5 Reasons This Red Wings Season Is Already a Success

The Hockey Writers

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that March has been a disappointing month for the Detroit Red Wings. On February 29, they sat comfortably in the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, with a points percentage of .600%. Fans were getting excited about the possibility of watching Detroit in a playoff hockey game for the first time in eight years.

And then, March happened. 

Through 14 games in the month of March, the Red Wings had a 3-9-2 record (.286 points %) and have fallen out of a playoff spot entirely. Hope is still very much alive, with the Philadelphia Flyers experiencing a similarly dismal stretch of play that has them just two points ahead of Detroit for the second wild-card spot, with the Red Wings having a game in-hand.

Simon Edvinsson Detroit Red Wings
Simon Edvinsson, Detroit Red Wings (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Detroit’s playoff chances are a whole lot murkier than they were a month ago – or even a week ago – but there’s still a real chance they make their first postseason appearance in the post-Henrik Zetterberg era. 

While the playoffs are obviously the biggest goal of the players on the ice in a given season, I believe that this year will be remembered as a successful season regardless of the team’s playoff outcome. Let’s go over five of the biggest reasons this season has been so positive despite the chance the team could miss the playoffs entirely.

1. This Year was Never “Playoffs or Bust”

The expressed goal of the team this season was to continue moving forward. Team management and the coaching staff were careful to say that the goal wasn’t simply to make the playoffs, but to develop and grow into the foundation of a team that can compete for a playoff spot year in and year out. 

Related: 2024 NHL Draft Rankings – Horn’s Top 100 for February

In 2022-23, the Red Wings had their best season-long record since they made the playoffs back in 2015-16, and they are set to surpass their point total from last year any day now. Detroit’s shootout loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday gave them 80 points in the standings, matching their total from last season despite having eight games remaining.

Detroit’s biggest goal was truly to be playing games that matter into the Spring. While they haven’t gone the best, it’s hard to argue that the Red Wings have absolutely succeeded in playing high-leverage games later into the season than we’ve seen from them in years. There were a lot of questions about if Detroit could hang with other Atlantic Division teams on the rise like the Buffalo Sabres and the Senators, and the Red Wings answered those questions firmly by sitting comfortably above both teams in the standings for the vast majority of this season.

Obviously, a playoff berth would still be huge for this team and fanbase, but don’t act like these players and coaches all deserve the chop if they don’t make the postseason. 

2. Development of Players in the NHL

One of the biggest stories out of Detroit this year has been the development of Lucas Raymond, who has calmed a lot of nerves this year by bumping his sophomore slump that saw him score just 45 points last season. 

With eight games remaining, Raymond has already set new career highs in goals (24) and points (60), and was the heartbeat of the team during the roughest stretch they faced in March when captain Dylan Larkin was out injured. Raymond has been a real bright spot of late, and looks to be developing into a serious top-line caliber winger who could realistically contend for 70-80 points next season.

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Joe Veleno has also developed nicely this season, carving out a solid, full-time role in Detroit despite the signings of Andrew Copp and JT Compher over the past two seasons. Veleno has also set new career-highs in goals (11) and points (26) so far this season.

Moritz Seider is a bit of a different story, with a lot of numbers and rationalizations needed to explain it all so I’ll go with the simple version. Seider has acquitted himself well this year considering he’s faced the most difficult deployment of any player in the NHL by a significant margin.

His underlying numbers aren’t great, a reflection of the devastatingly difficult competition he regularly faces, and both he and the team might be better served by reducing that difficulty a bit. 

3. The Grand Rapids Griffins are Loaded With Talent

When the Red Wings traded away both Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek last season, it became clear that the team identified their competitive window. They recognized that they weren’t going to contend with guys like Bertuzzi, Larkin, or even going back to someone like Anthony Mantha, in their prime years. That core was mostly shipped out, and the new core is taking shape in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

While many fans in Hockey Town have correctly pointed out that the Red Wings would’ve been better with Simon Edvinsson in the lineup this year, his development is paramount for this franchise and I appreciate that they value giving Edvinsson a chance to win and to gel with his future NHL teammates in the AHL. He has been one of the AHL’s best defenders over the course of the season, and looks like a lock for Detroit’s top-four in the near future.

