Not since beginning his time as a team builder has Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman experienced anything quite like this. True, he oversaw some not-so-spectacular teams. The 2011-12 Tampa Bay Lightning were merely mediocre. Tampa Bay's 2012-13 outfit was only points away from finishing in the NHL’s basement. But this? This is a new level of atrocious.
Tuesday night in Detroit, the Red Wings suffered their 10th consecutive defeat, dropping a 4-1 result to the Eastern Conference contending New York Islanders. The loss marked the fifth time in the past six games Detroit failed to score more than a single goal and the Red Wings were held off the scoreboard entirely in two of those defeats. With the losing streak reaching double digits, too, it marks the first time in Yzerman’s time as a GM that he’s watched his team suffer through such a stretch. Previously, he had seen the Lightning lose seven in a row. Never did it get worse than that.
The unfortunate reality, too, is that things for Yzerman’s team could get worse and there exists honest-to-goodness potential for Detroit to go an entire month without a victory. By their next outing, a Dec. 7 meeting with the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, the Red Wings will be five days shy of one month since their last post-game celebration. If Detroit drops that one, it’s off to Winnipeg on Dec. 10. Losing that contest would mean that when the Red Wings play the Jets in the second half of a home-and-home, not only will Detroit be entering the Dec. 12 tilt with a dozen-game losing streak, it will have been officially one month since their last victory. That win was a 4-3 overtime win against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 12.
In and of itself, of course, the losing streak is bad enough. But that the Red Wings have lost so often recently and accumulated so few points – they have a whopping 17 – through their first 30 games puts them on pace for a few rather dubious distinctions.
First, in the post-lockout era, there is no team that has finished with fewer points than the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche. The 48-point season posted by those Avalanche is not only the fewest since the NHL’s lost season, but the ninth-fewest in league history. And given the current points pace the Red Wings are on, they’re actually primed to finish with fewer points than that: Detroit would finish with 47 points if they maintained their current pace. That would not only see the Red Wings reach a level of futility not even the 2016-17 Avalanche managed, but match the mark for the seventh-fewest points in an 82-game season in NHL history currently owned by the 1995-96 San Jose Sharks and 1998-99 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Second, the Red Wings have been so absurdly porous defensively that Detroit is in line to finish with the worst goals-against total in the post-lockout era. Not since the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins surrendered 310 goals has a team allowed more goals against in a season. This season’s Red Wings, however, have already allowed 118 goals against, a rate of 3.93 goals against per game. If that pace doesn’t slow by the time the 82-game campaign ends, Detroit will have allowed 322 goals against. That would be the most goals against a team has allowed in a single season since the 1995-96 Sharks surrendered 357 and would tie the Red Wings for the 99th-most goals against in a single season. (If that seems low, remember that goaltending in some of the NHL’s earlier eras was about as effective as using a garden hose to put out a forest fire.)
Finally, Detroit is on pace to flirt with the record for worst goal differential in the modern era. In the seasons since the locked-out campaign, only three teams have had a goal differential worse than minus-100: the aforementioned 2016-17 Avalanche (minus-112) and the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres (minus-113) and Arizona Coyotes (minus-102). With just 63 goals through 30 games, a rate of 2.1 goals per game, the Red Wings are on pace for 172 goals for. Pair that with their 322 goals-against pace and Detroit is headed towards a minus-150 goal differential, shattering the post-lockout era’s previous lows. Further, if Detroit were to finish with a goal differential that dreadful, it would be the worst single-season mark since the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators ended the campaign with a minus-185 goal differential. Detroit would also be the first team since the 1999-00 Atlanta Thrashers to break the minus-120 barrier.
But, in the interest of looking on the bright side and attempting not to pile on during what has already been an incredibly difficult season for the Red Wings faithful, we feel the need to point out that there have been a few positives. Here are five silver linings:
1. TOP LOTTERY ODDS
Not since 1986 have the Red Wings had the first-overall pick in the draft and the last time Detroit picked in the top three was at the 1990 draft. That could change this season. While the draft lottery doesn’t promise the league’s last-place team anything, the Red Wings would have a nearly 50-percent chance at finishing with a top-three selection and an 18.5-percent chance of landing the first-overall pick if they finished dead-last. But there’s good news here just about any way you slice it. If the Red Wings fail to secure the first-overall pick, they’re doing so ahead of a draft that is considered one of the deepest in recent memory with a uber-skilled projected one-two of Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield.
2. OPPORTUNITY, OPPORTUNITY, OPPORTUNITY
The lack of pressure, and lack of expectation, has opened up plenty of opportunity for younger players to come into the lineup and prove their worth. No player has done more with the chances they’ve been afforded than Filip Hronek. Drafted 53rd overall in 2016, he wasn’t considered one of Detroit’s blue-chippers, but there looks to be plenty of potential and upside in the 22-year-old rearguard. He’s been productive offensively – his 13 points put him fifth in team scoring – and he’s averaging 23 minutes per game, more than any other blueliner. None of this is to mention his underlying numbers, which are positive across-the-board when measured relative to Detroit’s performance. It's not quite fair to suggest he's a diamond in the rough, but he’s certainly shining. Robby Fabbri, who has 10 points in 13 games, also looks to have found a fit.
3. EMERGENCE OF A TOP TRIO
Just as the top line was getting going once again, Anthony Mantha landed on the injured reserve, but the Red Wings appear to have a legitimate top-six scoring trio forming in Mantha, Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Before falling injured, Mantha had 12 goals and 23 points in 25 games, Larkin has seven goals and 18 points this season. And Bertuzzi has arguably been the best surprise of the bunch with 10 goals and 24 points in 30 outings this season. Despite the team’s scoring woes, Bertuzzi is on pace for a career-best 27 goals and 65 points. If he can maintain that rate of scoring into his prime, he’s going to be a key cog for the Red Wings well into the future.
4. GET ZADINA’S FEET WET
The Red Wings have brought Filip Zadina along slowly, letting him spend the bulk of last season in the AHL, where he scored 16 goals and 35 points in 59 games. And after producing seven goals and 13 points in 19 games on the farm to begin this season, Zadina is now getting the chance to prove he can hang with the big club with Mantha sidelined. In the five games Zadina has played, he’s chipped in with two assists and is averaging 13:55 per outing. Detroit can afford to remain patient, too, giving him select opportunities where they feel he can produce. Worth noting is that he’s logging plenty of power play time – the fifth-most of all Detroit skaters over the past five games – so the Red Wings are giving him prime opportunities to produce. It’d be interesting to see what he could do with a shot in the top six.
5. PREPARING FOR THE SALE
Rebuild 101 says leverage tradable assets into additional pieces that can potentially fit into the long-term puzzle. The Red Wings possess some of those assets. Though it’s unlikely the price will be all that high, a playoff-bound team looking for a depth puck mover could kick the tires on acquiring Mike Green near season’s end. Likewise, a team in need of goaltending depth could come calling about Jimmy Howard, assuming he’s healthy. Truth be told, just about any veteran Red Wing whose cap hit isn’t prohibitive for an acquiring team could be on the block come season’s end. Add picks, prospects and take some chances, as the Red Wings did with Fabbri, and Detroit could be well stocked for a step forward.
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