Raw Charge is spending bye week writing about teams around the division. Some of them are legitimate contenders! Some have some work to do. We’ll outline where each team is at the midpoint of the season.
With the Kings' victory over St. Louis today, the Red Wings are officially dead last in the NHL standings right now.— Winging It In Motown (@wingingitmotown) January 22, 2019
The other day, to prepare for writing this article, I read PeterWiiM’s “A Big Picture Look at Detroit at the Halfway Mark.” The most interesting thing about his article is that it focused on the positive: at present, this would be the Detroit Red Wings’ goaltending. This season, Jimmy Howard has been playing his heart out, keeping a…let’s say struggling…team in some kind of contention. Here’s what PeterWiiM had to say:
“Focusing on Detroit, their Expected Goals For Percentage (xGF%) is nearly the lowest in the league at 44.72%. In the last three seasons, the lowest xGF% of a playoff team was 47.08%. That’s not to say there’s some magic cutoff that a team has to be over to be in contention to make the playoffs, but it’s a bad sign.
“The best section for Detroit is their goaltending stats, which is what I expected. Jimmy Howard has been playing very well this season, and Jonathan Bernier has rebounded from a poor start to the season and has been playing much better as of late.”
Howard’s SV% is currently .933, quite a bit better than this season’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Bernier is .903. Howard’s goals against average is 2.07, smoking Vasy’s 2.49.
The difference is the goal support.
I can’t remember when Tampa Bay last lost to the Detroit Red Wings, but we did deliver them the last playoff game (a loss) they ever played at Joe Louis Arena. It’s been a while since I’ve hated this team in playoffs, and it’s a damned shame. The league is better when the Red Wings are in contention, and in a few years (if a certain Steve Yzerman “returns home”) we might have serious work to upset them in the second round.
To get a deeper insight into who’s good and who’s bad, and whomst the Red Wings should stick in a rocket and send to Jupiter, I chatted with Winging it in Motown’s managing editor, JJ from Kansas.
Interview with a very invested Detroit fan
Achariya: To start with something positive, I notice you’ve been recapping the Grand Rapids Griffins [the Red Wings’ AHL affiliate] consistently this season. Tell me about this team and how following it positively impacts Detroit fans.
J.J. From Kansas: The Griffins started off kind of slow but have come on lately to pour on points and are fighting atop their division nowadays. With a new coach in town and some talent drain happening from the big club, it felt like it took them time to find their footing.
The team is constructed much like they have been in past years: they’re built to compete in the AHL, so looking at the numbers, you’ll see a lot of contributions from guys like Chris Terry (29) and Carter Camper (30). They’re not prospects, but those kind of veteran contributions are part of Detroit’s overall organizational desire to teach the kids how to be winners at every level.
At this point, Red Wings fans are tracking the Griffins pretty much for 2018 first-rounder Filip Zadina. He had a slow start, but is showcasing his skills. Some lower-tier prospects like Givani Smith and Axel Holmstrom are also fighting in the last of their transition years for a spot on future Red Wings squads, but most of the focus after Zadina is on the defensive logjam that Ken Holland has designed. Joe Hicketts, Libor Sulak, and (currently recalled) Filip Hronek are all battling for spots on a blue line that will hopefully have more room after the trade deadline.
Obviously with the team being where they are, there’s a lot more attention being paid to the AHL than there has been in years’ past, but there’s also a lot more to see there. Fans are pretty excited about it and the Griffins are a fun squad to watch.
Achariya: Speaking of defensive logjams, if you were GM, what moves would you make immediately to help the Wings? Also I assume Wings are sellers at the deadline. What do you hope to see?
J.J. From Kansas: Immediately, I’m at least calling everybody out there looking for interest in any of our goalies, veteran forwards, and veteran defensemen. I’m pushing hardest to clear out some defense, but also know that I’m in a position where I don’t have to take pennies on the dollar for rental players at this point.
I’m perfectly fine waiting on the right deal for Jimmy Howard because his performance in keeping the kids in games they probably should have been getting smoked in might have intangible benefits. The same goes for Gustav Nyquist playing on Dylan Larkin’s wing right now and for great-in-the-room Luke Glendening.
