Red Wings' Steve Yzerman discusses free agents, 2024-25 season outlook

DETROIT — The Red Wings’ offseason business is not yet over; not with perhaps their most important task, new contracts for Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, yet to be completed.

But typically, by the time general manager Steve Yzerman holds a press conference in early July, it means the bulk of his offseason work is done. There are exceptions, as with last year’s trade for Alex DeBrincat on July 9. And that could be true again this season, as Yzerman said Thursday he could still consider another move. The fact he was talking at all, though, was a sign the puzzle was nearly complete.

So, where do the Red Wings stand? And what did the general manager have to say about it?

The forwards

The biggest moves of the Red Wings’ offseason seemingly bookended the signing period, with Detroit first re-signing star winger Patrick Kane on the eve of free agency opening, and then capping its signings by adding scoring winger Vladimir Tarasenko Wednesday night.

The Red Wings were shaping up to have some holes in their top six, and Tarasenko and Kane answer that question. Both should spend considerable time in Detroit’s top six this season, and could easily finish among the Red Wings’ top scorers.

“A left-shot winger, bigger body, a little bit different type of player than our wingers, Lucas (Raymond), Patrick Kane (and) Alex DeBrincat,” Yzerman said of Tarasenko. “Get a bigger body, a left shot (to) fill out that I’ll say top-six, top-nine group. Scorer, straight-ahead guy who’s big and strong and (will) go to the net. We feel that’s a really good addition.”

He should be just that. It’s been a while since Tarasenko was picking up Hart Trophy votes in the mid 2010s, but he’s still a highly effective scorer on the wing, putting up 55 points in 76 games last season, and 50 in 69 games the year prior.

He should produce a bit more than departing David Perron, who had 47 and 56 points in the past two seasons, and while few share Perron’s down-low acumen in the offensive zone, his size element up front was indeed important for Detroit to add.

Still, for all the offense Tarasenko should bring, he’ll have his work cut out to replace all the scoring the Red Wings are losing this offseason. Among Perron (who signed with Ottawa), Robby Fabbri (who was traded to Anaheim Wednesday shortly after Tarasenko’s signing) and Daniel Sprong (still a free agent), that’s 53 goals out the door, for a team that finished ninth with 278 goals last season.

Yzerman did say another move was possible. “We’d consider that,” he said. “I don’t have anything on the go at the moment.”

Either way, though, making up for all that offense won’t just fall on Tarasenko.

“We kind of tally up the goals in, the goals out — obviously we’re counting on Vlad Tarasenko to add to that,” Yzerman said. “Just look(ing) internally, we expect a little more (progress) out of Lucas Raymond. Alex DeBrincat, his shooting percentage for his career was down a little bit last year, and if you recall the great scoring chances that he had (that) hit the bar and went out, and we think that’ll contribute a little bit more. … I think his expected goals will turn into goals next year. I think his numbers will go up. Jonatan Berggren, we expect to contribute a little bit to that.”

That’s a good window into how Detroit is hoping to make up for those lost goals: internal progress from young players Raymond and Berggren, and some bounce-back shooting percentage luck from DeBrincat.

There is a flip side to that, as the Red Wings as a team had the league’s third-highest shooting percentage in 2023-24. So while DeBrincat may well get a bump, it’s possible others could see their own shooting numbers regress.

Detroit did sign one more forward expected to be a nightly regular next season in Tyler Motte, but historically he’s been a tough-matchup checker more than a goal scorer, as he has yet to score double-digit goals in the NHL.

That could still help, though. While Motte won’t replace Sprong’s goal scoring, he will be much more stout defensively. That’s certainly part of Yzerman’s vision.

“Ultimately hopefully we can keep a few more out of the net,” he said, “and that maybe it nets out in a positive way.”

Team defense

Team defense was a major point of emphasis entering the offseason, and that doesn’t just involve the blue line.

The strongest upgrade the Red Wings made this week was in goal, signing Cam Talbot to a two-year, $2.5 million contract. Detroit already had two goalies in Ville Husso and Alex Lyon under contract, but in Talbot, the Red Wings get a proven veteran who should be a high-floor option in the crease. He had a .913 save percentage last season in Los Angeles, identical to his career average.

Yzerman wouldn’t ballpark how many games each netminder would start, but with Husso’s injury issues last season, goaltending was definitely an area of need for the team to shore up. And while Detroit didn’t get in on a more star-studded goalie trade market, Talbot was arguably the best goalie available in free agency.

“You go and look back at his numbers, they’re consistently really solid,” Yzerman said. “Big guy and competitive guy who’s had a relatively strong career. Expect his save percentage to help and reduce the number of goals against. But collectively, as a team, our play has to pick up on that side, and some of the changes on the lineup will help, and coaches tweaking things a little bit in the way we do it, and if we can creep our goaltending overall save percentage up a little bit, that should contribute to a little bit fewer goals against.”

