2021-22 Red Wings mixed rebuild hope with more growing pains

2021-22 Red Wings mixed rebuild hope with more growing pains
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

PHT’s “What Went Wrong?” series asks that question about teams who’ve been eliminated from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Why did this team fall short, and how far are they from getting things right?. This time, PHT breaks down the 2021-22 Detroit Red Wings.

Honestly, it’s tricky to review the Detroit Red Wings rebuild, and where the 2021-22 season figures into the big picture.

A lot of it boils down to expectations, and time.

If you’re viewing from afar, you may mostly like what you see. Yet, if you’re a Red Wings fan, this rebuild (and much of the 2021-22 season) may feel interminable. Even then, it likely all depends on which Red Wings fans you ask.

How many more chances should Jeff Blashill receive?

Let’s begin with a fact that’s either stunning (if you barely pay attention to the Red Wings), something you know all-too-well (if the rebuild is beating you down), or a subject you get defensive about.

In mere weeks, Jeff Blashill will complete his seventh season as Detroit Red Wings head coach.

As of this writing, Blashill’s coached the Red Wings through 528 games, assembling a 200-256-72 record, good for a .477 points percentage. During that time, the Red Wings reached the playoffs one time, and won a single playoff game under Blashill.

Look through the coaching register for anyone who’s coached 500+ games, and you won’t see a ton of modern coaches* who’ve lasted so long with so little success. Even Mike Yeo — who feels like he’s on borrowed time with Philly — managed a .547 points percentage in a comparable 534 games coached.

* – Interestingly, former Red Wings coach Sid Abel managed the same .477 points percentage, and ended up coaching 967 games. Abel enjoyed much more playoff success, but maybe Blashill would too with an extra 400+ games to work with?

Of course, Mike Yeo and others stepped into more viable situations than Blashill did.

As Red Wings head coach, Jeff Blashill’s either been dealing with the dying days of that Detroit dynasty, or in the full grasp of the rebuild. To an extent, it’s not easy to grade his work.

Would Blashill be a great chef if the ingredients weren’t rotten? Or should we have seen more progress given just how long his run has been?

To make key steps from a rebuild to true competence (and then, ideally, actual contention), the Red Wings need to ask this question — frankly, they should’ve been asking those questions well before the 2021-22 season.

2021-22 season still shows a Red Wings team with a long way to go

If you rate the 2021-22 season based on progress from some key prospect-turned-players, there are some great success. We’ll get to Moritz Seider and others in a moment.

But if you remove the bumpers and bowl with the best, you’ll still end up with a lot of gutters. Evolving Hockey’s Team RAPM charts tell a quick story: the Red Wings, frankly, weren’t very good at much of anything, overall, in 2021-22.

Again, if you tweak expectations, you can see signs of growth. Still, it’s fair to wonder if the Red Wings are growing enough. How long will they be content with baby steps? That circles back to the Blashill question: would a different coach produce leaps instead of incremental improvements?

Because the bottom line is that, by any measure, the Red Wings weren’t very close to playing like a playoff team in 2021-22. Even when they kinda sorta flirted with the playoff bubble for a while.

Young players represent a promising future, with some delivering in the present

Judging prospects isn’t all that different from thumbing through prospect reports before a draft. For all the excitement (or, conversely, raised concerns) about a player, it’s often tough to tell if potential will actually translate to production.

That’s one reason why the 2021-22 season brings a lot of hope to the Red Wings. In Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, the Red Wings already boast two prospects who are effective NHL players right now.

Seider a real gem

  • Seider checks some big boxes for sought-after defensemen. He’s big, mobile, and right-handed. Seider may even be more skilled than first expected (when he was as surprised as anyone to be selected sixth overall in 2019).

Interestingly, a bit of luck may exaggerate Seider’s nonetheless outstanding rookie season. Seider ranks in the 92.9% percentile in Evolving Hockey’s GAR stat, in the neighborhood of Ryan O'Reilly, Jack Hughes, and teammate Tyler Bertuzzi. By the expected goals (xGAR) version of that metric, Seider’s more modestly in the 74.8% (with quality players like Taylor Hall, and maybe a mild surprise like Trevor van Riemsdyk).

Really, though, that just indicates there’s room for debate between whether Moritz Seider’s been elite this season, or “merely” very good. Not a bad problem to have. Especially since he’s been thrown into the fire, averaging 23:09 TOI per night, and splitting his offensive and defensive zone starts almost exactly evenly.

