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Alex Nedeljkovic
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Expert Analysis

What Went Wrong: Detroit Red Wings

by Corey Abbott
Updated On: June 9, 2022, 2:35 pm ET

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Welcome to What Went Wrong where we’ll look at each team that failed to make the playoffs. We’ll also end each article by highlighting some players of particular interest on the squad. Those are players who either left something to be desired during the 2021-22 campaign, have significant untapped upside, or have some big underlining questions surrounding them going into the offseason.

We’ve already covered the Montreal CanadiensArizona CoyotesSeattle KrakenPhiladelphia FlyersNew Jersey DevilsChicago Blackhawks and Ottawa Senators. Today we examine the Detroit Red Wings.

The Detroit Red Wings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a sixth straight season. This marks the team’s second-longest postseason drought in franchise history. Detroit missed the playoffs seven straight years from 1970-71 to 1976-77. The Red Wings finished 25h overall with a record of 32-40-10 in 2021-22.

Goals against was the biggest problem for Detroit this past season. The team allowed the second-most goals against per game played (3.78) and tied for 30th with an .888 save percentage. Only three teams surrendered more goals against at 5-on-5 (205) than the Red Wings. Detroit’s penalty kill also permitted 59 goals, which tied them for the fourth-highest total in the league. The Wings were shorthanded 225 times in 2021-22 and finished with the worst penalty kill percentage (73.8%).

Goaltenders Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss weren't able to find much consistency between the pipes. They also didn’t get much help from their teammates defensively, while facing the second-most scoring chances against at 5-on-5 and the seventh-most high-danger scoring against at 5-on-5. Only four teams gave up more shots against than Detroit did in all situations.

Despite the team’s struggles in the defensive zone, Moritz Seider was a big bright spot. The rookie blueliner finishing fourth on the team in scoring with 50 points and he led Detroit with 43 assists in 82 games. Seider is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy after showcasing his excellent all-around game, while logging just over 23 minutes of ice time per match.

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There were other positives for the team offensively, but they still struggled for the most part in that regard over the course of the season. Detroit ranked 25th in the NHL with a goals for per game played with 2.77. Dylan Larkin led the club with 31 goals and 69 points over 71 appearances. Tyler Bertuzzi produced 30 goals and 62 points in 68 outings, while Lucas Raymond accounted for 23 goals and 57 points across 82 contests in his first NHL season. There wasn’t a great deal of offensive support beyond that group, but Robby Fabbri and Jakub Vrana deserve honorable mentions. Fabbri had 17 goals and 30 points despite being limited to 56 games, while Vrana managed 13 goals and 19 points in 26 matches following shoulder surgery

Detroit’s issues offensively unsurprisingly extended to the power play, which ranked 26th with a success rate of 16.3%. The team ranked 27th in goals scored on the man advantage (37). It also proved to be difficult for the Red Wings to mount comebacks. They tied for fourth on losses in trailing after the first period (27) and tied for 25th in winning percentage (.081) when trailing after two periods. Slow starts were a problem as well for the Red Wings. They finished last in the league in goals scored during the first period (51) and tied for 27th in scoring the first goal of the game (35).

It was another tough season for Detroit in 2021-22, especially down the stretch, and it ended up costing head coach Jeff Blashill his job. The team had a sub-.500 points percentage in each of his final six seasons after losing in the opening round of the postseason during his first year behind the bench. There are plenty of good coaching options out there at the moment for GM Steve Yzerman to target.

Yzerman has some strong pieces to build around on the Red Wings, with other very good prospects potentially coming up in the system in the near future. Detroit is also armed with plenty of cap space, but they have some key players approaching unrestricted free agency. There are still some question marks surrounding the group and there could very well be more growing pains coming on the ice, but the Wings are a team that appears to be heading in the right direction.

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Players to Watch:

Alex Nedeljkovic - Nedeljkovic finished third in Calder Trophy voting in 2020-21 after shining in 23 appearances with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was acquired by Detroit in the offseason in what was widely considered to be a strong move. However, playing for the Hurricanes is very different than playing for the Red Wings and Nedeljkovic’s numbers took a big hit. There were patches when his play was superb, but he wasn’t able to provide Detroit with much reliability en route to a .901 save percentage and 3.31 goals-against average. As previously mentioned, he didn’t get much in the way of support offensively or defensively, but more will be expected from him. He was brought in to provide some stability between the pipes and he has the ability to do just that. Detroit may provide him with some help in the offseason and could be in the market for a goaltender who can share starts with him because Greiss is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. 

Tyler Bertuzzi - Bertuzzi reached career-highs in 2021-22 with 30 goals, 32 assists, 62 points, 180 shots and 19:53 of average ice time per game. Unfortunately, he was limited to 68 appearances and his absences hurt the team. The Red Wings went 3-11-0 without him in the lineup, including a mark of 2-7-0 for matches that took place on the road in Canada. Bertuzzi was not able to travel to games in Canada because he wasn’t vaccinated for COVID-19. There have been trade rumors surrounding him for a while now and he will be eligible for unrestricted free agency after the 2022-23 campaign. It will be interesting to see if Detroit views him as a key member of the team moving forward.

Jakub Vrana - Vrana has amassed 21 goals and 30 points in 37 appearances for Detroit since he was acquired from Washington during the 2020-21 season. He wasn’t able to make his debut this past campaign until Mar. 8 because of shoulder surgery, but he hit the ground running with 10 markers and 14 points in his first 16 outings. Vrana ended up with 13 goals and six helpers in 26 contests to go along with 65 shots. He has the ability to be a driving force for the Red Wings offensively and his role could increase in 2022-23 under a new head coach.

Pius Suter - Suter notched 15 goals and 36 points in 82 games during his first season as a member of the Red Wings. He signed a two-year, $6.5 million deal with the team after he didn’t receive a qualifying offer from Chicago. Suter had 14 goals and 27 points over 55 matches with the Blackhawks during his first NHL season. Suter, who will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, will need to be better in 2022-23 to secure himself a new deal and he could someone to monitor if he remains the second-line center for Detroit. He had some productive stretches this past season, but he was unable to maintain much consistency.

Corey Abbott

Corey Abbott is an Editor for Hockey on NBC Sports Edge. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @CoreAbbott.