As the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Detroit Red Wings.
Who are the Red Wings thankful for?
Larkin had the opportunity to leave the Red Wings this past summer but opted to remain with the franchise signing a massive eight-year extension. Few people would’ve faulted the 27-year-old for bolting the only organization he’s ever known as his tenure in the Motor City hasn’t exactly been full of memorable moments. The Red Wings haven’t made the playoffs since Larkin’s rookie season back in 2015-16 and haven’t finished better than fifth in their division since that five-game ouster at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Larkin arrived in Detroit at a time when it seemed possible that the Red Wings could avoid a long rebuild and retool on the fly as they had a pile of emerging young talent to play alongside Larkin. However, many of Detroit’s top young players at the time failed to live up to expectations leading the Red Wings into a full-on rebuild that is in its eighth year.
Larkin has done his part through some very lean years in Detroit as he has led the team in scoring in five of the past seven seasons. As well as being their on-ice leader he has also become a leader in the dressing room when he was named their captain in January of 2021. Larkin has been a point-a-game player in each of the past three seasons and has done so without a ton of offensive help from his teammates.
Detroit should be thankful for Larkin, and thankful that the Waterford, Michigan native grew up in the metro Detroit area, which was probably a very big factor when it came to his decision to sign a long-term extension.
What are the Red Wings thankful for?
An argument can be made that perhaps the Red Wings scouting isn’t what it once was, but even if it is a fraction of what it used to be, that’s still better than most of the NHL. The Red Wings have historically been able to hit big on late-round draft picks and much of that credit belongs to Håkan Andersson who is the Director of European Scouting for Detroit. Andersson is largely responsible for the Red Wings drafting Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Tatar, Jiri Hudler, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, and Gustav Nyquist. While that list is impressive, even more impressive is that Detroit only drafted one of those players in the first round (Kronwall).
Unfortunately for Detroit’s scouting department, the NHL is very much a what have you done for me lately league and their drafting hasn’t been what it once was. That’s not to say they haven’t hit home runs. Tyler Bertuzzi was a late second-round pick, as was Filip Hronek, while Andreas Athanasiou was selected late in the fourth round. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, none of those players worked out in Detroit and they all find themselves in other uniforms.
At this moment, the Red Wings do have some emerging young forwards who could make an impact over the next few years. It will be interesting to re-evaluate the Red Wings scouting in five years to look back and see how they assessed their talent.
What would the Red Wings be even more thankful for?
A Patrick Kane return to form.
If Patrick Kane can be anything close to what he was before double hip surgery, the Red Wings will be a real threat in the Eastern Conference. If he ends up like many of his peers who have undergone a hip resurfacing procedure, he might not be able to make much of an impact.
Those are obviously very different outcomes, and it could ultimately be the difference in the Red Wings season. Kane is just two years removed from posting 26 goals and 66 assists in 78 games and if he can bring some of that offense to Detroit’s lineup, along with the leadership that comes with winning three Stanley Cups, then he could push Detroit to be among the contenders in the East. But, if he can’t, Detroit may not be able to outscore some of the subpar goaltending they have received from Ville Husso.
It’s too early to tell how Kane will hold up under the grind of the regular season, but so far, he has looked strong with a goal in two games. Despite starting a huge percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone, Kane has been able to drive play, and get some good looks at both five-on-five and on the power play. As he gets into better game shape, he could become a difference-maker for the Red Wings and that would be something for Detroit fans to be even more thankful for.
What should be on the Red Wings holiday wish list?
A starting goaltender.
Ville Husso isn’t it for Detroit. The 28-year-old has started the majority of the Red Wings games this year and has not been good. In 14 games thus far, the native of Helsinki, Finland has gone 8-4-2 with a .886 save percentage and 3.65 goals against average. Those numbers will not do for a team that is desperate to get back into the playoffs and who has a good enough lineup to do so if they can get the goaltending.
What complicates matters is that backups James Reimer and Alex Lyon have outplayed Husso by a very wide margin. Reimer is 2-2-2 in six starts and has a .922 save percentage with a 2.18 goals-against average, while Lyon is 4-2-0 with a .931 save percentage and a goals-against average of 2.13.
The wings are faced with several choices when it comes to their goaltending. They can ride it out with Husso and hope he finds his game while having Lyon and Reimer as backup options in case he falters. Or they can try and move Husso and his $4.75MM cap hit and then try and find another starting goaltender to replace him. Another option might be to add some additional depth, but with Lyon and Reimer already in the system it would become tricky to carry four goaltenders as one would have to be exposed to waivers. Carrying three goaltenders is already unusual, and if Detroit was to target a depth option, they would probably have to move one from one of their netminders.
Something that could work in Detroit’s favor is that they are one of the only contending teams that have a sizeable amount of cap space, meaning they could potentially acquire a goaltender and keep Husso if they wanted to, or move on from Husso and retain some of his cap hit in a trade.
If Husso does continue to struggle Detroit’s starting goalie job will be available, and it could become something to keep an eye on as we get closer to the trade deadline.