spot in the lineup,’ and that goes as well to Grand Rapids (minor-league affiliate), as we’ve got some depth in a lot of positions now.
“Hopefully, that translates to us being a better team as well.”
Seider and Raymond were rookies who had a tremendous, positive impact on the Wings last season. This season, forwards Jonatan Berggren and Elmer Soderblom and defensemen Simon Edvinsson, Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro are some faces who could make similar positive impressions at the NHL level at some point.
That, too, would just make the Wings better on top of all the veteran additions.
“Gradually, we’re seeing some of these younger guys move into the lineup and have an impact,” Yzerman said. “We’re seeing some progress, I believe, in the way we’re doing it and I think we’ll improve. I’m hopeful we’re a better team this year, and I say that very cautiously because we all make these moves with the idea to be better, and sometimes it’s not a linear path.
“But I expect us to be better, and I’m optimistic and encouraged to see younger players moving into our lineup and playing a bigger role.”