Derek Lalonde: Detroit Red Wings went from ‘flying colors’ to not tough enough

Detroit Free Press

Derek Lalonde’s message in his end-of-season availability matched what he said when it began: The Detroit Red Wings weren’t good enough.

“I will give this group credit,” Lalonde said Friday afternoon, the day after the Wings finished the 2022-23 season with a 35-37-10 record. “I did not see this as a playoff team — where our roster was, stacked up against our division, our conference, I did not feel like it was a playoff team. But this group thought they could get there.”

When the Wings started the season on a five-game point streak, Lalonde said he thought the group was overachieving. But in many ways, it was February that showed the best — and the weakest — about the Wings.

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That was the month they won seven of eight games to move into a wild card spot on the 23rd — at which point, Lalonde joked would have looked like a Jack Adams candidate. But then came the week where, on Monday the Wings lost, 6-2, to the Ottawa Senators; on Tuesday, 6-1, again to the Senators — and then March arrived, and on Wednesday, they lost Filip Hronek to a trade; on Thursday, Tyler Bertuzzi, and on Friday, Jakub Vrana and Oskar Sundqvist.

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“That’s exactly why it’s tough to judge the whole thing, because if you were to ask me then, it would have been flying colors,” Lalonde said. “We were in the playoffs, we had games in hand. I’d probably be spending my coach of the year bonus already, on some trip somewhere. So that’s exactly my point that it’s hard. At that point, awesome. Our guys were playing the right way, Ville (Husso) was playing like a No. 1 goalie, our special teams were clicking. We were at a pinnacle. I think that is a huge credit to the guys, I do feel in some ways, it was probably a little overachievement for us, probably not a true indicator of the entire season.

“On the reverse end, what happened here in the last five, six weeks, certainly is not an indicator. Probably the reality is somewhere in between. We are probably exactly where we belong, and that’s not playing on Monday or Tuesday.”

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Those two losses to the Senators were such a blemish on the Wings. It wasn’t that the games changed what general manager Steve Yzerman was going to do — there was no common ground on contract talks with Bertuzzi, and to risk losing him to free agency for nothing would have been devastating. Hronek yielded a first-round and a second-round pick. But those two games did expose a lack of toughness.

“I think they just imposed their game on us more than we did our game,” Lalonde said. “I think in both situations, they got up, and they were able to try to play a physical game with us, and we didn’t have much pushback at the time.

“That’s an area that needs to be improved. I think it can be learned within the group. There were times we had good pushback, times we were more engaged, and it let to a better performance. But there were times we got pushed around and that was the reality of the Ottawa games. You don’t need to fight, but you do need to stick up for teammates and push back. This group at times did that.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. 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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