Considering how difficult it is to find defensemen like Seider, it’s extremely promising that the Red Wings found one at age 21. That’s already translated into a blueliner who generated 46 points in 71 games, too.

Raymond already a promising forward

With both Seider and Raymond, you can nitpick them if you really want to. It must be emphasized that you can nitpick them as rising NHL stars, rather than prospects whose output remains merely hypothetical.

By underlying metrics, Lucas Raymond is what many would picture a promising young forward to be. His offense is dynamic, while his defense could use some work.

Importantly, the good outweighs the bad, including in that Hockey Viz chart above.

Ideally, Lucas Raymond can maintain that scorching offense while improving on defense. If not, a team can win with a high-event player when they’re creating more than they’re allowing. It’s exciting that Raymond’s already pulling that off.

More help likely coming

OK, so we touched on production from those with potential. Naturally, there remains room to picture different pieces fitting or falling from a Red Wings rebuild.

Even with the graduation of Seider and Raymond, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Red Wings’ prospect pool seventh in the NHL. They boast fascinating prospects in big defenseman Simon Edvinsson, hyped goalie Sebastian Cossa, and playmaking forward Jonatan Berggren. Depth options could pan out with Joe Veleno, and others.

And the Red Wings continue to pile up extra darts to throw. They have an extra second-rounder in each of the next two drafts, and boast three fourth-rounders for the 2022 NHL Draft.

Most likely, the pivotal pick will be the Red Wings’ first-rounder for 2022 (likely to be in the top 10). But loading up on extra picks gives you more chances to find diamonds in the rough. The Red Wings have a storied history of doing just that, after all.

Questions from 2021-22 and beyond lingering over Red Wings, their rebuild

Actually, those extra picks helps to kick off some miscellaneous questions. After 2021-22, the Red Wings should ponder a few things:

  • Should they package some of their picks for more immediate help? Imagine an enormous Red Wings defense with Seider, a traded-for Jakob Chychrun, and (eventually) Edvinsson.
  • Unlike Seider and Raymond, Filip Zadina‘s producing mixed NHL results. Should they move on from the pending RFA? Is it too soon to do that with a 22-year-old?
  • How should they feel about Alex Nedeljkovic? His play plummeted after a hot start. The 26-year-old has one more year left at a $3M cap hit, so they don’t need to panic. But the clock’s ticking on a potential answer in net.
  • Can they get a healthy season out of Jakub Vrana? If so, can he flirt with 40 goals?
  • With 15 roster spots covered, the Red Wings are projected to have about $35.6M in cap space. How aggressive should they be in free agency? Would they be better off trying to land a big upgrade via a trade?

[What Went Wrong (and right) for the Anaheim Ducks]

  • How will they handle some fork-in-the-road choices? Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi rank among those who will need new contracts after next (2022-23) season. With the Raymond – Seider rookie deals up after 2023-24, certain costs should rise.
  • With those entry-level contracts in mind, is there a window where the Red Wings can really jump, thus exploiting those savings?
  • Again, where does Jeff Blashill fit in all of this? Sooner or later, they have to make bigger gains. Is Blashill the coach to bring them up a level? Sometimes the patience approach devolves into merely walking in place.

The Red Wings have aced a lot of the early tests of a rebuild, yet the 2021-22 season looms as a reminder. The biggest obstacles remain, so we’ll see if Detroit has the mix of skill and luck to clear them.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Scroll Down For:

    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

    Getty Images

    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

    Seattle Kraken sign GM Ron Francis to 3-year extension through 2026-27 season

    Getty Images
    1 Comment

    SEATTLE — Ron Francis was initially approached about extending his stay as the general manager of the Seattle Kraken back in the winter, but putting finality to the decision took longer than expected.

    The Kraken kept winning and pushed what was mostly a formality to a secondary need until after Seattle’s unexpected playoff run finally ended.

    “At that point it was kind of verbally done, just kind of a few little small details. And then we get into the playoffs and busy and it kind of got put on the back burner and I didn’t want it to be a distraction with the team and where they were at,” Francis said.

    That finality came when the Kraken announced Francis had signed a three-year extension through the 2026-27 season. Francis originally signed a five-year deal when he became the first GM in franchise history back in 2019 and the new contract will kick in starting with the 2024-25 season.

    “I’ll never forget the day that he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to do this,’” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “But today is another great day for our fans because not only did he come and build, he is going to stay here and continue to build this franchise.”

    Seattle reached the second round of the NHL playoffs in its second year of existence, following a challenging first year where it underachieved and was among the worst teams in the league.

