The Detroit Red Wings had a 25-season playoff streak snapped in a frustrating 2016-17. Fans in The Motor City are hoping the team’s run of being a non-playoff team is a short-lived one, but that might be a tough ask.
Drew Miller was the only everyday member of the 2016-17 roster they let walk in the summer after trading away pending UFAs like Brendan Smith, Thomas Vanek, Steve Ott and Tomas Jurco prior to the March trade deadline. The only other player of interest the Red Wings lost was Tomas Nosek. The Vegas Golden Knights, somewhat surprisingly, selected the 25-year-old centre in the expansion draft instead of goaltender Petr Mrazek.
Overall, management was rather quiet in free agency. Not surprising considering the vast majority of the Red Wings roster is already under contract through the 2018-19 season. Their only move that bears any significance was inking veteran blueliner Trevor Daley to a three-year deal. He essentially replaces Smith in the top-six on the back end.
UP-AND-COMING PLAYER TO WATCH
The Red Wings hit on their first-round picks in 2013 with Anthony Mantha and 2014 with Dylan Larkin. Is this the year Evgeny Svechnikov, who the Red Wings drafted 19th overall in 2015, cracks the roster and makes an impact?
Svechnikov had 20 goals and 31 assists in 74 regular-season games with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins last year before adding 12 more points in 19 playoff games en route to a 2017 Calder Cup championship.
He’s a big body with high-end offensive skill and a bit of a rough streak, racking up 167 penalty minutes in his two seasons with the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Suiting up for two games with the Red Wings in April gave him an idea of the speed and physicality of the game at the NHL level.
The 20-year-old Russian entered training camp with a positive attitude.
“I want to be a Red Wing,” Svechnikov recently told NHL.com. “I don’t want to just make the team. I want to make it better, and I’m just trying to find a way to make that possible. So, I’m going to go out there [in camp] and just try to do my best. If I can make the team better, I could have a chance [to make the team].”
Tyler Bertuzzi, a late second-round pick from 2013, is in a similar situation to Svechnikov with Holland saying both young men have a realistic chance at making the team out of camp.
WHAT A SUCCESSFUL 2017-18 WOULD LOOK LIKE
It’s pretty simple. Red Wings fans are not accustomed to seeing their team struggle for prolonged periods of time. This team isn’t really set up to tank, so ultimately the Red Wings need to get back to the playoffs. There’s enough character in that organization and enough veteran voices in the locker room where it will become clear very early on in the season that losing won’t be accepted.
If Mrazek can have a bounce-back year and/or Jimmy Howard can stay healthy while playing as well as he did in 2016-17 (he set career bests with a 2.10 goal-against average and .927 save percentage) this team might be able to stay in the playoff race beyond the trade deadline.
BIGGEST REMAINING QUESTION
Will they be able to produce much offence? When you only have one player (Tomas Tatar) score more than 20 goals and when a 36-year-old Henrik Zetterberg is your only player able to register more than 50 points, the odds of you succeeding are slim. The Red Wings averaged 2.41 goals per game, which ranked 26th in the NHL and their power play ranked 27th. Larkin, Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou need to reach that next gear and become leaders on the ice. If that doesn’t happen then don’t expect this edition of the Red Wings to be competitive in the Atlantic.