What Went Wrong is our annual series where we look at the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
Today we’re going to focus on the Detroit Red Wings, who missed the playoffs for the third straight season as they transition from an era of consistent success to what they hope will be another great and lengthy period of triumph.
Not much was expected of the Red Wings this year. They posted a 30-39-13 record in 2017-18 and this season’s team wasn’t substantially different. In fact, the biggest change was the absence of Henrik Zetterberg, who had to end his career prior to the start of the 2018-19 campaign because of a back condition. So when the Red Wings got off to a 1-7-2 start, fans didn’t have much ground to be shocked. In fact, if anything many were probably already eyeing the draft lottery and the possibility of getting Jack Hughes.
Despite that, the Red Wings ended up having some great runs. They enjoyed a 9-2-0 stretch from Oct. 28-Nov. 21 and had a 14-13-4 record through Dec. 10. To that point, the Red Wings were doing better than many would have thought. Jimmy Howard deserved some credit for that with his 10-6-4 record, 2.68 GAA, and .923 save percentage in 21 starts through Dec. 10th. Dylan Larkin and Gustav Nyquist were also major factors with 29 and 27 points respectively through 31 games.
The Red Wings were derailed from Dec. 11-Jan. 11 though. They went 2-10-3 over that span. Larkin and Nyquist were still holding their own, but Howard wasn’t nearly as effective, posting a 1-6-1 record, 3.05 GAA, and .897 save percentage in nine games. Backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier got plenty of work over that span, but he was even worse with a 1-4-2 record, 3.82 GAA, and .890 save percentage in seven starts.
Detroit briefly stabilized before enduring another terrible run from Feb. 16-March 14 where they went 1-9-3 to drop to 24-37-10 over the season. Early in that stretch, the Red Wings traded Nyquist to San Jose in exchange for a 2019 second rounder and a conditional 2020 third-round pick. Nyquist had 16 goals and 49 points in 62 games prior to the trade. He’s set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, so under the circumstances it made perfect sense to trade him.
Detroit did end the season on a positive note, winning eight of their final 11 games, but at that point the season was long since lost. If anything, the winning streak only served to hurt their draft position. They had the fourth worst record in the league and will be drafting sixth overall after losing the lottery.
Regardless, there were some positives for the Red Wings to take out of this season. Larkin has continued to develop nicely. He set a career-high in 2017-18 with 63 points and jumped to 32 goals and 73 points in 76 games in 2018-19. He’s five-year, $30 million contract that runs through 2022-23 is looking very good. Andreas Athanasiou also jumped forward this season with 30 goals and 54 points in 76 games, up from 33 points in 2017-18.
Another silver lining was Tyler Bertuzzi. The 2018-19 campaign marked his first full campaign and while Bertuzzi wasn’t spectacular, he was solid. He finished with 21 goals and 47 points in 72 contests. Rookie defenseman Filip Hronek stood out as well with 23 points in 46 games along with another 24 points in 31 AHL contests.
The Red Wings certainly have some of the pieces already in place to become a contender and they have a skilled general manager at the helm to bring them the rest of the way. In April, the Red Wings announced that Steve Yzerman had been hired to serve as the team’s new general manager following his very successful stint in that role with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jimmy Howard – As mentioned above, Howard had his moments, particularly early in the season, but overall it wasn’t a particularly good season for him. He finished with a 23-22-5 record, 3.07 GAA, and .909 save percentage in 55 games. Obviously the team in front of him had growing pains, but the Red Wings need him to be part of the solution, at least in the short-term. Detroit only signed him to a one-year, $4 million contract extension in March, so clearly he’s more of a stopgap at this point, which isn’t too surprising given that he’s 35-years-old now. Nevertheless, the Red Wings aren’t likely to get back into the playoffs in 2019-20 unless Howard has a solid season.
Mike Green – Green is a superb defenseman when he’s healthy, but the problem is that he’s frequently not healthy. He had five goals and 26 points in 43 games this season. When he was able to play, he logged a solid 21:43 minutes per contest. He’s not someone that can ever be counted on to play in 82 games, but if the Red Wings could even get 70-plus contests out of him next season, that would be a huge boost for them.
Anthony Mantha – Taken with the 20th overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Anthony Mantha has slowly been coming into his own offensively. He set career-highs in 2017-18 with 24 goals and 48 points in 80 games. He recorded 48 points again this season, but that’s because he was limited to 67 games. Especially with Nyquist no longer part of the team, the Red Wings need Mantha to be one of the team’s offensive leaders. If he stays healthy, he has the potential to get to the 60-point milestone next season.
Filip Zadina – Filip Zadina was taken with the sixth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft and was eligible to turn pro this season even when he wasn’t playing with the Red Wings. He did score a goal and three points in nine games with Detroit, but he spent most of the season with AHL Grand Rapids where he scored 16 goals and 35 points in 59 contests. Zadina is the Red Wings’ top prospect and will be worth keeping a close eye during training camp. If he’s able to earn a spot with Detroit and have a solid rookie season then that would go a long way towards transitioning the Red Wings from a rebuilding team to a contender.