    But Francis navigated through that difficult first season and helped land the pieces that turned Seattle into a playoff team in the second year without mortgaging future opportunities or putting the Kraken into challenging salary cap situations.

    “He has been the leader that’s gotten us to where we are today. And he is the leader to take us to the next level,” Seattle co-owner Samantha Holloway said.

    Seattle is the second stop for Francis as an executive after spending seven seasons in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis started as director of hockey operations before becoming the general manager in 2014. Francis was let go by the Hurricanes after the 2018 season.

    Seattle jumped at the chance to bring the Hall of Fame player in to lead the front office. Seattle’s expansion season was a major underachievement with the Kraken going 27-49-6 and finishing last in the Pacific Division with 60 points. But Francis was able to move veteran players to stockpile draft picks and left enough salary cap room to make some key moves entering the second season.

    Seattle signed free agent forward Andre Burakovksy, traded for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and inserted rookie Matty Beniers into the lineup on Seattle’s top line from the first day of the season. The results on the ice couldn’t be argued. Seattle went 46-28-8 and reached 100 points, knocked off defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Dallas in seven games in the conference semifinals.

    “It’s been a real team effort. I’m sitting up here today and they’re saying good things about me, but it’s a much bigger picture than just me,” Francis said. “I’m excited to be here for a few more years and hopefully everybody’s opinion doesn’t change, but we’re going to stick to the plan and continue building it the right way so we can be a great franchise for multiple years.”

    Francis also stuck with coach Dave Hakstol after that difficult first season. He may be the next in line for a contract extension from the team after a season where he was recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.

    Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

    Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

    TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

    And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

    Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

    The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

    “Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

    Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

    The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

    Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

    A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

    Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

    “I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

    Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

    Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

    Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

    The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

    The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

    Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

    Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

    Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

    Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

    Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

    The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

    Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

    Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

    Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.

    Nashville Predators hire Andrew Brunette after firing John Hynes

    Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    NASHVILLE, Tenn.– The coaching shuffle in Nashville is complete, with Andrew Brunette officially hired as the Predators coach a little over 12 hours after the team announced that John Hynes was fired.

    The moves are the first being made by incoming general manager Barry Trotz and come about six weeks after the Predators missed the playoffs.

    The 49-year-old Brunette spent the past season as a New Jersey Devils associate coach under Lindy Ruff and has previous head-coaching experience.

    He was promoted to interim coach of the Florida Panthers during the 2021-22 season and oversaw a team that set franchise records for wins (58) and points (122) in claiming the Presidents’ Trophy before being eliminated in the second round of the playoffs. Brunette finished second in the Jack Adams Award voting for the NHL’s coach of the year.

    He becomes just the fourth coach in the history of a Predators franchise and returns to Nashville, where Brunette played for the Trotz-coached team during its inaugural season in 1998-99. Their relationship goes back to 1993-94, when Brunette played under Trotz, who was head coach of the Washington Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate in Portland, Maine.

    “I feel like this is coming full circle for my career – from pulling on the jersey for the first time 25 years ago to returning now to take care of some unfinished business,” Brunette said in a statement. “It has been awesome to see how this city and its fanbase have grown since I played here and I look forward to continuing the legacy and the culture behind the bench that Barry cultivated that inaugural season.”

    Trotz, meantime, has an eye on building on the Predators’ youth and offensively skilled players as he takes over as GM for David Poile, who is retiring at the end of June after 26 years overseeing the franchise.

    “We want to become more of an offensive team and Andrew specializes on that side of the ice – he lived it as a player, and he coaches it as a coach, Trotz said. “He is as good of an offensive teacher and power-play coach as there is in the game today. He will be great with our young players, and I know, because of his background as a player, he will connect well with our top, skilled players.”

    In Florida, Brunette coached a Panthers team that led the NHL with 337 goals and had the league’s fourth-best power-play unit.

    The Predators missed the playoffs for the first time in nine years, and the first under Hynes, who took over as coach during the 2019-20 season after Peter Laviolette was fired.

    Brunette, who is from Sudbury, Ontario, spent 16 seasons playing in the NHL, ending with a one-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-12. He finished with 268 goals and 733 points in 1,110 career games split among six teams, including two separate stints in Minnesota. Brunette is one of 25 players selected in the seventh round or later to appear in more than 1,000 NHL games.

    Upon his retirement, Brunette spent seven seasons with the Wild in various off-ice roles, including assistant coach and assistant GM, before being hired by the Panthers as an assistant coach in 2019-2020.