How the Red Wings reestablished themselves as a competitive team

How the Red Wings built themselves back into a contender

During free agency this fall, Patrick Kane had no shortage of suitors. And he welcomed the courtship process wholeheartedly.

Hence, Kane’s choice was ultimately motivated by intuition. Out of all the offers he was receiving to play elsewhere, only one team had everything he wanted and could not pass up.
Kane’s instincts told him that he would play for the Detroit Red Wings.

“The thing about Detroit was, anytime I really thought about any other team, I would always kind of come back to Detroit,” Kane stated. There are many favorable circumstances for you out there, but you debate [some of them] and your intentions in your mind. However, I had a sneaking suspicion that Detroit was my dream city.”

After all, Detroit has been through a protracted period of change. Since their record-breaking run of 25 straight postseason appearances ended in 2016, the Red Wings have not participated in the postseason. This contributed to Detroit’s current seven-year playoff drought, which also saw the firing of former head coach Jeff Blashill, a nearly complete roster overhaul, and, most recently, a resurgence of optimism that the Red Wings are finally making progress.

Kane obviously thinks that to be the case. However, it was the players who went before Kane and decided to believe in the Red Wings’ rebuild that drew the three-time Stanley Cup champion to Detroit.

That’s exactly what Captain Dylan Larkin did last March when he agreed to an eight-year, $69.6 million contract extension rather than taking advantage of any unrestricted free agency. After a trade in July, Alex DeBrincat signed a four-year, $31.5 million contract. J.T. Compher, who had just won a Cup with Colorado, also placed a wager on Detroit in July, agreeing to a $25.5 million, five-year contract.

Not to mention the up-and-coming youth in Detroit, led by Lucas Raymond and Calder Trophy winner Moritz Seider, who are both openly thrilled to have been selected for the team. Or even the team’s resurgence behind the bench under Derek Lalonde, Blashill’s replacement

General manager Steve Yzerman has gradually developed his outlook for the Red Wings’ future. It calls for perseverance, flexibility, and a dedication to the greater good.

Detroit now appears primed for a turnaround and to move on from its traumatic recent run outside the postseason picture.

Kane was quick to recognize Detroit’s potential. However, entering was a whole different experience.

On the eve of his Red Wings debut on December 7, Kane stated, “I think [the organization] has exceeded expectations.” In terms of how intimately connected the guys are, how amiable they are, how adept they are at working with player personnel, and how attentive they are to each individual player.That’s really amazing; I had no idea they did that. It fits well and is impressive.

They had previously played on the same line for five years as teammates in Chicago, where they had experienced great success (including DeBrincat’s career-best 41-goal season in 2021-22).

It makes sense that DeBrincat attempted to persuade Kane to sign with the Red Wings by outlining the advantages of doing so. Furthermore, Kane himself acknowledged to reporters that DeBrincat’s presence in Detroit was a “big one” but not “the biggest” factor in his decision.

And it will be to DeBrincat’s advantage if that now results in more ice time spent with Kane rediscovering his magic.

“I’m glad he came,” DeBrincat remarked. “He’ll give us another offensive component. Being a superstar, he has the ability to drastically alter the lineup. Having him here is enjoyable, and I believe everyone is happy that he made this decision.”

About DeBrincat, the rest of Detroit could have similar things to say. The 25-year-old played one season with the Ottawa Senators before becoming eligible for restricted free agency last summer. After his rights were traded to the Red Wings, DeBrincat quickly agreed to a four-year, $31.5 million contract. DeBrincat was good for the Senators, scoring 27 goals and 66 points in 82 games after being traded from Chicago to Ottawa in a blockbuster move during the 2022 NHL draft in Montreal.

That’s how the Farmington Hills forward, who was raised 30 minutes outside of Detroit, ended up wearing the red and white of the area. During the summers, he had trained with a number of his current teammates. Furthermore, the community offered a wealth of off-ice assistance, which was especially important for DeBrincat and his wife Lyndsey given their expanding family (they welcomed son Archie in May 2022).

After the upheaval of the trade, this was DeBrincat’s opportunity to calm down. Detroit was the greatest team to align with.

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“I just feel pretty comfortable here,” he stated. “To be honest, I’ve found the transition to be fairly easy, and that has felt great. We seem to have gotten along pretty well as a group right away, in my opinion. I feel like everyone came in and we got to know each other pretty quickly, and so far it’s been fun. There are other new guys here as well.”

DeBrincat signed a long-term contract with the Red Wings due to more than just their proximity. Yzerman has been very careful to add the right pieces for Detroit’s gains, and it has started to pay off handsomely.

The Red Wings had an incredible offensive start to the season, leading the league in goals scored (40) through their first ten games and having a 32.4% power play.

DeBrincat and Larkin have been leading the charge in terms of stats up front, but others like Raymond, Compher, and Seider have also made significant contributions in other areas. Though it hasn’t always been easy going. Following a 5-1-0 start to the season, Detroit fell to a 3-5-3 run, which included two losses in Sweden during the NHL’s Global Series Showcase.

That setback abroad served as fuel for the Red Wings’ return to form in North America. Although their rivals had already commented on Detroit’s comeback, DeBrincat said the team “refocused” with a brief break following their Swedish excursion and went on a 6-1-0 run to reclaim their position as a top contender in the Atlantic Division.

