Steve Yzerman got it right: New additions stoke Detroit Red Wings’ early success

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Red Wings are accomplishing what they came into the season wanting to: Prove general manager Steve Yzerman right.

All the new players their GM added during the summer have factored into the 2-0-1 start, which next will be tested Friday at the Chicago Blackhawks. Yzerman added players at every position: Goaltender Ville Husso, who had a shutout in the season opener; defensemen Ben Chiarot, Olli Määttä and Robert Hägg, who have helped stabilize the back end; and forwards David Perron, Andrew Copp and Dominik Kubalik, who have helped the Wings outscore their foes, 12-7.

“You look at someone like Copp, someone like Chiarot — Steve signed them with a purpose on improving our team defense,” coach Derek Lalonde said. “They’ve done that. It draws everyone else into the fight. Huge buy-in. Everyone  has found a role in the early parts.

“They’ve been huge additions.”

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Perron scored twice in Monday’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings and has three goals on the season. His second against the Kings came during a power play. That’s what he was signed to do: Help the Wings be effective with a man advantage, something they have struggled to do the last three seasons.

“We finally get one when it matters,” Dylan Larkin said. “That attitude where we have a guy like DP coming over the boards when it matters, when we need a goal — that was significant.”

Perron, who won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019, noted the Wings are eager to keep getting better.

“I just loving having the feeling coming to the rink, knowing we are not satisfied,” Perron said. “We know we can get better. We’ve got a good start, and we’re looking at how can we keep building this thing.”

Chiarot is another veteran who provides leadership as part of his attributes.

“I think all the new guys have been around the league for a while,” he said. “Coming to a young team that is still kind of establishing a culture and a way of doing things — being able to step in and help with that has made it easier for us to step in and be comfortable right away.

“It’s good for everyone to get off on the right foot and feeling good about their game. We feel good about our game as a team.”

From the day he was signed, Chiarot has talked about what it means when someone of Yzerman’s stature wants a player on his team. Chiarot and Perron are the type of veterans contenders love — experienced, dependable leaders. That they wanted to come to Detroit means something to the Wings.

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“I think there’s a little bit of, as a free agent, you choose to sign here in the middle of trying to build something, you know what you signed up for,” Lalonde said. “So there’s a little will in that. I think that they’ve accepted that challenge, or reality of why they chose to come here, and that’s what they are trying to do. They are helping us along with that process.”

Three games do not a season make, of course, but there are clear signs that the biggest change Yzerman made — installing Lalonde as head coach — was what the Wings needed. He has instilled a simple system emphasizing being on top of plays. Improving team defense has led to improved team offense. Moritz Seider and Filip Hronek are offensive-type defenseman, but Määttä, who is more of a defensive d-man, has thrived, leading team defensemen with four points.

“I just think it’s part of us playing on our toes,” Lalonde said. “Sometimes it’s just supporting it and being up in the play. That’s part of our structure. Simple is predictable. He’s helping us along with our offense.”

The Wings are only one week into a six-month grind, but starting the way they have reinforces the enthusiasm with which they embraced the fresh start offered by Lalonde. Seeing playing the right way pay off with five points in three games is a nice change from hearing that playing a certain way should eventually pay off.

“We’ve dealt with that a lot here,” Larkin said. “That message has been sent to us. It’s hard to listen to, it’s hard to live that when things aren’t going your way. You’re working as hard as you can but the results aren’t coming. We’ve gotten some results here. But we are going to have to find more of our identity and who we are and how we are going to play in a month and in two months.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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