The 2019-20 season marked the first full year for the Detroit Red Wings with general manager Steve Yzerman at the helm. While it was unrealistic to expect Yzerman to turn the team into the Tampa Bay Lightning (his previous post) immediately, he did his best to improve his squad. Let’s look at some of Yzerman’s moves since July 1, 2019, and see which were good, bad, and ugly. We’ll start with the good moves and work our way down.
“But it was still difficult to imagine things being this bad,”
Oct 6: Traded for D Alex Biega
Alex Biega might be the smartest player in hockey. I’m not kidding. Biega played his entire four-year college career at Harvard, including as captain in his senior season. But, in his first season with the Red Wings, he did about as well as he could given the situation.
Biega was acquired on Oct. 6, when the Red Wings traded for him a week after he cleared waivers as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. It was tough to see where Biega fit on the Canucks roster. They signed Oscar Fantenberg and Jordie Benn in the offseason to fill out the bottom six defensive spots. That made Biega expendable and why he found himself in Hockeytown.
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In 49 games with the Red Wings, he posted just three assists but he’s never been much of an offensive threat. His advanced stats aren’t much better as he recorded a 0.9 point shares (not great but still 12th on the Red Wings) while finishing with a minus-6.9 in E+/- (expected plus/minus). Sure, 2019-20 was not a great season, but getting Biega for David Pope, a 25-year-old forward who’s mostly an AHL/ECHL player unlikely to make the NHL was a decent risk for the Red Wings.
Nov 6: Traded for C Robby Fabbri
Last week, I mentioned that the Red Wings need to bring back Robby Fabbri. Part of that speaks to how good the trade to acquire him was. Yzerman picked up Fabbri from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Jacob de la Rose in Nov. 2019 as there were few opportunities for him on the Blues coming off a Stanley cup championship. It made perfect sense for Fabbri to play for the Red Wings.
Yzerman brought him to Detroit for a chance to create a regular role for himself and, so far, it’s been promising. Fabbri had 31 points in 52 games with the Red Wings and will earn a nice raise when he’s re-signed this offseason. The trade looks particularly good considering who the Red Wings gave up to acquire him.
de la Rose struggled to make a positive impact on the Red Wings early in the season, scoring just one goal and three assists in 16 games. With the Blues, he has scored one goal and four assists in 35 games. He made the Blues’ 31-man Return to Play roster, but he hasn’t seen any game action since Mar. 3, nor has he scored a point since Jan. 11. So far, this trade has been and should continue to be, in the Red Wings’ favor.
Feb 24: Traded D Mike Green to Oilers
The Mike Green Era is a complicated one. Signed by the Red Wings on July 1, 2015, to come over from the Washington Capitals, Green had with 35, 36, and 33-point seasons while playing no less than 66 games in each. That changed in 2018-19 when injuries forced him to miss 39 games, and he only scored 21 points. Was he worth the $6 million cap hit? No, probably not. Was he worth the $5.375 million cap hit when he re-signed in 2018? No, not really. It made trading him difficult, but at the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, Yzerman finally did the nearly impossible.
Paying $5.375 million a season for a 34-year-old D-man with injury history isn’t desirable, believe it or not. So, when Yzerman managed to trade Green to the Edmonton Oilers, most Red Wings fans sighed with relief. Relief that the team managed to get something in return for the ageing defenseman, but also that Green was getting an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup.
In exchange for Green and retaining 50% of his salary, the Red Wings took on Kyle Brodziak’s remaining LTIR cap hit ($1.15 million) and received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2020. That pick would’ve turned into a third-round pick in 2021 if the Oilers reached the Conference Final and Green played in half the games, but since he opted-out of the NHL’s Return to Play, the pick stays as a fourth-rounder in 2020. Getting something is better than nothing, and that’s exactly what Yzerman managed with this deal.
Feb 24: Traded LW Andreas Athanasiou to Oilers
Another deadline deal between the Red Wings and Oilers saw Andreas Athanasiou shipped to Edmonton, along with the Princeton Tigers’ all-time leading goal scorer Ryan Kuffner (lots of Ivy League talk today), for Sam Gagner and second-round draft picks in 2020 and 2021. Gagner is a UFA this offseason, and while there might be a spot for him as a bottom-six forward, it seems unlikely that he’ll return to Detroit next season.
Trading Athanasiou was a difficult but necessary move. He’s been a significant member of the Red Wings during their rebuild and has arguably been their best asset for a few seasons now. However, you’d be hard-pressed to say no to two second-round picks. I’m sure Yzerman would have been happy to get one second-round pick, but then he asked his former boss, the Oilers’ Ken Holland if he could get another second-rounder in 2021 and Holland said, “You bet!”
This trade gives Detroit three second-round picks and allows Yzerman to take a risk on a player who might be a good project. Don’t be shocked if he drafts a left-winger in the second round as a potential long-term replacement for Athanasiou. Players like Luke Tuch (Alex Tuch’s younger brother) or Carter Savoie are intriguing and could be future stars if given the opportunity with the Red Wings.
Now, time for the bad deals.
October 28: Traded for F Brendan Perlini
Brendan Perlini started the season as a healthy scratch in nine of the Chicago Blackhawks’ first 10 games and, as a result, he requested a trade on Oct. 25. A few days later, Perlini was traded to Detroit for prospect Alec Regula. Like so many trades, it was a low-risk move for the Red Wings that still gave them flexibility down the line.
