When asked which team has improved itself the most over the course of free agency (thus far), NHL.com’s Nicholas J. Cotsonika makes the case for Steve Yzerman’s job so far with the Red Wings as the NHL’s best…
I’m going to lead off with a surprise: the Detroit Red Wings. Coming off a season when they had the worst record in the NHL since the salary cap arrived in 2005-06 (17-49-5, .275 points percentage), there is a lot of room for improvement. Under general manager Steve Yzerman, the Red Wings chose forward Lucas Raymond No. 4 in the NHL Draft with their highest pick since 1990 and selected 11 players in rounds 2-7, including three in the second and two in the third. They have signed goalie Thomas Greiss, defensemen Jon Merrill and Troy Stecher, and forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov to short-term, economical contracts as unrestricted free agents. And they have acquired defenseman Marc Staal and a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft from the New York Rangers for future considerations, using cap space to their advantage. They’re early in their rebuild, not close to contending for the Stanley Cup, but they have taken smart steps forward.
And Cotsonika also penned an article in which he discusses Yzerman’s work in greater detail. This article is superb, and it’s worth your time:
Yzerman and the Red Wings can’t sell free agents on the chance to win the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings went 17-49-5 last season. Their 39 points were 23 fewer than the next-best team, the Ottawa Senators. Their .275 points percentage was the worst in the NHL since the salary cap was introduced in 2005-06 and the third worst in Detroit history (.250 in 1985-86; .256 in 1976-77).
What Yzerman and the Red Wings can sell, however, is opportunity and Detroit itself. The Red Wings upgraded the roster by finding free agents who wanted a chance to play more, to prove themselves, to play for their hometown team or some combination.
Even better, Detroit got each on a short-term contract, taking advantage of a unique situation with the salary cap flat at $81.5 million for this season and the economic outlook uncertain.
The Red Wings have flexibility and the potential to make more trades for assets ahead of the next two trade deadlines. In the short term, their prospects have time to develop at lower levels and aren’t necessarily blocked from earning a spot in Detroit.
“If anybody’s ready to go and help the team and they’re going to play a lot, we’ll keep them, and we’ll figure it out,” Yzerman said. “But right now, we’ve filled our holes, or the spots that were available in the roster, but it’s not like it’s set in stone that we can’t change it. And wouldn’t it be fantastic if a young guy just came in and [was] just simply too good to send to the American [Hockey] League or too good to loan back to Europe or whatnot or loan back to junior? It’d be a fantastic problem to have.”