Detroit — Now that the Red Wings’ season is over, general manager Steve Yzerman’s work is only beginning.
An NHL GM’s work never really ends, but especially once the team’s season is done.
And now that the Wings have entered the offseason, some important issues will have to be tackled and worked on by Yzerman, who hasn’t shied away from making personnel moves his first two seasons running the Wings.
The first call will be regarding coach Jeff Blashill.
It was expected a decision on Blashill’s future was going to be made Monday, but an announcement from the organization never came.
It easily could occur Tuesday.
And after a decision on Blashill is finalized, a slew of offseason decisions regarding players and the NHL Entry Draft will need to be made.
Here are some of the biggest items on Yzerman’s plate as the Wings’ offseason begins:
The decision whether to retain Blashill on Monday didn’t materialize.
It’s likely it’ll come down Tuesday, as Yzerman said at his trade deadline news conference he’d act “quickly” on the coaching decision.
Is Blashill returning?
Most analysts, by the slimmest of margins, believe the Wings will bring back Blashill for a seventh season.
The Wings improved this season, surpassed their win total of a year ago in 18 fewer games, and showed dramatic improvement defensively.
But, the offense continued to struggle, with an offense and power play that were ranked among the NHL’s worst for much of the season.
Given Blashill’s record (172-221-62), and the fact the Wings haven’t been a playoff team the last five seasons under his leadership, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see someone new behind the bench.
Maybe it’s just time for a new voice in the locker room?
Fans will know soon enough.
The Seattle Kraken are joining the NHL next season and each current team (except recent expansion brethren Vegas) is going to lose a player during the July 21 expansion draft.
Whoever the Wings lose likely isn’t going to significantly affect the Wings next season, but it will be interesting to see who Yzerman leaves unprotected.
Most teams will choose to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. Tthe other option is eight skaters forwards/defensemen and one goalie.
There will be plenty of weeks ahead to analyze and scrutinize who the Wings will keep, but the biggest question might be among the forwards.
Essentially, only one forward among the group of Evgeny Svechnikov, Givani Smith, Vladislav Namestnikov and Frans Nielsen will be protected
Nielsen will be available for Seattle. Given Svechnikov’s inability to land a regular role, and being waived twice this season, it’s likely he’ll be unprotected, too.
It might come down to Smith and Namestnikov, which will be interesting choice.
On defense, Filip Hronek will be protected. Then, who do you leave off between Danny DeKeyser, Troy Stecher, Dennis Cholowski and Gustav Lindstrom? You can protect two.
This will be another intriguing decision by Yzerman and his staff.
The Wings will be busy July 23-24 for the NHL Entry Draft, with 12 picks over the two days.
Seven of those picks are in the first three rounds — two in the first round (their own, and Washington’s), three in the second round (their own own, as well as Edmonton’s and the New York Rangers’), and two in the third round (their own, and Vegas’).
The Wings also have two more in the fourth-round (their own, and Tampa Bay’s), and in the fifth (their own, and Montreal’s).
But figuring out this particular entry draft will be one of the biggest tests ever for NHL talent evaluators.
Some junior leagues never did get a chance to play this season (OHL), and others had numerous pauses, as the pandemic ravaged developmental leagues around the world.
Some prospects were able to show NHL evaluators how good a player they are. Some didn’t get a chance at all.
Travel was limited for scouts, also impacting the scouting of this draft class.
There aren’t any impact players along the lines of a Jack Hughes (New Jersey), Rasmus Dahlin (Buffalo) or Alexis Lafreniere (N.Y. Rangers) in this draft, but Michigan defenseman Owen Power could be reaching that status by the time July 23 comes along.
The NCAA was able to get on the ice and play a full schedule, and scouts liked what they saw of the 6-foot-5 Power, who is an elite skater and grades well in nearly every category.
NHL unrestricted free agency is scheduled to begin at noon on July 28.
The Wings will have plenty of decisions to make leading to the start of the market, with several valuable prospective UFAs on the current Wings’ roster.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier has had two consecutive impressive seasons, and the second half of the season, formed one of the best tandems in the NHL alongside Thomas Greiss.
Bernier has expressed a desire to remain with the Wings, and there aren’t likely to be a lot of openings for goaltenders around the NHL. Expect a deal with the Wings at some point.
It’s also likely the Wings will come to an agreement with forward Luke Glendening, who starred at East Kentwood and Michigan, and is having an admirable career with the NHL team in his state.
Glendening was the best faceoff man in the NHL, statistically, and remains a valuable bottom-six forward and penalty killer. He’s more valuable to the Wings, for a lengthy list of reasons, than other teams.
Three interesting prospective UFAs are veteran forwards Sam Gagner and Bobby Ryan, and defenseman Marc Staal.
It’s possible the Wings bring back both Gagner and Ryan. But there will be a lot of other choices on the open market again this summer, and the Wings might be able to do better that way.
Gagner might be more likely to be re-signed, given his versatility, while Ryan is coming off triceps surgery and slowed offensively after a hot start.
The Wings might not have been expecting too much from Staal entering the season. But Staal played every game, was a big, veteran body who made things as difficult as possible for opposing forwards, and was a respected leader in the room.
Suddenly, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Wings take a run at re-signing the veteran, and become a bit of a mentor for incoming prospect Moritz Seider.
There was some news Monday on the Wings’ front.
Defenseman Danny DeKeyser was announced as the Wings’ nominee — as chosen by the Detroit chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association — for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
The Masterton is awarded to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.
DeKeyser played eight games early in the 2019-20 season, then was sidelined before ultimately needed back surgery, which ended his season.
By the time the NHL returned this January, it was about 15 months between games for DeKeyser, who found his return spotty, at best. He was a healthy scratch for nine games late in January, as the Wings wanted DeKeyser wanted to work on his strength.
DeKeyser, 31, looked more like his pre-surgery form the second half of the season, increasing his ice time and playing some of his best hockey.
In 47 games, DeKeyser finished with four goals and eight assists, and had a plus-3 rating.
“The second half of the season I definitely felt a lot better,” DeKeyser said. “I was moving better and felt stronger out there. One of my goals coming into the season was to play, and to just get better as the weeks and months went on, and that’s what I did.”
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