The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Detroit Red Wings.
2020-21 Season Review
• Record: 19-27-10 (48 poionts) seventh place in Central Division
• Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; drafted Simon Edvinsson No. 6 overall
• Offensive leader: Filip Hronek (56 games, 2 goals, 24 assists, 26 points)
• Free Agent Additions: Nicky Leddy (trade with Islanders), Pius Suter, Alex Nedeljkovic (trade with Hurricanes), Carter Rowney, Mitchell Stephens
• Free Agent Subtractions: Jonathan Bernier, Richard Panik (trade with Islanders)
Biggest question facing the Detroit Red Wings?
• Is Alex Nedeljkovic the answer in goal?
It was a bit of a surprise when the Carolina Hurricanes traded Calder Trophy finalist Alex Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings this offseason. They had been looking for a long-term answer in goal for years, and given the way Nedeljkovic played during the 2020-21 season he seemed like he could have been the guy. But they traded his restricted free agent rights to the Red Wings who promptly re-signed him to a two-year, $6 million contract.
The question is what sort of player are the Red Wings getting?
If they get the Nedeljkovic of last season they are getting a legitimate starting NHL goalie that could fill that position for the foreseeable future and eliminate a need from the checklist.
[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]
The concern, though, is that his 2020-21 performance is the first time Nedeljkovic has ever really played at anything close to that level. Was it an outlier? Or just a goalie that took some time to develop? This season should give us a little bit of an answer to that question.
What’s the salary cap situation?
The Red Wings have significant amounts of salary cap space given the combination of a younger roster, almost no long-term commitments, and no significant contracts. The only player on the roster that makes more than $6 million against the salary cap is Dylan Larkin at $6.1 million. They also have a lot of money coming off the books after this season. Salary cap space is the least of the Red Wings worries right now.
When the Red Wings drafted Seider two years ago it was seen as a bit of a reach and probably not worth the spot. A lot can change in two years, and now Seider is one of the top prospects in the NHL and looks ready to make the leap to the NHL and make an impact. He was named the SHL’s defenseman of the season during the 2020-21 season and should be on the radar for the Calder Trophy this season. The Red Wings need impact players to build around, and Seider has as much potential to be that as any other player in their system right now.
This still is not going to be a playoff team. Not with that roster. Not in this division. But they can take some steps. The ideal situation for the Red Wings this season is that Nedeljkovic proves he can be a consistent starting goalie in the NHL and they see significant progress from players like Filip Zadina, Filip Hronek, Jakub Vrana, and Seider. The playoffs are still an unrealistic expectation right now, but this many years into a rebuild there should be some progress toward that.
It would be a lack of progress and another finish near the bottom the league standings. This still is not a particularly deep roster but there are some players that need to start establishing themselves as core building blocks. The worst case scenario would be a lack of progress on that front. It would be Nedeljkovic failing in his new role, Zadina not progressing, Vrana not playing like he did after the trade last year, and all of it adding up to another awful year in the standings.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.