The five dates that had the biggest impact on the Detroit Red Wings’ season

Detroit Free Press

TAMPA, Fla. — The team photo commemorating the 2022-23 Detroit Red Wings already has been snapped, arranged for convenience’s sake before the season closes. All that’s left to do is play Game 82.

The Wings (35-36-10) have a chance to finish with a .500 record Thursday when they take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, with a victory at least leaving a winning feeling going into the offseason. They won, 4-2, when they were at Amalie Arena back on Dec. 6, improving to 13-7-5 and stoking enthusiasm that this would be a better season than the previous six. But the Wings ultimately showed how far they still have to go to be among the elite teams in the NHL, missing the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

Before they enter another long and important offseason, here is a look back at five key dates that impacted the Wings.

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Oct. 15: Offense takes a hit

One of the key turning points came in the opening week, when Tyler Bertuzzi broke a hand in the second game and Jakub Vrana played his last game before being placed in the NHL and NHLPA players assistance program. The Wings were counting on those two for 30 goals apiece. Just like that, the loss of two top-six wingers dealt the depth took massive hit. Bertuzzi returned a month later, but his timing was off — and before he could regain it, he broke his other hand, sidelining him six weeks. Vrana — well, that was the beginning of the end of his time with the Wings. He was reinstated mid-December, but ended up on waivers and in the minors and, eventually, traded.

Dec. 8: Overwhelmed in the crease

Facing the Florida Panthers on the road, Alex Nedeljkovic allowed at least four goals for the fifth time in six starts. He too, ended up on waivers and in the minors. He has had a good stretch here to end the season, but his struggles early on forced the Wings to bring in another backup, Magnus Hellberg. Hellberg has made some stellar saves —and also let in goals that coach Derek Lalonde has been clear Hellberg should have stopped. The Wings have won 26 games with Ville Husso in net and only nine with either Hellberg or Nedeljkovic.

Feb. 27-28: Stormy weather

Players were happy to take advantage of an early start to the Christmas break when their Dec. 23 game at Ottawa was rescheduled to late February because of a winter storm. But oh, did the Wings ever get snowed under when they played those back-to-back games in Ottawa. They were routed, 6-2 and 6-1, utterly deflating the excitement they had created Feb. 23 when they beat the New York Rangers and, as Andrew Copp put it, “were above the cut line,” sitting in a wild-card spot. A 3-0 loss on Feb. 25 to the Lightning could be chalked up to a hot game by goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. But those ugly losses in Ottawa, watched in person by general manager Steve Yzerman, had repercussions.

March 3: Let’s make a deal

The day after the second Ottawa game, Yzerman traded top-four defenseman Filip Hronek to the Vancouver Canucks. The next day, Yzerman shipped Bertuzzi to the Boston Bruins. By the time the March 3 trade deadline passed, Yzerman had also moved Vrana (to St. Louis) and Oskar Sundqvist (to Minnesota). The overall yield, highlighted by two first-round picks and a second-round pick, will serve the rebuild well as draft capital, but the trades, especially Bertuzzi and Hronek, rippled through the locker room and the Wings lost eight of their next 11.

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April 2: The future is now

That was the day Marco Kasper, the No. 8 pick in 2022, made his debut against the Seattle Kraken at Little Caesars Arena. Simon Edvinsson, the No. 6 pick in 2021, had made his debut March 18, but having appeared in exhibition games with the Wings and then played with the Grand Rapids Griffins, there already was a sense of how Edvinsson would perform. It was a big deal to get a look at Kasper, who became the first Wings skater to debut at 18 since Martin Lapointe in 1991. Kasper only ended up playing the one game because he was still dealing with an injury dating to his time in Sweden — but his ability to gut it out and hold his own in that performance showed how tough he is. The appearance gave Kasper an idea of what it takes to play in the NHL, and gave the Wings an indication he will challenge for a job as soon as next season.

MAKING HIS MARCO: How 2022 first-round pick Marco Kasper looked in his debut with Detroit Red Wings

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

Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. 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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