Wings GM Yzerman sees progress in his fourth year of rebuild: ‘It’s a slow process’

Detroit News

Detroit − Four years into his tenure as general manager of the Red Wings, Steve Yzerman sees progress.

The Wings won more games this season, improved statistically in the major categories, and were in the playoff chase for longer than they’ve been in recent seasons.

But the Wings, obviously, aren’t quite where Yzerman wants them to be yet.

“It’s gone OK,” said Yzerman on Friday at his season-ending press conference. The Wings finished their season Thursday with a 5-0 loss in Tampa, ending their season at 35-37-10.

“I would love to be further ahead in the process. I started out saying four years ago it’s going to take time and we’ll need to be patient and try to draft well and accumulate more draft picks. We’ve been able to accumulate draft picks and time will tell whether we’ve drafted well. But the reality is, it’s a slow process.

“I’d love to say we’re thrilled at how things have gone through four seasons. I’ve been pleased with some of the development of our draft prospects and others are taking longer or haven’t quite turned out to what we had hoped. But that’s OK.

“I’m not disappointed with where we’re at. I intend to stick with the process, the plan, and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to expedite the process.”

The Wings improved defensively, and the special teams improved significantly over last season. But Yzerman wants to see improvement in more areas next season, with offense and being more physical specific areas of need.

“We have to score more in general as a team,” Yzerman said. “I may or may not be able to address that (this off season). What I’m really hoping, and it might be incremental, but our younger players chipping in a little more and being able to do more.

“We really need to get better in every area. A more physical team, a more competitive team, and that doesn’t necessarily mean going to get someone to beat people up, but win tough battles, block shots, win faceoffs, all those little things make it seem more competitive.”

Yzerman was pleased with job done by first-year head coach Derek Lalonde and Lalonde’s staff.

“He’s an experienced guy, he’s coached a long time, a head coach for a long time, he’s been through a lot,” Yzerman said. “He handled it very well. He has a good assessment of our team. I was very pleased with the first year. He’s only going to get more comfortable and only going to get better.

“I’m pleased with the atmosphere around the team and the job the coaches did in preparing our team.”

The tone on social media might have become negative with the season-ending, five-game losing streak, and the 7-15-1 finish to the season after Yzerman dealt forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Jakub Vrana and Oskar Sundqvist and defenseman Filip Hronek at the trade deadline, coupled with season-ending injuries to Michael Rasmussen, Robby Fabbri and Filip Zadina.

But Yzerman felt the progress of many young players, the contributions of all five free agents signed last summer, and goaltending of Ville Husso were all positive ingredients to a season that was largely positive.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster for our fans, and I understand that, myself included,” Yzerman said. “There were a lot of good things this year. I look at the big picture and I’m confident we’re going in the right direction. I wish we were further ahead, every organization in our spot feels the same way. There were a lot of positive things and our younger guys are growing and playing well and they’re maturing.”

Yzerman touched on a variety of topics with the media:

On Husso, who had a superb first half but tailed off the final weeks: “Ville had a very good season. He played the most games he’s every played in the NHL (56). He’d been dealing with an injury and our plan was we weren’t sure if he was going to play again, and then the plan was to go out and have him play and physically he did fine.”

On whether forward Marcus Kasper and defenseman Simon Edvinsson can challenge for opening night roster spots: “They have to be ready to show they can play regularly. I don’t want players that age, in the early stage of their careers, to simply play minimal minutes. We’ll see what happens with our roster and in the pre-season. Are they the best players for the spots? Did they outplay the other guys vying for those spots?”

On how active the Wings will be in free agency: “I look at the group and there are players who would help us and I’d like to sign, but the issue is there are 31 other teams and list isn’t that long. I’ll be active but how much I’ll actually be able to accomplish, I don’t know. Last year there were a lot of players and big group of players available in free agency. There’s not as big a group for whatever reason.”

On the future of backup goalies Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg, both prospective unrestricted free agents: “Both could be part of the plan (returning). I’d like to sit down with both young men and talk about my thoughts on their seasons. Ultimately, collectively, our goaltending, our save percentage, our goals-against average which isn’t just an individual goaltender, we need to be better and improve on that. We have to be better as a team, we need to help them out.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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