On November 4, Detroit handed the Bruins their first loss of the season. “Give them credit — they really stuck to their game plan, got pucks deep and made it hard for us to get out of our zone and limited our o-zone time,” Boston’s Linus Ullmark said. “Sometimes you’ve got to tip your hat.”

It turned out more than once. Through their first 19 games, Boston had only two regulation losses, both to the Red Wings. Detroit’s early success helped raise its profile, especially considering Boston’s status as a perennial contender.

“They play a basic and effective game, coming out hard,” Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk said. “They can capitalize, and they control momentum swings really well.”

These wins are particularly noteworthy for the Red Wings because they demonstrate their capacity to compete with the best teams in the league. Although the journey has occasionally been difficult, Detroit has adapted to a team mentality when navigating the highs and lows of a season.

“I think we have a lot of depth that can score up and down the lineup, so when we do the little things, we have a good chance to win,” DeBrincat stated. And it seems to be our current catchphrase. To get good results, we need to play the right way. We have a solid squad and a solid group of guys in the locker room, so I think we can pull off something really special.”

DeBrincat then uses the word “identity” to discuss how the Red Wings’ future will be defined by how they play to it. But now that they’ve completed 25% of the year, how will that precisely look?

In general, guys enjoy each other’s company. That illustrates Yzerman’s goal to pursue excellent skaters with strong moral qualities as well.

Seider noticed that the characters’ qualities became apparent when Detroit moved their training camp to Traverse City, Michigan, rather than maintaining their regular location.

Seider remarked, “We just bonded really well.” We get to know each other a little better there because there are so many dads who are single and don’t have children or wives. If they were just in the locker room and went home after camp, it would be easier to just build a little chemistry. That has undoubtedly been helpful, and we both feel incredibly at ease with one another. There are no egos among us, and it’s simple to talk to anyone about anything at any time. No one is reluctant to express their opinions. Thus, that seems rather unusual to me.”

When it comes to talking about his NHL career thus far, Seider is comparatively candid. The defenseman, who was selected sixth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, won the Calder Trophy and raised expectations for his sophomore season by scoring seven goals and fifty points in his rookie season (2021–2022).

However, Seider struggled to establish a rhythm with partner Ben Chiarot and scored fewer points in his second year of play. The now third-year pro not only recovered in the second half of the season to finish with stats similar to that rookie campaign, but he also picked up important lessons that will help him develop going forward.

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“I still think, looking back, I was a better hockey player in my second year than I was in the first,” Seider stated. You can see that there is much more to it than just points for a single season, even though the numbers may not have indicated as much. I’m much better at tuning out now. I believe that I am the only one who puts pressure on myself. Really, I don’t pay attention to the media. To be really honest, I don’t really care. It all comes down to me, this locker room, and feeling at ease in my position.”

Raymond understands Seider’s experience acclimating to the league. After his 57-point rookie season in 2021–22, he was selected fourth overall in the 2020 draft and was considered for the Calder alongside Seider. Similar to Seider, Raymond’s sophomore season yielded fewer points (45 in 74 games), which compelled him to push himself before the current campaign began.

“There are numerous layers to his game,” DeBrincat remarked. “I believe he has that speed, but in addition, he has good skating sense. Playing with him every day has been fantastic, but I think that’s something that you don’t always see when you’re on the other team because he sees the ice so well and can find his teammates. It’s really fun to play with him. Being so quick up the middle, he opens up a ton of space for his teammates. He is also very skilled with the puck. Thus, it has been enjoyable.”

Before the 2022–2023 season, Yzerman hired the first-ever NHL head coach in an attempt to revitalize the team following Blashill’s seven-year tenure, which ended with six straight seasons without a postseason appearance. Although Lalonde was unable to get Detroit back into the postseason right away, he has laid the groundwork for the Red Wings to do so in the future.

DeBrincat remarked, “He’s been fantastic.” “Within the team and during the game, he maintains a composed, quiet, and self-assured demeanor while sitting on the bench. This season, we’ve had a few third-period comebacks, and I believe it all began with him remaining composed and calming for us. He fervently advocates for a strong work ethic and the understanding that winning games is largely dependent on doing the little things.”

It seems like the message has been understood. This time, Detroit’s mistakes haven’t gotten worse under Lalonde’s direction. That has put Detroit squarely in the postseason picture as we approach the halfway point of the regular season.

Indeed, it’s a good start. However, Lalonde is obviously eager to see what more Detroit has to offer, particularly once Kane catches up. Lalonde is excited about the combination of youthful talent and NHL experience in the Red Wings’ organization and wants to maximize it.

“I like new faces; there’s an energy to it,” he stated. “We had to build a little bit from the outside because [other teams] in our division have drafted higher and longer than us and done a really good job with that. Steve [Yzerman] did an excellent job, in my opinion. He has all the necessary parts. Some guys are trying to help us build something, maybe they’re hungry and in the right career. I enjoy seeing new faces and personalities in the room, so I’m excited.”

The Red Wings can continue to rise if the right combination is in place, and in the process, Lalonde believes they might win over some doubters.

“We’re ecstatic [with where we’re at],” he stated. It makes sense that not many people realized we were in this situation at the start of the year. However, we have only reached the quarter point, and we did so by following certain correct procedures. And we’ll need to carry on with that.”

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