Last summer, after the Red Wings’ free agent signings of David Perron, Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot, and Dominik Kubalik, and their trade for Ville Husso, it seemed reasonable to expect the team to finally turn the corner in their rebuild. It seemed like they might finally be in a position to challenge for a playoff spot.
The problem was that it looked like the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators had also improved, and at least one of the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Florida Panthers would have to begin to decline to open up a playoff spot. The Red Wings had gotten better but they may not have gotten better enough.
Up until the All-Star Game, it certainly didn’t look like Detroit had gotten better enough. The team had played inconsistently and sat in seventh place in the Atlantic Division. It was widely reported that General Manager Steve Yzerman was taking calls on some of the team’s pending free agents, including Tyler Bertuzzi, in advance of the trade deadline.
Then, after a 5-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers coming out of the All-Star Break, the Red Wings rattled off a five-game win streak, including a sweep of Western Canada. A loss to the Seattle Kraken ended the run but impressive wins over the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers followed.
Suddenly it was reported that Bertuzzi was off the trade block and that the Red Wings might, in fact, be buyers at the deadline. Detroit sat in a tie (in points) with Buffalo for the fourth spot in the Atlantic and the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. The playoffs might be possible.
Then came a shutout loss to the Lightning, in which Tampa goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stole the show, and an ugly loss to the Senators. With a rematch looming against the Sens tonight, MoneyPuck puts the Wings’ playoff odds at 9%.
So are the Red Wings back to being sellers at Friday’s trade deadline? Are they still buyers? It probably depends on which version of this team you think is the real one and what you think is most valuable for the team going forward.
There is absolutely value in this team playing meaningful games in March and April. There are a lot of young guys on the roster who have never been in a playoff race, let alone the playoffs themselves. Learning how to play those games is important.
At the same time, this is still a rebuilding team. It’s hard to rebuild if you can’t flip your assets for future use. I’ve written before about how, compared to the Rangers, the Red Wings’ relative lack of assets at the start of their rebuild hurt them badly.
I’m admittedly a pessimist. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. And I don’t think this Red Wings team should plan for the playoffs. I feel like hanging the trade deadline on seven out of eight games in mid-February where they looked like a playoff team when there were 50 games prior to that where they didn’t is short-sighted.
Detroit’s remaining schedule is the toughest in the entire league. To make the playoffs, the Wings have to play their best hockey of the year against their toughest schedule of the year, for the entire rest of the year. They have to do it while Michael Rasmussen, who’s been one of the team’s bright spots this season, is out week-to-week with a knee injury.
And they have to hope that the Panthers and Penguins continue to slide and that the Sabres or Senators slow down. That’s just a lot that has to go right. There’s a path to the playoffs there, a little bit of dangerous hope, but hope is not a strategy.
My deadline strategy starts with moving Bertuzzi. A pending free agent, he and the team have never seemed particularly close on a contract extension. He would be the team’s biggest trade piece since Tomas Tatar was moved to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2018. And after pulling him off the block earlier this month, Yzerman seems to be listening to calls again.
A refresher for the trade market? Big week for the Red Wings. With how Boston, Toronto and Tampa Bay have loaded up, Detroit is again listening to interest in Bertuzzi. Ask is a 1st plus. https://t.co/vvXyYOjQEz
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) February 28, 2023
Obviously not all first-round picks are equal, but this is a deep draft and a first plus would be a helpful haul for the team going forward.
But, as things stand right now (admittedly, things could change a lot between right now and the deadline), I don’t think the Red Wings should do a complete sell, and they’ve already taken steps towards avoiding that. Olli Maatta signed a two-year extension earlier this month. Jake Walman signed a three-year extension this morning. We’re not talking about unloading every possible player. We’re talking about getting high value for someone who seems poised to walk away for nothing anyway.
In fact, I think the Wings could also buy a little.
Moving Bertuzzi would certainly hurt the team’s scoring ability and make that tough upcoming schedule even harder. But if the team bought on someone like former Red Wing Nick Jensen from the Washington Capitals, they could solidify their defense for the rest of the season, which helps with the goal of playing meaningful games in March and April.
Of course, as I said, things could change a lot in the next couple days. The Wings could lose convincingly in Ottawa tonight and against Seattle on Thursday and be looking at a 3% playoff chance at the deadline. In that case, moving Kubalik or Oskar Sundqvist might make sense.
As things stand right now, though, there’s an opportunity to thread the needle, focusing on the rebuild without entirely giving up on the season. It might be difficult for fans to see given the high hopes of the last week but it has the potential to be good for the team’s long-term goals.
all the REAL playoff teams are making all the moves. enough said