Belated End of Season Thoughts


Meaningful games in March and April.

That was the goal last fall, supposedly, so by that metric we should consider the 2023-24 Detroit Red Wings’ season a success.

Of course it’s not that simple.  With a seemingly-massive lead in the playoff race after tearing through their January and February schedule, it looked like those meaningful games might be played even later into April, or maybe even May.

Obviously that did not happen.

Back in December I asked what these Red Wings were and my best answer was that they were better than last season but still had streaky goal scoring and goaltending and leaky defense, along with a lack of discipline.  I think it’s fair to say that continued in dramatic fashion.

If we reversed their hot and cold streaks, dropping out of the playoff race in the dead of winter before racing back into it and falling short as the season came to an end, we’d have a markedly different perception of the same team.

But that would only change the perception, not the outcome.  This team was good enough to fight for a playoff spot, not good enough to earn one.  What has to change to take that next step and how can they make those changes?

Well, the roster is seemingly going to change next season no matter what this season meant.

Up front, Jonatan Berggren is out of waiver options, so the team will need to find a spot for him or risk losing him.  Patrick Kane, David Perron, Daniel Sprong, and Christian Fischer are all unrestricted free agents and letting one of them walk could open up a roster spot for Berggren.  Kane, in particular, sounded like he was on his way out during locker room clean-out interviews.

On defense, Albert Johansson is in the same waiver boat as Berggren.  Additionally, it sure looked like Simon Edvinsson had earned a roster spot during his call-up at the end of the season.  Shayne Gostisbehere is the only pending UFA on defense, so not bringing him back doesn’t clear enough room on the roster to add both Johansson and Edvinsson.  That said, goalie James Reimer’s contract is up and the Wings could go into next season with only two goalies.  That would let Berggren replace a departing Kane while Johansson and Edvinsson replace Gostisbehere and Reimer.

Except Berggren doesn’t replace Kane and Edvinsson or Johansson doesn’t replace Gostisbehere.  Take their spots in the lineup, sure, but not necessarily fill the role they played in the Red Wings’ step forward this season.

Additionally, it’s not as easy as saying the Red Wings should bring back all of their free agents and “just” make room elsewhere because Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond are pending restricted free agents and they’ve earned massive raises.  Seider played the hardest minutes of any defenseman in the league all season and Raymond was Detroit’s best player down the stretch, especially while Dylan Larkin was out.  Their contracts are going to eat up a huge chunk of the Red Wings’ salary cap space and, for the first time since the rebuild started, the Wings won’t even have the ability to just go in on any free agents they want – even their own.

And also…  What can be done about the goaltending?  I glossed over it above – what if they just let Reimer walk? – and it might be as simple as coming back next fall with a healthy Ville Husso and Alex Lyon.  Or it might not be.  Lyon burned out under the workload this season, just like Husso did the year before and Alex Nedeljkovic did the year before that.  Is it a matter of personnel or does the Wings’ defense leave their goalies overworked?  Is there an upgrade in goal available that would allow the rest of the team to take a step backwards while integrating Berggren/Edvinsson/Johansson and any other prospects needed to fill roster spots up front?

That’s the tightrope Red Wings’ general manager Steve Yzerman will need to walk this summer.  How can he bring back the team’s young stars and also bring in the prospects who are out of options and also not lose the contributions of the veteran pending free agents while remaining under the cap and actually improve the team because, while this year was better, it still wasn’t enough?

Personally, I don’t see a path to improvement here.  I think the Wings are going to end up taking a step back.  But a lot can change between now and next fall.  An unexpected trade or a sudden retirement could shake things up.  One of the kids could take a bigger step forward.  It’s not out of the realm of possibility, I just don’t see it right now.  Ask me again in July or October.

Clark founded the site that would become DetroitHockey.Net in September of 1996. He continues to write for the site and executes the site's design and development, as well as that of DH.N's sibling site,

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