In terms of holiday shopping, it would be hard to cross off the Detroit Red Wings on your list. The team frequently goes through a phase where they can respond to “what do you want” with, “Oh, I don’t really need anything major… I’ll love whatever you get,” leaving you banging your head against a wall while scrolling Amazon for any semblance of an idea before three days from December 25th.
The Red Wings have a lot of “must-haves” when it comes to building their squad. They have a few high-impact young forwards who are still hitting their peak performance, a rookie defenseman in Moritz Seider and a few other top four favorites, great goalkeeping in Vil Hossu, and a couple of veterans contributing as solid pieces at depth.
But hey, there’s always something a growing team needs. And for the Wings, there are definitely some things you can put under the tree that will help them in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the Detroit Red Wings holiday wish list…
A shiny new necklace by Dylan Larkin
The Red Wings captain is playing some of the best hockey in his life right now. He has 96 points in his last 100 games, and analytics-wise, It was one of the best centers of the gaming industry in the entire NHL over the past two seasons. Larkin just so happens to be on track to be an unrestricted free agent in seven months. And thanks to great timing, all signs point to Larkin getting a big sack of money under the Christmas tree (or summer ficus, depending on when you sign).
There’s really no reason why Detroit shouldn’t be the team that pays Larkin. They have the cap space, it’s the captain (hand picked by the guy who wore the ‘C’ longer than any other red wing), and- For every man himself Larkin wants to stay home. However, the longer Larkin goes without a new deal, the more our fans will say “Hmm…that would be nice if that was sooner” before getting to Alka-Seltzer and/or Fireball.
It would be in everyone’s interest to get this deal done sooner rather than later. As for Larkin, he will get a long-term contract that he rightly deserves. For Yzerman and the front office, they will lock in the central part of the rebuilding process, which could give them a jump on making some more aggressive moves to help out with the rebuilding. And for fans, we enjoy the high point in Larkin’s career without having to check Twitter between periods for any grumblings about the status of his contract.
Tyler Bertuzzi is healthy
It’s hard to locate the Wings this season in terms of talent, because it appears that a large portion of the Red Wings talent is injured at any given time. Fortunately, things seem to be getting better. Jacob Vrana is back with the team, Ole Mata is playing again after a long illness, Robbie Fabry’s return seems very close, and Larkin and Philip Hronik seem to have avoided any major injury.
Arguably the last major domino to fall is the biggest, Tyler Bertuzzi, Red Rider BB Gunn from the Wings injury list. Bertuzzi only managed nine games this season due to two separate hand injuries, and his return in seven games from his first injury was less than stellar.
However, when he does cook, Bertuzzi is a great source of record, and most importantly a Unique scoring source. His physical ability to force his way into dangerous areas to score “dirty goals” or win losing pucks in the offensive zone is a skill set missing from the Wings lineup. Bringing Bertuzzi back, and restoring his level of play to what it was last season, would not only boost the wingers’ scoring numbers, but could also open things up for some other attackers.
Some bragging for Alex Nedeljovich
I still love Ned. There is still a part of me that hopes to be a meaningful part of the Red Wings’ future. For now, though, the Claus-o-meter that measures Ned’s bravado is empty.
Nedeljkovic’s play hasn’t been below average this season, it’s at ‘responsible’ levels. It allows goals that should be routine saves, and even routine saves look somewhat shaky. What’s frustrating is that he comes in with a much better defense in front of him than he did last year when he was I did He gave us a number of game heist offers.
The skill set that Ned needs to be a successful goalkeeper is there. His display in his Calder-nominated season in 2021 and in flashes of great play last year. It’s as if what’s missing is the confidence and ostentation of making game-changing saves. But all it would take is just one or two games to get that swagger back.
If Ned can do that, and rediscover his game, that gives the Red Wings a solid B option behind Ville Husso, and could help Detroit steal a few games en route to a potential playoff run.
Consistent special teams
Special Teams like the Playstation 5 you unpacked on Christmas morning; The rest of your gifts may be misplaced or missing, but this last big, memorable gift could make up for those five packs of socks Aunt Carol got you.
Likewise, a good power play and penalty kick unit can make up for a team’s shortcomings even in strength. The Red Wings, still a team in transition, have a lot of those. But if they can convert one or two man advantages per game and keep another team’s powerful unit of play off the board, that’s the difference between winning and losing (Just ask the Ottawa Senators.)
The Red Wings special teams are in the middle of it at best right now. The power play ranks 22nd in the NHL with a percentage of 20.2%. The penalty shot is slightly better, 18th in the league at 77.2%, but it’s still a far cry from “good enough.” It’s also no coincidence that earlier in the season, when the Wings were off to a hot start, Detroit was leading the league in both categories.
We could see an improvement in his power play with the likes of Frana, Fabbri and (eventually) Bertuzzi back in the line-up. If the Red Wings can start converting some of their chances and clean up penalties, they might steal enough wins (big topic, Grinchy on this wish list) to be in the postseason conversation at the end of the year.
A little ceremonial patience
The Red Wings are equal parts better and more fun this year than they have been in the previous few seasons. But it’s also important to remember that this is still a team in the rebuilding phase. There will be stretches where you go “The wings are back, baby!” There will also be stretches where you go “Dear God, what’s that trash fire?” This is the reality of where we are with this team right now.
JJ went more in-depth with this one earlier this month, but the best thing we can do as fans is just sit back and enjoy the ride; We can simply cheer when wards win a match against lightning and sigh wistfully when swords strike them without delving into the ramifications of each game. There may come a time in the future where expectations change and the team needs to go through scrutiny, but for now, a little patience will get us through the highs and lows with our sanity.
Sometimes, the best Christmas gifts are the ones you have to wait for. Looks like the Red Wings’ big turnaround is just around the corner. We are on the right track to get there. We might just have to unwrap a few wolves before we can enjoy it.