Detroit Red Wings’ pursuit of Alex DeBrincat isn’t a magic fix. But it’s a step forward

Detroit Free Press

Somebody, at some point, has got to take a “big swing” around these parts, right? And no, I’m not talking about Cam Johnson, a fine basketball player who elected to re-sign with the Brooklyn Nets.

The forward is a solid defender and good shooter and won’t come close to moving the needle on his own. He isn’t that kind of player — the fifth best player on a team not named the “Dream Team” rarely is.

In another sport, Ottawa Senators forward (for now) Alex DeBrincat is closer to that kind of player. In fact, he’s the kind of scorer the Detroit Red Wings desperately need and, frankly, just don’t have. The two Wings who could score like DeBrincat does — Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana — are gone.

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Then again, neither put the puck in the net like DeBrincat has at his best. Now, you might argue that the Farmington Hills native played his most productive hockey on the same line with Patrick Kane when he was in Chicago, and the Wings don’t have anyone like Kane.

But Wings captain Dylan Larkin is still getting better, and it’s easy to imagine he’d be better still setting up someone like DeBrincat, which is why reports suggest the Senators and Red Wings have been talking about a possible trade for days … or weeks. It feels like that anyway, doesn’t it?

For several days now, information about a potential deal has leaked out, and no nugget was more tantalizing than the report that suggested DeBrincat wants to come home and suit up for the Wings.

The Wings have the cap space and the line space and, absolutely, the psychic space. The question is: Do they have the gut space?

Because taking a swing on a long-term, high-dollar deal is something Steve Yzerman hasn’t been comfortable doing just yet, and reports put DeBrincat’s contract demands at seven or eight years at $8 million or $9 million average annual value.

That’s a big commitment — a risk, certainly. And for a general manager who has preached patience for the past four years, who is still plenty comfortable taking the relatively conservative tactic of acquiring draft picks and young assets, dropping $70 million or so might be too much at this stage.

He has said several times he’d like to add scoring but can envision a world where he can’t. Getting DeBrincat, after all, isn’t just about money. Ottawa will want something in return, and Yzerman may not want to give up the players the Senators demand.

So far, Yzerman has signed three forwards (J.T. Compher, Daniel Sprong, and Christian Fischer), two defensemen (Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere) and two goaltenders (James Reimer and Alex Lyon).

All fill needs, as he said. None are consistent game-changers. Yzerman understands he has more work to do. A lot more work.

“I think the general consensus is, ‘Hey, the Red Wings need to score more,’” he told reporters Monday.

And?

“We need to keep the puck out of our net, we need to be better defensively, we’d like our special teams to be better. I’m counting on collectively, the entire group, that everybody chip in a little bit on offense, which will help us score more. Getting Robby Fabbri back healthy, Lucas Raymond a year older. J.T. Compher coming into the mix, chipping in some goals. Collectively, I expect us to improve a little bit.”

In other words, more scoring by committee, which has more or less been the plan for what’s starting to feel like eons.

Yzerman obviously isn’t finished trying to add a jolt of lightning to the “collective approach,” as evidenced by the reports of talks with Ottawa all week. And assuming the reports are true — that the Wings and Senators have been talking — then it’s safe to assume Yzerman is ready to take a bigger swing.

It’s time.

That some level of talks — and/or full-fledged negotiations — are happening is a sign that the next phase of the rebuild is finally here: Pushing for the playoffs.

The Wings haven’t made the postseason in seven seasons now, the longest drought in franchise history. Four Stanley Cups and a 25-year playoff streak surrounding those Cups obviously helped ease the pain of the current drought.

But seven years is a long time in a league where half the teams make the playoffs. And though head coach Derek Lalonde’s arrival helped reset the grace period a bit, the franchise can only acknowledge its need for a serious scorer for so long without seriously trying to go get one.

It looks like they are.

And if they don’t land him?

Then we’ll see who balked or who else stepped in; trades aren’t the purview of one team. As Yzerman has noted, he can’t control everything.

For now, though, he is listening and probably bargaining. That’s a step. Whatever happens, he believes his team will be better next season, even as he admits it’s not enough:

“Probably still not where we’d all like to be,” he said, “so we’ll continue in the offseason here, what, if anything, if it be through some more free agents that are still out there, or even look at potential trades.”

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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