from Matt Larkin of The Hockey News,
Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman is collecting chess pieces. We know there’s an intriguing long-term plan forming in his brilliant hockey mind. But he’s not placing his pieces on the board yet. Most of what came out Tuesday in the Wings’ season-ending media availability sent the message that Yzerman wants to stay the course with a long, long, long-term rebuild.
The final years of the franchise’s 25-year playoff streak, which ended in 2016-17, brought with them an air of denial. The streak became a curse. Detroit limped along in mediocrity to make the post-season at all costs, Everything Yzerman has done since taking over from Ken Holland in 2019 suggests charting an opposite path. Slow and steady. Go backward to go forward. Tank? No one in Hockeytown will use the word, but there are indirect ways to go about it. The morsels we there in Yzerman’s comments Tuesday....
The coach coming back to keep patiently guiding a team in transition? Check. Staying committed to slow-cooking the prospect pool? Check. Refusing quick-fix trades for veterans? Check. It’s easy to read between the lines here. Detroit is in no hurry. This is the same franchise that was vocal about changing the draft lottery rules to give the bottom teams better odds and, as a result, only two lottery slots will be awarded for 2021, with more changes coming in 2022. Maybe it wasn’t just about the Red Wings feeling they were jobbed last season. Perhaps they expected they’d be in the hunt for more lotteries in the ensuing seasons.
In 2021, they own just the sixth-best lottery odds after finishing 19-27-10. But they possess two first-round picks, five picks in the first two rounds and 12 picks overall. It’s all welcome news for a franchise that is improving its youth crop but hasn’t reached the critical mass of young talent required to contend just yet. In Future Watch 2021, our panel of active NHL scouts and team executives graded Detroit’s prospect pool No. 7 in the NHL. In Raymond and Seider, Detroit owns our fourth- and fifth-overall NHL-affiliated prospects, but there’s a dropoff after them to 48th with Veleno. The 2021 draft will yield a couple more useful pieces – but Yzerman’s open reticence to throttle up may also indicate he’s watching the 2022 draft class carefully. It’s considered a group with much bigger star power than 2021’s class. The 2022 draft is the Shane Wright draft, the Brad Lambert draft and the Matthew Savoie draft.
So while every NHL GM wants to improve his team incrementally, and Yzerman will surely seek out more Vrana-style trades to add young impact players, don’t be surprised if Detroit’s 2021-22 feels similar to 2020-21. Next season isn’t the year to start pushing. It’s likely 2022-23.