Talbot should help. So could a healthier season from Husso, whom Yzerman said they expect to be “100 percent and ready to go.” As for the crowd at goalie, the general manager said they’ll follow last year’s playbook and “figure it out as we go along” when it comes to waiving a goalie to clear a roster spot, or carry three. Last year they chose to carry three and were rewarded for it when Husso got injured, but that doesn’t mean they’ll reach the same decision this time around.

The real key, though, is the other part of Yzerman’s answer there, about the collective team defense in front of Detroit’s goalies.

Motte will help add some defensive conscience to a forward group that at times last season sorely lacked it, but Tarasenko and Berggren aren’t known for that part of their games. Tarasenko is coming from a stout defensive outfit in Florida, which is encouraging, but when he was with Ottawa last season his 3.3 on-ice expected goals against per 60 were a significant drop from where Perron was at 2.79. The same was largely true the year prior, with Perron in Detroit and Tarasenko between New York and St. Louis.

As for the blue line, the main changes were trading away Jake Walman to San Jose, and bringing in Erik Gustafsson to replace the departed Shayne Gostisbehere. Gustafsson has a similar profile to Gostisbehere, as an offense-first defenseman who should have a role on the power play. Gustafsson likely won’t score at the level Gostisbehere did last season, when he was tied for 13th among NHL defensemen with 56 points, but he may be a marginal upgrade defensively.

Gustafsson was on the ice for 2.52 expected goals against per 60 last season with the Rangers, whereas Gostisbehere was on for 2.58 expected goals against per 60 in Detroit. Over their careers, both have seen their underlying defensive numbers fluctuate considerably.

Still, Detroit will be getting a full season of Simon Edvinsson, who was already in the team’s lineup for the final month of last season, and as with the forwards, can hope that he quickly grows into that role to help elevate the unit’s defensive ability on the whole.

“Today, I’m pleased with what our ‘D’ corps looks like,” Yzerman said. “We’ll talk at some point in the season, and hopefully we’re still pleased with it.”

Playoff chances?

So, looking at the roster on paper, how does Yzerman feel about the team’s playoff chances?

“I don’t think it’s any different than I felt last year,” he said. “I think we’re in with that group of teams that has a chance to compete for the playoffs. If we stay healthy, if our goaltending is good, and you get some maybe unexpected — some players outplay your expectation — we might get in. Or you might just miss by a point on the last game of the season. That’s the fine line of it all.”

Yzerman noted that while this year’s team and last season’s team are “comparable,” there are some differences. One positive one that he noted was a “better fit as far as roles for players,” which I can certainly see. Motte, for example, is much more of a natural fit on the fourth line than scorers like Fabbri or Sprong, both of whom spent time in that role last season. And while Perron’s battle ability down low kept a lot of possessions alive for the Red Wings, Tarasenko does feel a bit more like a classical top-six scorer.

The general manager also noted how many things went well for the Red Wings last season, starting with their power play and goal scoring, including some very timely big goals down the stretch.

“Maybe it won’t be as dramatic next year, and maybe that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “Maybe we’ll win some games with lower scoring and not have these wild comebacks, and we also might not have some of these wild losses where we were leading, too. So I think it’s going to be different, ultimately I think we’re kind of in a similar spot.”

Again, though, he pointed to the possibility of internal improvements to push the team’s potential a bit higher. Raymond is the obvious one, with Yzerman saying if he “continues on the same trajectory that he finished the season at, he’s like a legit impact player.” He also noted having an entire season of Kane, who had 47 points in 50 games after joining the team midseason.

Will that be enough to make the playoffs? It’s going to be a tall task, especially in the brutal Atlantic Division, and with other Eastern Conference teams such as New Jersey and Washington making meaningful improvements. Detroit finished with 91 points last season, missing out on the playoffs via a tiebreaker. But that same 91 points may not necessarily be as close to the playoffs this time around.

“Our lineup is shaped a little bit differently,” Yzerman said. “And hopefully we can build off the momentum, all of our guys, that they created throughout the season.”

Asked if he felt any more pressure, as years have gone by with no playoffs, Yzerman acknowledged, “Yeah a little bit, honestly.”

He knows the fan base wants to win, and how close the team was to the playoffs last season.

But he also said he felt the way last season finished — thrilling as it was — might also have been “a little bit, maybe, misleading.” So while he is hopeful for that possibility in 2024-25, he said he remains focused on building a strong core of players who will be around long term.

“Pressure, I guess whatever you want to call it, it’s not going to change what I’m trying to do,” Yzerman said. “It’s the right way to do it, and it’s taking some time, and I can’t tell you it’s five years, seven years, 10 years, I’m just going to stick with it here and we’ll keep going. But we would all love to win. Me, you, everyone, our fan base. I understand.”

(Photo: Dave Sandford / NHLI via Getty Images)

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