With the March 8, 2024 NHL trade deadline looming, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman will have some interesting decisions to make for an organization that is looking to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season. The team is currently sitting in the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference – with 58 points – after an up-and-down season of inconsistency. After a disastrous December that saw the club tumble down the standings, Detroit rebounded with its best January since the 2011-12 campaign, taking a possible 20 of 26 points from a murderer’s row of competition that included Toronto, Florida, Tampa Bay, and the defending Cup champs, Vegas. February has now become a very pivotal month for Detroit, and their general manager (GM) knows it. But how, or better yet, will he respond?
Last season’s back-to-back losses to the Ottawa Senators in late February showed the Red Wings’ legend that his team was not yet ready for a playoff push. The Senators dominated the Red Wings 12-3 on the scoreboard during the two games in the Canadian capital, and Yzerman decided to sell off pieces instead of going all in, but this season is starting to evolve into a different story. Bold moves were made to boost the offense with the additions of Alex Debrincat, Daniel Sprong, Patrick Kane, J.T. Compher, and Shayne Gostisbehere. The Red Wings are firing on all cylinders in the scoring department with 3.48 goals per game, good for fourth in the league. The defense? That’s another story. Detroit is getting hammered with pucks, giving up 32.3 shots per game – which is the seventh worst. But does it mean the team will be a buyer come early March?
It’s hard to say at this point, as Detroit will play twelve more games before the deadline, but everyone who watches hockey knows what department this team is struggling in. Breakdowns in their own end and being outmuscled on the ice are two major factors that continue to plague this club, and if the Red Wings plan on making a playoff push, they will need to be addressed. Goalie Alex Lyon has continued to exceed all expectations in the top role, but adding another goaltender wouldn’t be a surprise either, with the inconsistency of former starter Ville Husso and backup James Reimer. Still, optimism reigns supreme in Motown that Yzerman will look to add at the deadline. Here’s a look at three players I believe could be a valuable addition, both short and long-term for the team.
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Noah Hanifin: Left-Handed Defenseman, Calgary Flames
The 27-year-old is already an eight-year veteran who could provide some solid two-way play that this team is sorely lacking. He is quite talented, and you have to be to play in the league at 19, but the Boston native never appeared to live up to the high expectations that were once projected for him. The Calgary Flames have made it clear to the league that they are open for business as they shipped off star forward Elias Lindholm to the Vancouver Canucks just last week – a rare move between the two division rivals.
Noah Hanifin is a left-handed shot and starts on the Flames’ top power-play unit. He’s registered nine goals and 17 assists in 50 games this season, while also logging a plus-11. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound defenseman will be in high demand at the deadline and will most likely cost a few prospects plus some middle-round draft picks. He will be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and I don’t believe Yzerman will be looking for a short-term rental at this point in the process, but he’s a player I would gamble on if he could be signed to a long-term deal. Detroit would have to move money around, but it could benefit them in the long term as Hanifin could fit right in as a second-pairing defenseman.
Marcus Pettersson: Left-Handed Defenseman, Pittsburgh Penguins
The left-handed stay-at-home defenseman isn’t known for his offensive skills, but you can bet contending teams will be checking in with Pittsburgh Penguins GM Kyle Dubas at the deadline to acquire his services. At 6-foot-4, Marcus Pettersson fits Yzerman’s desired profile – a long, lengthy defenseman, but weighs in at a slender 176 pounds. Did I mention he is Swedish? He doesn’t shy away from contact and can be trusted to defend the opposing team’s top lines.
At 27 years old, he fits the team’s timeline and won’t be a free agent until after the 2025-26 season. He does have a no-trade clause, and Pittsburgh may still try for a playoff push, but this is exactly the kind of player the Red Wings need right now, and I don’t believe he would cost much more than a lower-end prospect and mid-round draft pick. I’m not sure that Yzerman is interested, but he should take a page out of his old friend’s book in Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland and “kick the tires.” Once again, money would have to be moved around.
Jakob Chychrun – Left-Handed Defenseman, Ottawa Senators
The Red Wings held the 16th overall pick in the 2016 Draft, and when it was their turn to select, many Detroit fans were clamoring for the 6-foot-2, 188-pound defenseman. But alas, former GM Holland decided to unload star forward Pavel Datsyuk’s hefty contract – a clear salary dump – in exchange for the Arizona Coyotes moving up three spots to Detroit’s position, where they happily selected Jakob Chychrun.
The Red Wings moved back to number 19 overall, selecting defenseman Dennis Cholowski, but also added a second-round pick in the deal that turned out to be Filip Hronek. The rest is history. Chychrun has massive boom-or-bust appeal as he has flashed brilliance on both ends of the ice at times, but also comes with some questionable knee issues that have required multiple surgeries in the past. When healthy he is a two-way defender who doesn’t shy away from contact and has more offensive prowess than both Hanifin and Pettersson combined. He, too, has a no-trade clause with a cap hit of $4.6 million through 2024-2026. He would be a major gamble for the organization, but one that could pay dividends if he stays healthy. Ottawa will be taking calls on him, without a doubt.
But would the Senators want to swing another blockbuster deal with their Atlantic division rivals once again? The club is in the midst of a disappointing season, sitting at the bottom of the division with 42 points in what was supposed to be a breakout year for the organization. If Yzerman is serious about accelerating this rebuild, Chychrun is a player with massive appeal. At 25, he fits Detroit’s timeline and is the type of player that the organization could have an interest in. But again, at what price? He’s the most talented of the three mentioned, but does anyone want to invest long-term in a guy who has had major knee injuries? I’m not sure I take that bet.
Time Will Tell
No one can predict what goes on in Yzerman’s head as he is well known to play out his thought process close to the vest. There is also no guarantee that the Red Wings won’t repeat their December performance in the month of February. That remains to be seen, but if the team can ride their January heater, it sure could make for some exciting trade deadline drama in Motown. These moves can also be risky, and a defenseman or two would have to be shipped out to make room on the roster, as well as the books. Please don’t forget, too, that Simon Edvinsson will need to play games as well towards the end of the season as he prepares for a full-time role for the 2024-25 season. Jonatan Berggren could also be moved for one of these possible assets as he continues to toil in Grand Rapids with the Griffins. The next three weeks will be very telling. Too bad Yzerman won’t be saying a word.