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

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

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    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

    Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

    Kris Letang Penguins
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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.

    UP NEXT

    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.

    Deal for Coyotes’ proposed arena approved by Tempe council

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    TEMPE, Ariz. — The Tempe City Council has unanimously approved a proposal for a new Arizona Coyotes arena and entertainment district, clearing the way for a public vote on the project next year.

    The City Council approved the proposal 7-0 after a lengthy meeting that included NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

    The $2.1 billion project would include a 16,000-seat arena, practice rink, 1,600 apartments, two hotels and a theater. Approval of the project was the final step before it goes to referendum on May 16.

    The team is currently playing at Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena, by far the NHL’s smallest arena.

    The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since the city of Glendale pulled out of a multimillion-dollar lease at Gila River Arena. Arizona had been playing on an annual lease until Glendale said it would not be renewed for the 2022-23 season.