Now that the dust has settled - and it was dustier than we thought when free agency opened - what does this year's Detroit Red Wings team look like?
As I wrote earlier - I expected a center (Andrew Copp) and a couple of left defensemen (Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta). I was more than surprised when GM Steve Yzerman also landed free agent wingers Dominik Kubalik (who scored 30 goals just a few years ago) and 34-year-old David Perron, who scored 27 goals last year. On top of that, Yzerman traded for Ville Husso and signed defensemen Robert Hagg and Mark Pysyk. Add the coaching change, and there's room for a substantial gain - maybe from 76 points to 88-90 points this year.
Here's my best guess for how the Wings look this year.
Don't mess with success. Captain Dylan Larkin had his best season in a couple of years. Tyler Bertuzzi, especially in the first half, was often the best player on the ice. And Lucas Raymond showed us everything we ever wanted to see from Filip Zadina. Larkin has the motor. Bertuzzi has the jam and the IQ. And Raymond has the sense and skill to play with both. It's not an elite first line - but it's a solid first line.
Part of me really wants to line Filip Zadina at RW because he might just finally find his game. But coach Derek Lalone is like any other coach, and he's going to go with the proven veteran. Vrana has enough skill to carry this line. Copp - and this is going to sound bad, but I mean it as a compliment - is like Luke Glendening deluxe. He's just going to play smart, up and down hockey and get the puck to Vrana. Perron is going to be a nasty pest who scores goals. It's just a solid line if the chemistry develops. With Vrana having been injured so much since the trade to Detroit, this line is still new to Wings fans.
Dominik Kubalik is a guy who's scored 30 goals before. Pius Suter isn't my favorite center in the world - he often looks overmatched out there - but he's reasonably productive. Filip Zadina is trying to find his game still. It could be now or never for the 6th overall pick from 2018. Watch for Joe Veleno to potentially win that job from Suter or Zadina, depending on how things go. But another possible switch here might be Perron for Zadina, with Zadina moving up with Copp and Vrana. Zadina has looked decent with Vrana. Perron on L3 makes them more proven and and formidable, whether it's Veleno or Suter as 3C.
We don't know how Lalonde coaches. But if this were Mike Babcock, for example, this line might end up being the true fourth line. There's an entire segment of Red Wings fans who want write off Adam Erne, who looked like he might be a potential third line 15-20-goal man in 20-21. He's still a physical winger who skates well and gets in on the forecheck. Michael Rasmussen is big and he scored 15 goals and won 50.1 percent of his faceoffs. He's still pretty brutal with the puck in transition, but he took a step forward last season. And Oskar Sundqvist is just a big, heavy and versatile forward who's played meaningful games - something this roster has lacked. This line could be hard to play against.
This is where the signings of Kubalik and Perron were a little vexxing to me. In this line up, there is no Veleno. And, you'll also notice, there is no Jonatan Berggren. You'll also notice there is no Elmer Soderblom. Other guys not listed right now are Robbie Fabbri (injured to start the year) and Givani Smith. Yzerman's free agency splurge means it's going to be hard for the prospects to win jobs. Berggren, Veleno and Zadina could be competing for that 3RW job. Maybe Veleno and Rasmussen are completing for that 4C job. But in the NHL, tie goes to the veteran.
I could be wrong, but I think Lalonde will pair veteran Olli Maatta with sophomore Moritz Seider - and then pair Ben Chiarot with Filip Hronek? Why? Chiarot can skate better. Seider's a great skater, and he can cover for Maata better than Hronek can. Chiarot also gives Hronek that extra bump his pairing needs, defensively.
Maata is slow, but he's smart and he plays a smart game. Seider will continue to develop his dynamic game next to him.
A lot of people are dumping on the Chiarot contract, but he's going to play 20-22 minutes a night - including lots of PK and late game, hold-down-the-fort minutes. He battles, plays hard and blocks shots. He skates so much better than people might think and his 5 on 5 offense was remarkable good. Hronek is another guy who seems to have found himself getting criticism. But he might still be the best Ozone defenseman on the team. He's a little slow for a smallish defenseman - and that hurts him in his own end sometimes.
Will rookie Simon Edvinsson get the job? I'm not sure. It might be better to let him start in Grand Rapids. That could been UFA signing Robert Hagg, a 6-2, 205-pound defenseman gets the job on the left side. Hagg plays a fairly simple and physical game. The Wings signed veteran RD Mark Pysyk but he's injured to start the year. That means young Gustav Lindstrom should be the favorite to get the job on RD. There are going to real competitions for jobs here, with Hagg and Edvinsson and Albert Johansson and Donovan Sebrango.
Is Simon Edvinsson, the 6'6 rookie, taken sixth overall in 2021, ready? Hard to say. He looked way too raw in the 3-on-3 rookie tournament - but that's not a surprise, given his flight was delayed and he barely got into town before the puck drop. Oh, and Donovan Sebrango looked like a beast in that tournament. He's still only 20. 21-year-old smooth skating Albert Johansson could be ready to compete for a job. Can Jared McIsaac push himself back into contention?
Steve Yzerman seems to have a thing for untested goalies. Last year, he traded draft picks to get Alex Nedeljkovic to play with Thomas Greiss. This year, he did the same to get Ville Husso, to play with Nedeljkovic.
This is probably going to be a 1A and 1B set up unless someone outright steals the starting job.
Husso has a starting goalie's size at 6'3. He posted great numbers in St. Louis (25-7-6, 2.56 .919). It was basically Husso's rookie year. He'd looked mediocre in a stint the year before. And last year, Husso went 2-5 in the playoffs with a 3.67 GAA. For whatever reason, Husso struggled in the playoffs and Jordan Binnington, who was awful during the regular season, was fantastic. And so, St. Louis let go of Husso for draft picks.
Nedeljkovic had a rough ride in Detroit. Just 6'0, the league seemed to pick him apart as the season went on. Before Christmas, his save percentage was .916. After Christmas it was .892.
Some of that is due to the Red Wings having an unbalanced schedule with a lot of easier games early in the season. Some of that is due to the Wings' just losing their way as the season went on.
The hope here is that Husso doesn't get to Detroit and see his numbers tank the way Nedeljkovic's did.
Victor Brattstrom got into 32 games with the Griffins last year and was clearly a step below Calvin Pickard. The 25-year-old Brattstrom is 6'4. The Wings have also signed 6'2, 31-year-old Jussi Olkinoura. The Finnish goalie played in the Olympics, was fantastic in the World Championship and has been very good in the KHL the last three years. He's probably the first callup.