I understand that there’s not a lot of push for the old blueliners to include the currently-injured Trevor Daley or the missing-three-steps Niklas Kronwall, but I’m fielding calls on them as well as Mike Green and Nick Jensen.
If I can get another GM to stop laughing at my mention of Jonathan Ericsson, I’m considering him too. I’ll listen to ideas that feature guys 25 or younger, but I’m going to have to get real sold on something because I’d be very cautious about entering into the Oilers’ ‘Gift of the Magi’ situation in trading for spots of immediate need when that’s not appropriate.
I mean, realistically we know that MOST of these guys aren’t moving and the fans are going to get mad at every one that doesn’t end up bringing back some sort of future value in a trade, but I’m also trying to balance a team still more than one year away from contention and one that needs to go through growing pains without destroying the room and their confidence. Dylan Larkin learning how to lead lambs to slaughter for two more seasons isn’t the right way to go about things.
Hopefully, Detroit will enter the offseason with more than one first-round pick. Ideally some GM will get desperate enough that the Wings end up with more than one lottery pick. What I really want to see for the rest of this season is for the Wings’ young players to continue to carry the load and start outplaying teams consistently, but also for them to get let down by luck so as to keep good draft positioning.
I’m not all aboard #TeamTank at this point, but I guess you could call me #TeamMoralVictoriesOnly
Achariya: So, let’s talk about the 5’11 elephant in the room. First, you probably deeply understand the kind of hatred and rivalry that results from the competent core of your franchise going elsewhere, but I think it’s obvious to us all what Yzerman means when he says he’s “going home.” Given how well he stocked Tampa, how cautiously excited are you for next summer, and what do you think he might do first? Also: undying hatred.
J.J. From Kansas: At this point, I’m all-in emotionally on Yzerman returning to Detroit and if it doesn’t happen I’m going to be crushed, but at the same time I feel like a kid getting ready to go on a first date, but as an adult I’m well-aware of how often first dates end up in disappointment.
I think Yzerman is a good GM and he’s done very good work putting together team Canada and the Lightning. What scares me is that in putting together a Canadian Olympic team, the challenge there is “don’t screw this up with grinders” and in what he’s done so far with the Lightning, he inherited much of what I feel is important to Tampa’s success.
If/when Yzerman returns to GM the Red Wings, he’s going to be our golden boy coming home and, honestly, I’ve been over-excited for everything in Detroit for the last five years and am getting burned out on the disappointment when things don’t live up to those expectations. I don’t want to lose that fun, but holy moly Yzerman falling flat on running the Wings would be hard for me to handle.
First thing he does though? He sneaks Hedman into Detroit in his carry-on ;)
Achariya: How do you think the Atlantic stands at the end of the regular season?
J.J. From Kansas:
So basically the same as they are now except Detroit > Ottawa
Achariya: Do you have any general comments about the terrible Atlantic teams and what you think happens to them this season? Panthers, Sens, etc.?
J.J. From Kansas: I hope the Sens get sold, TBH. I have very strong opinions on how bad I think Melnyk is for hockey fans in general and it pains me to see Senators fans suffering as badly as they are because, as bad as Sens fans can be, they put up with Leafs fans more than I do. I keep forgetting the Panthers even exist and still have them cemented as essentially a feeder squad for the Blackhawks for what Dale Tallon did after switching teams. Maybe this is the year I update my opinion on them but probably not. As for the Sabres? Jack Eichel has [a butt] face.
Achariya: It’s a shame he’s American. Ok! Please end with your sincerest final thoughts about your franchise and who you would like to see remain into the new Wings era. You can even project lines.
J.J. From Kansas: I love the Detroit Red Wings more than several members of my extended (but none of my immediate) family. I want to see Dylan Larkin draw comparisons not to grumpy-cat-ass-lookin’ Jonathan Toews but to his rightful predecessor Steve Yzerman.
I want Michael Rasmussen to prove me extremely wrong about my displeasure about the team having drafted him and I want Filip Zadina to live up to his promise to fill the nets of every team that passed on him in this year’s draft.
I want all of my young favorite Wings to achieve great success in Detroit. Alternately, if any of them end up getting traded for the Wings to achieve that success, I want them to fail because I’m petty.
Achariya: Thank you, JJ! Enjoy Yzerman and stuff. :(