Welcome to our 2022-23 Preview series. In each article we'll be focusing in on a different team, reviewing how they did last season, what their summer has been like, and what their outlook is for the 2022-23 campaign.
We've already covered the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, and Buffalo Sabres so we'll continue our look at the Atlantic Division today by examining the Detroit Red Wings.
2021-22 Season in Review
Even after missing the playoffs for each of the previous five seasons, the 2021-22 Red Wings didn't enter the campaign with a lot of reason for optimism.
It wasn't that they were devoid of upgrades. They had brought in Alex Nedeljkovic from Carolina, coming off his Calder Trophy finalist season, to share the goaltending duties with Thomas Greiss. On top of that, the addition of Nick Leddy provided Detroit with another solid, veteran option on the blueline and they had a pair of solid rookies set to join the squad in defenseman Moritz Seider and forward Lucas Raymond.
Still, they were in an Atlantic Division that included Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Florida, who all looked like strong bets to make the playoffs. On top of that, while we all know what happened with Montreal, it would have been hasty to completely dismiss them going into 2021-22 so soon after they managed to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
In other words, the Red Wings weren't just underdogs, they were heavy underdogs. But how did they respond to that position? With a mixed bag. Some players stepped up while the group overall was middling at best.
Starting with the positives, Raymond and Seider had ideal rookie seasons. Raymond scored 23 goals and 57 points in 82 games, which left him in fourth place in Calder Trophy voting while Seider had seven goals, 50 points, 161 blocks, and 151 hits in 82 contests while averaging 23:02 minutes. After that dominating performance from a defenseman, he won the Calder Trophy over Anaheim's Trevor Zegras by a comfortable margin.
Dylan Larkin also bounced back from a 23-point 2020-21 campaign, recording 31 goals and 69 points in 71 games. Meanwhile, Tyler Bertuzzi turned things around after missing most of 2020-21. He set career-highs with 30 goals and 62 points in 68 games. There wasn't too much good news for Detroit beyond those four though. No other member of the team even reached the 40-point milestone, so it won't surprise you to learn that Detroit finished in the bottom-third of the league offensively with 2.77 goals per game.
Sadly, their offense was their strong suit. In front of a much weaker team than the Hurricanes, Nedeljkovic struggled, posting a 20-24-9 record, 3.31 GAA, and .901 save percentage in 59 games. Greiss fared no better with his 10-15-1 record, 3.66 GAA, and .891 save percentage in 31 games.
Detroit actually got off to a 4-2-1 start to the campaign and were 13-9-3 through Dec. 4. However, they couldn't manage a winning streak greater than two games beyond that point and finished sixth in the Atlantic Division at 32-40-10.
How has their summer gone?
After six straight years without a playoff berth, Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman is clearly looking for his team to contend in 2022-23. One of the first things Yzerman did was let head coach Jeff Blashill was go after seven years at the helm. Derek Lalonde was named the new bench boss and he'll certainly bring plenty of knowledge about what works after spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lalonde has also coached in the NCAA, USHL, ECHL, and AHL, so he's more than earned this opportunity.
The Red Wings aren't just hoping that the coaching change sparks them. They also upgraded across the board. In terms of forwards, they signed Andrew Copp to a five-year, $28.125 million contract and David Perron to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. I mentioned above that offensive depth was one of the Red Wings' key weaknesses last season. Adding these two top-six forwards certainly goes a long way to addressing that. Detroit also signed Dominik Kubalik to a two-year, $5 million deal. He should be a decent third-line option for the Red Wings to further round out their roster.
On defense they signed Ben Chiarot to a four-year, $19 million contract. Although the Canadiens leaned on him heavily, Chiarot isn't really suited for a top pairing role. He is, however, a physical presence and someone who is willing to keep putting his body in the line of fire to block shots. He also provides a bit of skill with the puck, making him an all-around solid, if sometimes overrated defenseman. Detroit also added Olli Maatta on a one-year, $2.25 million contract and Mark Pysyk on a one-year, $850,000 deal. Both are good third pairing options and with their signings, Detroit isn't lacking for NHL-caliber options on the blueline.
Then in goal, Detroit acquired the negotiating rights to Ville Husso from St. Louis in exchange for the 73rd overall pick (Aleksanteri Kaskimaki) and signed Husso to a three-year, $14.25 million deal. Husso will replace the outgoing Thomas Greiss and should do a better job in Detroit, especially given that Husso will be playing in front of a better version of the Red Wings. Husso had a strong 2021-22 campaign with St. Louis, posting a 25-7-6 record, 2.56 GAA, and .919 save percentage in 40 games.
Detroit did see some departures too such as Staal and Greiss, but overall, this summer was clearly one of additions.
So was it all enough to put the Red Wings in a playoff spot? I doubt it. I look at the Florida Panthers, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning and they all seem clearly better on paper than the Detroit Red Wings, so unless there's a surprise or something otherwise changes, the Red Wings' best bet seems to be a Wild Card spot. Even then though, are they better than the Boston Bruins? What about the Ottawa Senators, who had a summer of major gains too? The Bruins are a bit more of a question mark, but I'm not convinced that the Red Wings are a favorable matchup against either of them.
That's just looking at the Atlantic Division too. It's entirely possible that the Metropolitan Division will be capable of securing one of the two playoff spots, as they did last season, which further weakens Detroit's chances.
The 82-game campaign is a long one. Injuries happen. Players underperform and end up as pleasant surprises. To dismiss any team before the season even starts is risky, especially one like Detroit, which has brought in considerable talent. However, as I look at their roster and compare it to their direct competition, I'm left with the impression that Detroit remains an underdog in the battle for a postseason berth.