Marco Kasper Grand Rapids Griffins
Marco Kasper, Grand Rapids Griffins (Jonathan Kozub / Manitoba Moose)

Carter Mazur has been excellent in Grand Rapids so far, and is still looking like a potential spark-plug, middle-six winger type of player for Detroit. 2022 first rounder Marco Kasper had a very slow start to his first season in North America, but has since turned on the jets and is now fourth in league scoring among U20 players, just behind guys like Joakim Kemell and Jiri Kulich.

Lastly, I want to give a shoutout to Sebastian Cossa, who has been absolutely dynamite for the Griffins this season. Expectations have been high for him ever since Detroit passed on Jesper Wallstedt in favor of the 6-foot-5 Canadian, and he is finally making believers out of Red Wings fans. At the time of writing he has a 17-7-9 record and is currently running on a Griffins franchise record 17-game point streak (11-0-6 record). 

Related: Berkly Catton – 2024 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

Let me reiterate. Cossa hasn’t lost in a game in regulation in over two-and-a-half months! January 12 was his last regulation loss and with just four games remaining, there’s a chance he carries this streak into next season. 

The youngsters just keep coming too, with 2023 first-rounders Axel Sandin-Pellikka and Nate Danielson likely to join the Griffins in either of the next two seasons as well. This group will be the core of the next great Detroit Red Wings teams so it’s great to see the level of success coming out of Grand Rapids this season.

4. Alex DeBrincat Has More to Give 

Detroit bought a bit low on Alex DeBrincat last Summer, with the biggest trade piece being Boston’s 2024 1st rounder that is almost certainly going to be 25th overall at absolute best. That was a good deal for the Red Wings considering DeBrincat’s ability to put up goals and the hope was that he could bounce back this year after a down year in Ottawa. 

While I think it’s fair to say he’s had a marginal bounce back year, with a similar scoring rate in a slightly smaller role, there’s still a lot of room for DeBrincat to regress to his true talent level as a 30-40 goal scorer. Consecutive seasons with a significantly lower shooting percentage and goal total than his prior NHL experience is cause for some minor worry, but is by no means proof that he can’t be one of the NHL’s best goal scorers once again.

Over the past two seasons, DeBrincat carries a total shooting percentage of 10.9%, which is pretty solid. However, in his five seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks he had a total shooting percentage of 15.5% which is an elite mark (stats via. HockeyReference). He is still scoring on just over 14% of his career shots, but there’s a lot more evidence pointing to him being a 14%+ shooter than him being a 10-11% shooter.

Alex DeBrincat Detroit Red Wings
Alex DeBrincat, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We as hockey fans tend to forget the human side of the sport we love, where moving across an international border to a brand new city, and then moving back again 12 months later is relatively common. However, that is a lot to take on for anyone, let alone someone welcoming a baby into their family as the DeBrincat’s have. I don’t think his days as a 30+ goal scorer are over by any means and I think he’s a prime candidate to improve next season.

5. Detroit’s Cap Situation is Still Really Positive  

While it may feel like the Red Wings have a few anchors holding them down in the form of several underperforming players who have remaining term on their contracts, their cap issues are really not as serious as it may seem. There are no seriously bad contracts on the books, and the vast majority of all contracts signed by the team at this point will expire before Detroit is truly ready to compete for a Stanley Cup, giving them time to get out from under the cap holds of a few inefficient deals.

The cap space necessary to extend Raymond and Seider for next season will be very easy to find. Despite having just under $3M in cap space at the moment, Detroit is projected to have just about $28M in space for next season, meaning they will be able to extend both players, as well as Veleno, and also bring back at least one of Patrick Kane or Daniel Sprong and still comfortably have room to build out their roster.

Related: THW 2024 NHL Draft Guide

Although Detroit will have a few deals on the books that aren’t so pretty, they only have one single contract signed that will last for longer than four more seasons, and that’s Larkin’s deal. None of their contracts will single-handedly hold them back from building a strong team in the next two years or so, and they’ll all be off the books entirely before Detroit will likely be ready to be a true contender in this league.

A Net-Positive Season Regardless of Playoff Outcome

Even if the Red Wings don’t succeed in making the playoffs his season, there is no reason to think of this year as a failure. I know fans’ expectations were raised after an exceptional run by the team through January and February, but there’s a lot more that goes into building a stable contender than simply making the playoffs every single year during the re-build portion.

The development and success in Grand Rapids this year should be seen as a sign of what’s to come for Detroit. If the franchise correctly handles the development of guys like Edvinsson, Kasper, Danielson, and Sandin Pellikka, then they will be setting themselves up to be a team to beat in the Atlantic Division for the next decade or more.

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