The bar was low for the 2020-2021 Detroit Red Wings. The team’s forgettable 2019-20 season helped both fans and the front office to temper expectations on this season. Thankfully, the year was full of pleasant surprises. Filip Zadina improved every aspect of his game. Michael Rasmussen emerged as a competent, solid center. Even new arrivals like Troy Stecher showed promise. All in all, the low expectations for the season showcased a series of small improvements. With a 17-25-8 record currently on the season, the 2021 Red Wings are already better than they were last season. It might not seem like much right now, but the bright points of this season are glimpses of what the Red Wings of the future will be.
The 2021 Red Wings’ Expectations & Steve Yzerman’s Vision
This is the first time in years that it’s felt like the Red Wings are showing a sense of direction. General manager Steve Yzerman’s vision is becoming apparent as the team slowly approaches its third draft with him at the helm. From trading for Marc Staal to parting ways with Anthony Mantha, Yzerman has shown that he’s not afraid to drastically alter the team if they don’t match what he’s envisioned. The taxi squad has allowed extensive looks at Dennis Cholowski, Givani Smith, Taro Hirose, and Evgeny Svechnikov. Additionally, Rasmussen and Zadina have secured long-term roles on the roster. The team has made its share of mistakes this year, but they’ve all served as excellent learning experiences for the younger players. It’s been a rough season, but it’s carried with it a series of valuable lessons for the team.
Younger Players Outperformed Veterans
One of the biggest surprises of the season was the way the younger players finally seized the reins from the veterans. At long last, Zadina, Rasmussen, and others were able to secure roster spots over Frans Nielsen and Valtteri Filppula. The often frustrating decisions of head coach Jeff Blashill have led to players like Cholowski losing ice time to players like Jonathan Ericsson. It finally feels like the younger players have a chance to learn and grow. If this season is any indication, next year’s will have plenty of chances for more players to earn full-time NHL roles. Additionally, a variety of players like Darren Helm (and likely Luke Glendening) will hit free agency, departing from Detroit. Those roster spots will be ripe for the taking for younger players.
The 2021 Red Wings Won the Trade Deadline
Jon Merrill, Patrik Nemeth, and Mantha left the Red Wings this season. In return, they received Jakub Vrana, Staal, a 2021 1st round pick, a 2021 2nd round pick, a 2021 and 2022 4th round pick, a 2021 5th round pick, and a 2022 2nd round pick. Yzerman has stocked the draft cabinets and replaced Mantha’s production with Vrana. They’re now poised to have two very successful drafts in 2021 and 2022 with 22 picks on both years. What better way to kickstart a rebuild than with a stockpile of draft capital? Successful Stanley Cup-winning teams have been built through draft and development. The drafting strategy Yzerman is implementing will pay dividends for years to come following this year.
Reality Beat Expectations
With the bar so low, anything was better than the results of the 2019-20 season. The Red Wings were in no place to contend for the Cup this year. This season was about developing and learning from the mistakes of last season. Despite the low expectations, the team managed to grow — even if it was just a little bit. It’s unrealistic to assume that the 2021-22 season will be a large improvement on this season. Having said that, incremental change is still great for a rebuilding roster. The team still has a long way to go before they’re contending in the playoffs again, but a little confidence can go a long way. Seasons like 2020-2021, despite their shortfalls, are about little victories.