When asked where the Detroit Red Wings need to improve this offseason, general manager Steve Yzerman responded rather bluntly.
“We really need to get better in every area.”
Though the Red Wings are heading in the right direction, there’s more work to be done. A few pieces are still needed to complete the puzzle.
Let’s dig into Yzerman’s comment a bit. Every area needs to improve, but what specifically is needed?
To answer this, I used Detroit’s organizational depth as a starting point. Then, I added in a few variables like last year’s production, age curves, contract statuses, and the impact of another year under the same coaching staff to get a better grasp of what the Red Wings already have and, ultimately, what’s still needed. Finally, I ranked Detroit’s priorities based on their potential value heading into next season.
Here’s what my research produced.
Red Wings’ No. 6 Priority: Physical/Energy Forward
Rationale: Yzerman said so. “We gotta be a more physical team and a more competitive team,” noted Detroit’s GM. “That doesn’t mean I gotta go out and get some 6-foot-6, 250-pounder to go out and beat people up. You have to win puck battles, block shots, win face-offs and all those little things make a team more competitive.”
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Potential Targets: RW Austin Watson, RW Jesper Fast, RW Garnet Hathaway.
Analysis: Detroit’s playoff push ended when they got pushed around by the Ottawa Senators just before the trade deadline. So why not steal one of their chief antagonists? Watson plays physical and was a critical member of Ottawa’s penalty kill last season. His 8.24 xGA/60 while shorthanded put him in the same tier as Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, and Joel Eriksson Ek.
Similarly, Garnet Hathaway and Jesper Fast could provide a physical element in the bottom six. Both have produced positive possession numbers the last couple seasons, play with an edge, and can kill penalties.
Overall, this role is a “nice to have” and is more or less an Adam Erne replacement. The Red Wings should not spend a lot here.
Red Wings’ No. 5 Priority: AHL Depth
Rationale: The Grand Rapids Griffins have several openings and it would be wise to insulate Detroit’s top prospects with a few AHL vets who can push toward a meaningful playoff berth.
Potential Targets: RW Riley Barber, RD Jeremie Biakabutuka, RW Mitchell Chaffee, G Zach Fucale, RD Josh Jacobs, LW Fredrik Karlstrom, C Danny O’Regan, C Matthew Phillips, RW Malte Stromwall.
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Analysis: Overall, the Griffins need a few forwards and at least one goalie to round out their roster. Barber, Phillips, and Chaffee are experienced AHLers who could fill a tweener role similar to Matt Luff and Taro Hirose. They should also consider signing a few young players—like Biakabutuka—to AHL contracts to fight for depth roles.
In addition, bringing in a goalie like Fucale would be great for Sebastian Cossa’s development, provided Cossa graduates to the AHL next season. Fucale is a former high draft pick who could mentor Detroit’s goalie-of-the-future and split responsibilities as the 1B.
Red Wings’ No. 4 Priority: Right Shot Center
Rationale: Besides Austin Czarnik, Detroit has no right-handed centers under contract.
Potential Targets: C Nick Bjugstad, C Luke Glendening.
Analysis: 45.08 percent – the combined faceoff percentage for Detroit’s centers while shorthanded. When teams go on the power play, they get to choose which side of the ice the faceoff takes place on. And against the Red Wings, it was often to the goaltender’s right, where Detroit’s left-handed centers were on their weak side.
Bjugstad and Glendening are right-handed centers who kill penalties. Both can be had for a minimal cost and play in the bottom six.
Red Wings’ No. 3 Priority: Backup Goalie
Rationale: Ville Husso and Sebastian Cossa are the only goalies under contract, and Cossa isn’t ready for NHL action yet.
Potential Targets: G Adin Hill, G Joonas Korpisalo, G Mackenzie Blackwood, G Ilya Samsonov, G Jack Campbell.
Analysis: The Red Wings need more from their backup goaltender. Despite a few hot starts last season, Alex Nedeljkovic and Magnus Hellberg combined for a .890 save percentage.
Hill and Korpisalo are pending free agents and could be signed to two- or three-year deals and around $3 million per season. Both have a history of performing well behind shaky defenses, too, with Hill being the best option of all the goalies listed here.
Blackwood most definitely will be non-tendered by the New Jersey Devils after the emergence of Akira Schmid. It’s possible that Samsonov could be non-tendered as well, especially if Toronto wants a facelift this offseason. Blackwood would be more affordable than Samsonov, but the latter could be a perfect 1B complement for Husso.
And finally, the Edmonton Oilers may make Campbell a salary cap casualty to reallocate their spending elsewhere. He’d be a great backup to Husso and the Red Wings have the cap space to afford him. That said, this is only a viable option if the Oilers offer the Red Wings a sweetener to take Campbell’s contract off their hands – Detroit should not be paying to acquire the veteran netminder.
Red Wings’ No. 2 Priority: Right Shot Defense
Rationale: Yzerman prefers left-right defensive pairings and Moritz Seider is the only right defenseman under contract at the NHL level.
Potential Targets: RD Matt Roy, RD Damon Severson, RD Matt Dumba, RD Chris Tanev.
Analysis: The Red Wings can get away with playing Ben Chiarot or Albert Johansson on the right side, but preferably on the third pair. They need a right-handed blueliner for the second defensive pairing, though.
Roy is my top target. The Los Angeles Kings need to move a right defenseman or two – Detroit should be all over this. His 11.5 goals-above replacement (according to Evolving-Hockey’s model) would have topped all Red Wings defenders last season.
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Severson and Dumba would be adequate free agent additions, but will likely command inflated salaries due to the lack of quality right-handed rearguards hitting the open market this year. Tanev might be made available via trade if the Calgary Flames want to blow things up.
Red Wings’ No. 1 Priority: Top-Six Scoring Forward
Rationale: Detroit’s 2.22 xGF/60 at five-on-five ranked 31st in the NHL and was a 5.13 percent decrease from their 2021-22 output.
Potential Targets: LW Alex DeBrincat, RW Vladimir Tarasenko, LW Tyler Bertuzzi, RW Tyler Toffoli.
Analysis: The Red Wings need more goal-scorers, plain and simple. They truly struggled to produce quality chances at five-on-five.
Tarasenko and Bertuzzi represent the top free agent options when it comes to goal-scoring, top-six forwards. Perhaps Tarasenko will settle for a shorter deal with a higher AAV. Bertuzzi, on the other hand, reportedly requested seven-plus years when negotiating with the Red Wings. Unless he’s willing to come down to five years, a reunion isn’t going to happen.
If the Red Wings want to upgrade their forwards via a trade, DeBrincat and Toffoli would fit in nicely. A former 40-goal scorer, DeBrincat had a down year in Ottawa and may want a change of scenery. Toffoli is a clutch playoff performer who potted 34 goals with the Flames. Similar to Tanev, the 31-year-old winger could be dealt to create cap space – he’s entering the final year of his $4.25 AAV contract.
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Yzerman has a lot on his plate this offseason. From goal-scorers to depth players, the Red Wings need to bring in players from outside the organization to get over the hump.
All of these priorities are attainable, though. Landing a top-six forward will be difficult, but it’s possible. The other roles – there are options out there. It will take some work, but the Red Wings have a tremendous opportunity ahead of them this offseason to build a playoff-contending roster.
Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, Evolving-Hockey, and CapFriendly.