300 miles away and known as one of the biggest, if not the biggest rival of the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings are trying to find their way out of a rebuild that’s officially going on five seasons now. Factor in a couple years of a failed rebuild-on-the-fly strategy and it’s hit seven.
Of all the teams in a rebuild right now, the Red Wings likely serve as what a painful rebuild without lottery luck looks like. It’s what the Blackhawks and their fans were gearing up for. The way Detroit fell into a rebuild was strikingly similar: Once a contender, early playoff exits, poor drafting, and an inability to move on from players past their prime.
Once Steve Yzerman arrived in 2019, he let the team bottom out but Detroit still didn’t win the lottery. Instead, they fell three spots and watched the New York Rangers, after playing in a playoff qualifier, get the top pick.
Regardless, Yzerman has implemented his “Yzerplan” that now seems to be trying to acquire Detroit’s first bonafide scorer in over a decade with Alex DeBrincat. Perhaps they’re rounding the corner. Maybe it’s another dead end.
But whatever it is, here’s a look at the similarities and differences in what the Red Wings and Blackhawks are doing in their respective rebuilds.
Drafting in the First Round
Yzerman hasn’t had the good fortune of lottery luck but has still done better than his predecessor. Ken Holland left the Red Wings in a bad spot with little in the way of prospects and brutal cap management. Going back to 2013, only Dylan Larkin (2014), Michael Rasmussen (2017), and Joe Veleno (2018) remain on the team. The other picks were either traded or waived by Yzerman, including Filip Zadina whose contract was terminated. Since Yzerman took over, he’s gone heavy with players in professional leagues overseas for his picks, especially in the first round. A glance:
- 2019 – Moritz Seider (6th overall)
- 2020 – Lucas Raymond (4th overall)
- 2021 – Simon Edvinsson (6th overall); Sebastian Cossa (15th overall)
- 2022 – Marco Kasper (8th overall)
- 2023 – Nate Danielson (9th overall); Axel Sandin Pellikka (17th overall)
Of those picks, five were on teams overseas when drafted and only Cossa (WHL) and Danielson (WHL) were in North America. Yzerman has taken two centers, three defenseman, a goalie and a wing. But like Blackhawks General Manager Kyle Davidson, he has a “best player available” approach when he makes his selections.
While the Blackhawks have focused on speed, and hockey IQ, Yzerman has drilled down on the latter, looking for players who will be “tough” to play against. Look no further than Danielson, who Connor Bedard cited as one of the best player he played against in the Western Hockey League.
Drafting Beyond and Other Philosophy
Yzerman is sculpting a team that will have snarl, and be physically imposing as well, seeking to build a hulking blueline with thick and bigger players. Up front, he’s looking more for the players who balance the high hockey IQ with the 200-foot mindset. Cossa had a bounce back year with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, and now much of that coaching staff is with him in the AHL.
While the Red Wings certainly were in a hole, Yzerman has replenished things in the first round well. Beyond that, many from the rounds after could be up.or already have been. Elmer Soderblom, brother of Blackhawks goalie Arvid, was a 2020 sixth-round selection in 2020. He spent time with Detroit before being sent to Grand Rapids to refine his game.
Carter Mazur is another name to watch, a high scoring winger who was in Hobey Baker Award conversation last season. William Wallinder (D), Amadeus Lombardi (C), Cross Hanas (LW), Eemil Viro (D), Donovan Sebrango, (D), Albert Johnasson (D), and Antti Tuomisto (D) are all names to keep an eye on. All chosen after the first round, the Red Wings are deep on the blue line.
Contracts and Trades
Yzerman and Davidson are almost in lock step with what they’re doing: short term deals and weaponizing the cap where they can. The Alex DeBrincat watch to Detroit hinges, according to reports from Detroit Hockey Now’s Kevin Allen, on term. Yzerman is unlikely to just hand out term to players, and even was hesitant reportedly with captain Dylan Larkin. The only sure fire bet would be Seider, who is likely the anchor of the defense and likely the team going forward.
Perusing the Red Wings cap work, only Larkin, Andrew Copp (2022 FA), and J.T. Compher (2023 FA) have inked deals that are five or more years long. Copp and Compher each got five years with Larkin getting a full eight. Like Davidson, Yzerman has ensured that the Red Wings have financial flexibility after the horror show that was Holland’s cap work.
Davidson inherited a similar situation with much of Stan Bowman’s work, moreso on the side of no movement clauses severely limiting his ability to trade certain players.
When it comes to trades, Yzerman has been aggressive but unwilling to give up high draft picks or prospects in deals. That may change if he swings a deal for DeBrincat, as he will be the first legitimate scoring threat Detroit has had in over a decade. While Larkin has put up 30+ goals in consecutive seasons, the Red Wings lack any real scoring threat outside of him. Tyler Bertuzzi was dealt away but aside from a 30-goal year, was hampered by injury. David Perron put up 24 goals and Dominik Kubalik had 20. Raymond dipped a bit in his sophomore season, but should be a consistent 20-goal scorer.
But in order to move forward, Yzerman has to acquire more scoring threats.
Measuring out the Timeline
The Red Wings are butting up against playoff conversation but need to secure DeBrincat or a scorer to be truly considered for a shot at it. There was improvement last season but they’re still a few scorers away from being a true threat.
But the Red Wings first missed the playoffs in 2017, began their teardown in 2019, and are finally now positioning themselves for a real chance at the playoffs.
Cumulatively, it’s taken them six seasons to get there, with two of those seasons being brutal lose-to-win-the-lottery chances. 2021-22 saw a step forward but a team with too many holes and last season was the first one that brought some excitement to Detroit.
Two Lessons for the Blackhawks from the Red Wings Rebuild
#1: Be thankful for lottery luck. The Red Wings, dating back to 2017 when they first qualified for a lottery shot, have either stayed even or fallen in every draft. That includes the 2020 one, where the league changed lottery rules as a result of the wailing over Detroit falling three spots after having a historically bad year. Yzerman literally started from scratch and didn’t have the fortune of Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman as he did in Tampa Bay. Bedard speeds up the process significantly. Otherwise, the Blackhawks are likely in a very similar pattern.
#2: Patience is a virtue. Some fans questioned the moves when it came to veterans in the way of Nick Foligno, Taylor Hall, and Corey Perry. But Davidson is going the way of Yzerman: ice a team, bring in good quality veterans that can help both on and off the ice, and position oneself for another good crack at the lottery. Beyond that, be patient in the process and avoid taking short cuts.
In short, build well and right–the rest will take care of itself.