Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman spoke with the media earlier this evening, addressing Detroit’s draft class, the team’s free agency moves, the offseason as a whole (Yzerman says that the team may still add a forward or two on the free agent market), and the respective statuses of Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin as they recover from injuries:
Afterward, the Red Wings’ beat writers examined Yzerman’s 27-minute media availability, and focused upon several topics covered by the Wings’ GM.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan offered this take on Yzerman’s remarks as a whole…
“I hope we’re better,” Yzerman said Thursday during a Zoom call. “It’s the day after the first day of free agency. For the most part, every team sits back and you look at your board and you think you’re a better hockey team. We’ll have some younger players playing bigger roles and sometimes that can be a challenge. Our back end is a little stronger. It’s a little more mobile and maybe we’ll get a little more offense out of it.”
The Wings acquired defenseman Nick Leddy and goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic in trades (dealing forward Richard Panik, the rights to free agent goalie Jonathan Bernier and draft picks). They lost defenseman Dennis Cholowski to Seattle in the expansion draft, then picked eight prospects in the entry draft, including two first-rounders (defenseman Simon Edvinsson and goaltender Sebastian Cossa) with huge potential.
And in the first two days of free agency, the Wings re-signed forward Sam Gagner, signed defenseman Jordan Oesterle (Dearborn Heights/Dearborn Divine Child) and locked up forward Pius Suter.
Signing Suter, 25, late Wednesday to a two-year contract worth $6.5 million ($3.25 million cap hit, per season) solidified the Wings at the center position. It potentially makes this a better offensive team.
“Having Suter there with a (healthy) Tyler Bertuzzi, and we get a little more offensive output from everyone, I hope that translates to wins,” Yzerman said.
Larkin ended up suffering a neck injury when cross-checked by Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn during an April 20 game. The resuting effect was to cause his 2021 NHL season to be ended prematurely. Recuperating from the injury, he spent a few weeks home bound and wearing a neck brace.
There’s been some speculation that Larkin might not be good to go for the start of the season. Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman doesn’t believe that will be the case. He isn’t envisioning there being any setbacks for his captain.
“He’s progressing fine,” Yzerman said. “We expect him to be ready to go in September for the start of training camp.”
MLive’s Ansar Khan offered this regarding Moritz Seider’s chances of making the team, and the offseason moves (present and future tense):
“If (Seider) is in the top six and he’s earned that spot, he’ll play,” Yzerman said. “I’m not sure if he’s not in the top six how much we’re going to want to sit him in the press box. We anticipate him making a really good push to play. We have experience, we have some depth. I like to think with our D we’re in a little bit better position than we were a year ago.”
Yzerman addressed his goaltending prior to all the movement that took place league-wide on Wednesday, trading for Alex Nedeljkovic. The 25-year-old who finished third in Calder Trophy balloting this year will team with veteran Thomas Greiss to form what should be a solid tandem.
Much of the Red Wings’ remaining salary cap space will be used to sign their restricted free agents, a group that includes Vrana, Bertuzzi, Hronek and Adam Erne.
Yzerman isn’t necessarily done making moves before training camp in late September.
“We’re still looking at a few things, not so much on the back end or in goal; up front, looking to potentially add one player, possibly two,” Yzerman said. “If a young guy can play, great. I’m not going to leave a spot on the roster to hand to anyone, but I’m also not going to sign a free agent feeling we have a hole.”
And The Athletic’s Max Bultman will close our survey of the press corps’ take on Yzerman’s remarks with this:
On whether he’s confident the team can build a winner without a top-two draft pick
What Yzerman said: “Absolutely. The way I look at it now is, as much as we’d love to get a first or second overall pick, the way I hope to get it now is through the lottery. It doesn’t mean we’re giving up on the rebuild or trying to expedite it and sign a bunch of free agents and trade picks to move up. We’re going to stick with the process, we’re going to have to find a great player at 6, whether it’s Simon Edvinsson or Moritz Seider, somewhere as we improve we’re going to hopefully start to pick (later and later) and get a good young player.
“But St. Louis won the Stanley Cup, I think (Alex) Pietrangelo was their highest pick, I think he was No. 4. We have Lucas Raymond at No. 4, so there’s a precedent for it picking at 4. Obviously we’d all love to have that franchise player. Maybe we get one with a later pick. Nikita Kucherov was (picked No. 58), David Pastrnak was 25, Patrice Bergeron, he was an early second-round pick, Brad Marchand was a (third-round) pick — these are the top players in the league. So to hope we can get it with first or second overall — if we get one of those picks, I hope we’re getting it because we got lucky in the lottery, not necessarily because we finished 32nd.”
Analysis: The takeaway here should not be a surprise. You’d certainly hope the Red Wings aren’t relying on a ping-pong ball as the centerpiece of their rebuild plan. But I’m highlighting the quote because, despite the elite-level prospects expected to be at the top of the 2022 and 2023 drafts in Shane Wright, Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov, it sure doesn’t sound like the Red Wings will be actively entering the Tankathon.
Make no mistake, the team would love to get lucky and pick at the very top of a draft. Lord knows they need a center of Wright’s caliber. But they want to start moving gradually away from the highest probability lottery slots, too — and if that means having to find their star at a less slam-dunk spot in the draft, it sounds like that’s a risk the team is willing to take.