Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Detroit Red Wings
Last season: The Red Wings finished 27th in the league and averaged just 2.23 goals per game, the 14th-worst mark by any team in the cap era, and missed the postseason for the fifth straight season. But they’re not the dead things. They’re entering Year 3 of Steve Yzerman’s master plan, and he’s got a ton of goodwill in Detroit having led the team to multiple championships and built the foundations of a winner in Tampa Bay. Maybe the positive results aren’t rolling in quickly enough, but it does seem like they’re in the right direction and inching closer. This past season, Yzerman continued to leverage his cap space into extra draft picks, helping him trade up to pick Sebastian Cossa at the entry draft and made astute trades for Jakub Vrana, Nick Leddy and Alex Nedeljkovic to bolster a young group that’s expected to keep improving.
Best option: Dylan Larkin, C
The only two forwards who could really challenge Larkin’s fantasy value are Vrana, who scored eight goals on just 32 shots in 11 games with the winged wheel and has never scored more than 25 goals in a season, and Filip Zadina, who has been on the cusp of a breakout for about two seasons now. Larkin’s a do-it-all player for the Wings, who ranked 14th among forwards with 20:24 TOI/GP and was the only other player on his team to average over 20 minutes per game asides from the underappreciated Filip Hronek. Larkin’s fantasy value is capped because the Wings aren’t expected to improve significantly and may be headed toward the lottery again, but he takes a lot of faceoffs and projected to score 70 points, according to THN’s Pool Guide.
Hidden gem: Robby Fabbri, C/LW
There’s no real gem in the Red Wings lineup for fantasy purposes, but Fabbri does carry quite a bit of intrigue. The 21st overall pick in 2014, Fabbri’s career started off really well but injuries – he sat out the entire 2017-18 season due to his knee – took their toll, and the Blues traded him for Jacob De La Rose to give him a fresh start and more playing opportunities. His raw numbers haven’t been particularly good, but two advanced numbers jump out. First, his career 13.4 S% ranks 65th out of 277 players (top 25 percent) who have scored at least 50 goals since Fabbri’s rookie season, and second, according to naturalstattrick.com, he consistently outperforms his expected goals at 5-on-5.
That’s usually a sign of a pretty good player – good players should perform above expectations – and the Wings definitely leverage his talent but starting him in the offensive zone over half the time. Fabbri’s a high-risk pick because his injury history is a little concerning, and even if all things go right, the Wings still won’t be a very good team. The Pool Guide has Fabbri pegged for 38 points, but I think he could just as easily finish above Vrana (53), Zadina (40) and Tyler Bertuzzi (45).
Goalies: It’s Nedeljkovic’s net and he has to prove a lot of doubters wrong, chief among them his former team. The Wings made a bet that Nedeljkovic’s small sample size was a hint at better things to come while the Hurricanes bet the opposite, noting they had a good defense and limited their opponents to 28.2 shots per game – which was eighth-best in the league – and also provided him with the league’s second-best power play.
Nedeljkovic won’t get any of that in Detroit, who finished 30th in goals per game and 30th on the power play, and made no real attempt to add any offense over the summer except for taking a gamble on Pius Suter to be their No. 2 center. It’s possible Nedeljkovic plays as well as he did with the Canes, but even with 50 starts may not even match the 15 wins he earned last season. That’s the tragic nature of being a good goalie on a bad team, and wins are very much a team stat. Nedeljkovic is a low-end starter, and depending on the matchup may not even be as optimal as a 1B goalie on a good team.
Outlook: Perhaps the two biggest developments the Wings can look forward to are Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond’s upcoming NHL debuts. Both are expected to be a big part of the team going forward and their arrival would signal a new milestone in the grand Yzer-plan. Otherwise, it’s probably going to be a tough season even with a few additions. Leddy is a very dependable defenseman, one which they lacked last season, but he alone won’t be able to cover up the lack of quality talent or depth on the entire team. Larkin’s their best option, but alas we cannot combine golf and hockey into one fantasy sport, because 30 goals and minus-30 would surely be exceptional.