For many NHL fans and teams, Wednesday’s kick off of the regular season marks an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. In a year where nothing is normal, this season will be a shorter version of the standard 82 game season. This season will be a 56 game “sprint”. For teams that would not normally be considered contenders to get a seat at the table, this format may open the door. One good winning streak by way of a goalie catching fire, or a few lucky bounces, could be all a team needs to overachieve.
Even with the above considerations, the 2021 Detroit Red Wings are not in the camp of competing for a playoff spot. They will require some more top-end talent before they embark on that journey. But, just because we will not be seeing Dylan Larkin hoisting the cup in his first season as captain, it does not mean that there cannot be success. Below are some criteria that if achieved, would provide a valuable role in helping this team compete for a playoff spot in the next couple of seasons.
Steve Yzerman spent his first season as Red Wings General Manager observing his team. He did not want to name a captain before he could get his thumb on the pulse of the organization. I can get behind that as the man himself is one of the best captains in all of sports history. After his year of observation, Yzerman has stated that he will name a captain before puck-drop on Thursday’s opener.
The naming of captain is more a foregone conclusion than competition at this point, as it would be shocking if Larkin did not exit the tunnel wearing the “C”. Although Larkin has exuded leadership since arriving in Detroit, his first year with the formal title will prove important. Larkin was visibly frustrated at times, distraught at others while the Red Wings were historically bad. While I cannot say that I blame him, his ability to lead this team during what is expected to be a turbulent season will lay the foundation for his legacy as Red Wings captain.
The 2019-2020 Red Wings could not field a competitive NHL lineup. When the season was abruptly halted, they were 23 points behind the 2nd worst team in the league. As bad as last year’s statistics look however, they could not compare to what the eye test told you. The average margin of last season’s losses was closer to 2 goals than it was to 1 at 1.73. This year’s team is slated to lose its fair share of games as well, but closing the gap on the opponents margin of victory will show improvement.
Young Guys Take A Step
The Wings are at a stage in their rebuild where they have young players everywhere. As such, there are not many players from the big club, down to the rookies that have achieved their ceiling. It is important that each member of the current and future Red Wings take the next step in their development. This could mean Larkin learning how to wear the “C”? Michael Rasmussen improving his skating? Maybe it is a 2020 draftee adding size to his frame? If the World Junior Championship tournament was any indication, the Red Wings have been infused with potential. Forward progress toward realizing the potential will be key in this organization taking the next step.
Acquire Building Blocks
Originally this section was called “Acquire Draft Capital”. While picks are and will continue to be important to this rebuilding process; a move Yzerman made jumps to the top of my mind. Last year he was able to acquire Robby Fabbri from St. Louis for a recently waived Jacob De La Rose. Robby Fabbri has fit in from day 1, and has great chemistry with the nucleus of this team. Acquiring draft picks is important, but if there are opportunities to bring in young NHL talent that needs a fresh start, it could be equally beneficial. Any opportunity to obtain picks for taking on salary from a cap-pressed team should be looked at. Based on Steve Yzerman’s track record, I am confident that this will be the case.
Win The Lottery
To say that the Red Wings have had bad luck in recent draft lotteries is a massive understatement. Let me be clear that I am not hoping that the Red Wings are bad. I felt terrible for Larkin last year as he sat on the bench, staring listlessly ahead. If the Red Wings are going to finish where many pundits have them finishing, they need to be compensated for it. So, please, hockey gods, if the Red Wings finish near the bottom of the standings this season, bless us with the #1 player in the next draft.
I truly believe that the Red Wings bottomed out last year. It is now time to start the climb from the doldrums to being a competitive NHL team. How quickly this climb takes is going to depend on many factors; some mentioned, some not. If there is something I am confident in though, it is that Steve Yzerman has the team on the right path. So as frustrating as this season may be at times, just remember that brighter days are ahead.