Are the Red Wings Truly a Playoff-Caliber Team?

The Hockey Writers

As of November 30, the Detroit Red Wings are a playoff team. Their 12-7-3 record placed them fourth in the Atlantic Division. 

The Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-4 on Saturday night, bringing their record to 13-7-3. Oh, and they just signed Patrick Kane.

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American Thanksgiving has typically served as a barometer for playoff probability. The Red Wings held a playoff spot then, and still do. But does that matter? Let’s dive in and find out.

Thanksgiving Playoff Picture

Over the last decade, roughly 75 percent of teams holding a playoff spot on Thanksgiving reach the postseason. That’s the good news. The bad news? The Red Wings were part of the other 25 percent last year.

Magnus Hellberg Detroit Red Wings
The 2022-23 Detroit Red Wings were a flawed team that started hot. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, that’s correct. Through the first 20 games of the 2022-23 season, the Red Wings held a 11-5-4 record and one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. And as we all know, Detroit did not reach the postseason in 2023.

Will this year be different? Detroit’s .614 points percentage through November ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference and 10th overall in the NHL. In terms of strength of schedule, Tankathon has the Red Wings in the middle of the pack – which, I suppose, is a good thing given the relative strength of the Atlantic Division.

From a standings perspective, the Red Wings are in good shape. High-level probability is on their side. But what does the data say on a more granular level? Let’s find out.


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2023-24 Red Wings vs. Past Playoff Teams

Setting aside Detroit’s place in the standings, I wanted to see how the Red Wings stacked up against past playoff teams to truly gauge their postseason odds. So I selected team-level key performance indicators and compared them to playoff teams from the last three years.

Last year, these numbers did not view the Red Wings favorably. Here’s how this season’s five-on-five numbers look through November:

Category Performance Rank (Out of 49)

Points Percentage .614 36th

xGF/60 2.41 36th

xGA/60 2.67 46th

HDCF/60 9.56 45th

HDCA/60 10.81 28th

When I conducted this analysis last year, the Red Wings were at the bottom of the barrel. They were worse off than the eight additional teams that joined the top 16 in the 2020 COVID-19 playoff bubble.

This year, though, paints a slightly rosier picture. Apart from xGA/60 and HDCF/60, the Red Wings are a middle-of-the-pack playoff team – and that is sufficient. You don’t need to be the top team to make noise – the 2023 Florida Panthers are a prime example of that.

Related: Red Wings Notebook: 7 Defensemen, Goalie Trade Targets & More

From a statistical standpoint, the Red Wings are in good shape. There’s certainly room for improvement, though. In-zone defensive play and generating more offense at even strength are key areas to focus on as the season progresses. Plus, it would probably be a good thing for xGF/60 and HDCF/60 to be higher than xGA/60 and HDCA/60, respectively.

Verdict: Playoff Contenders or Pretenders

At the moment, the Red Wings are playoff contenders. They have performed well so far and possess one of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. They also stack up well statistically.

That said, there’s still plenty of hockey left to play. Over the next 59 games, the Red Wings need to prove they belong in the postseason. 

It’s been eight years since Detroit reached the playoffs. Dylan Larkin was a rookie then, and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg were still on the team. This year’s team could be the one to finally end the drought.

Stats courtesy of NHL.com and Natural Stat Trick.

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