In 39 games with the Red Wings, Perlini had a goal, three assists, and a -0.7 offensive point shares. It was a brutal season that made clear Perlini is not the same player who scored 30 points with the Arizona Coyotes in 2017-18. He’s a restricted free agent this offseason, so it’ll be interesting to see if Yzerman gives him a qualifying offer.
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To get Perlini, Detroit sent D-man Alec Regula to Chicago. Regula was a third-round pick by the Red Wings in 2018 and is coming off a 60-point season with the London Knights of the OHL as a 20-year-old. I liked Regula and didn’t see why Yzerman thought it was a good move for the franchise to trade a solid Red Wings prospect, who’s from Michigan, to Chicago for a struggling forward. Nonetheless, he did it, and it looks like a bad move as of now.
July 1: Signed G Calvin Pickard
Is signing a third goalie to a minimum contract for two seasons a bad deal? Not really. It was clear at the beginning of the season that Pickard would be a member of Grand Rapids (AHL) and wasn’t going to overthrow Jimmy Howard or Jonathan Bernier for a spot on the Red Wings. It worked out for Pickard who had a decent season with Grand Rapids, turning in a 2.83 goals-against average (GAA) and .903 save percentage (SV%) in 33 games.
The issue was when Pickard was asked to start for the Red Wings when Howard and Bernier were injured. In three starts, he had an incredible 5.46 GAA and .797 SV%; it’s not every day you see those kinds of numbers.
Pickard is under contract for another season, and as the Red Wings try to push Howard out the door as fast as they can, Pickard could contend for an NHL spot. It’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened. It would be nice to see him continue his starting role for Grand Rapids, but we’ll see how hungry he is in training camp.
July 1: Signed D Patrik Nemeth
Nemeth showed a lot of promise with the Colorado Avalanche in 2017-18 and 2018-19, which is why Yzerman signed him to a two-year, $3 million deal. This season was a learning one for the 28-year-old, who saw over 22 minutes of average ice time, three minutes more than in any other season. But with more ice time comes more responsibility, and it didn’t look like he was ready for the challenge.
Nemeth registered nine points, six off his career-high of 15 in 2017-18. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t trying offensively as he had 89 shots, the most he’s had in a season. He’s not someone who’s going to light the lamp offensively, but he can provide support here and there. Defensively, his 3.3 defensive point shares were the same as Drew Doughty and Ryan Ellis and better than Duncan Keith and Cale Makar.
However, a $3 million cap hit for a role player rather than an impact player is a little steep. Nemeth has another year on his contract, and depending on how good he plays early next season, Yzerman might decide to ship him out while his value is still somewhat high. He’s figured to be a top-four D-man for the Red Wings but it depends on what prospects make the team next season, and who Yzerman decides to re-sign. It’s not a great deal, but not an awful one either.
Finally, time for the ugly moves.
July 1: Signed C Valtteri Filppula
Yzerman brought back Valterri Filppula on Canada Day on a two-year, $6 million deal. Filppula was coming off a 31-point season with the New York Islanders in 2018-19, including four assists in eight playoff games as the Islanders advanced to the second round. While it was nice to see Filppula back in a Red Wings uniform, his season did not go as well as fans had hoped.
In 70 games with the Red Wings, he scored just six goals and 15 assists. The goal and point figures are the worst of his career, when he’s played at least 70 games, and his lack of production was one of the many downfalls for the Red Wings this season. Hopefully, he’ll be more productive next season in a contract year, but he’s on the wrong side of 35 and is trending downwards.
Again, it was nice seeing Filppula back in the red and white, but it’s not looking great. In fact, this deal is looking extremely ugly, but we’ll see if Yzerman can move him between now and the trade deadline and get some sort of asset back. That would be the best possible outcome.
August 14: Traded for LW Adam Erne
This is another one of Yzerman’s low-risk, high-potential deals that really did not go as planned. In 56 games with the Red Wings this season, Erne had just two goals and three assists; not quite the production you want from someone who cost you a fourth-round pick.
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Erne was a cap casualty in Tampa Bay and, as a result, was sent to Detroit in mid-August. Yzerman brought him in to provide depth scoring and potentially compete for a top-six forward role. That didn’t happen as Erne scored his two goals on Dec. 17, in a loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets and never scored again in 2019-20.
Yzerman and the Red Wings might consider this season an anomaly and re-sign Erne as a restricted free agent. He won’t be one of their top targets this offseason, but there’s a path for him to become a 20-30-point scorer in a season. Whether that’s with the Red Wings or somewhere else remains to be seen.
Nov 30: Acquired G Eric Comrie
Dec 12: Acquired D Kyle Wood
Feb 21: Acquired D Cody Goloubef
Feb 24: Acquired F Dmytro Timashov
Comrie and Wood haven’t made a significant impact since being acquired by the Red Wings. They were picked up for players who have no NHL experience, so I’d call it a wash. As for Goloubef and Timashov, both were picked up on waivers and, in a combined eight games, they have scored zero points; not exactly a reason for Yzerman to give any of them a roster spot on the big squad next season.
Was the Season an Overall Success?
Yes and no. The 2019-20 Red Wings finished with a .275 points percentage, which was the worst mark since the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers. Obviously losing isn’t fun and there wasn’t much fun in rooting for Detroit this season. But when Yzerman took over for the Red Wings, the team was in such disarray that the only direction to go in was a complete tear down and rebuild. So far, we are in the middle of that process and it can only get better with a good offseason. Don”t be surprised if we some improved results with the Red Wings next season.