DETROIT – The Detroit Red Wings enter the 2019-2020 Christmas break with the worst record in the NHL.
I mean, it’s absolutely the worst record of 9-26-3 for a whopping 21 points in 38 games. They own a -68 goal differential. The next worst goal differential is -43, belonging to the very disappointing New Jersey Devils. That’s a huge gap of 25 goals.
The Red Wings are losing games with authority, routinely getting blown out by at least three goals.
I could go on and on about all the terrible stats piling up for this team --and the awful goaltending situation -- but I will stop here and instead focus on the positives. Yes, there are positives.
1. Red Wings headed for best chance in draft lottery
It’s seasons like this when you start to wonder why there is a draft lottery. The Red Wings are clearly the most desperate team in the league. Why not just give them the first pick? Nope. They will go into the lottery with the other 14 teams who don’t make the playoffs. They will have an 18.5% chance at getting No. 1 overall. The next worst team has a 13.5% chance, next an 11.5% chance, and so on.
Let’s say the San Jose Sharks finnish in 29th place (yeah, that’s where they are right now), then they would have a very good shot at getting the 1st overall pick. This is why people complain about the lottery. The Sharks are underperforming while the Red Wings are tanking. It’s not the same.
This year’s prize could be Alexis Lafreniere, a 6-foot-1, 203-pound forward playing for Rimouski right now. He’s described as “an incredible playmaker with great vision and accurate shot." He was the QMJHL’s most valuable player last season. So far this season, Lafreniere has 70 points through 32 games with Rimouski. Sure, the QMJHL is known for players putting up huge numbers, but this seems legit. He had 23 points in 13 playoff games last spring.
2. Filip Zadina is playing, and scoring
Why would you even watch a Red Wings game right now? Well, one reason is to see how some of the young prospects are coming along. Now that Filip Zadina (6th overall in 2018) has a full-time role with the team it looks like he will be a real NHL scorer. You never can know for sure if anyone is going to work out until they perform on the main stage.
Zadina now has 8 points (3G, 5A) through 13 games played with the Red Wings. That may seem underwhelming, but consider how this team as a whole has been performing and that he isn’t necessarily getting first-line minutes -- he’s at about 11:50 a game. Dylan Larkin plays at least 17 minutes a game.
I want to dive into his advanced stats, but 13 games is not a very good sample size, especially since he is constantly getting moved around the lineup. Hopefully he stays put on the first or second line in the new year. I bet he ends up in the top five on the team in terms of goals-for per 60 minutes and Corsi-for at even strength.
3. Robby Fabbri appears to be part of the future
Trading Jacob de la Rose for Robby Fabbri has paid off. Fabbri has 8 goals and 8 assists through 21 games with Detroit. The 23-year-old forward is under a 1-year contract with a cap hit of $900,000. He’ll become a restricted free agent at the end of this season, and I imagine he’ll sign with the Red Wings because they are giving him the ice time to become a star, something he was earmarked to become before his young career was derailed by a serious knee injury. He’s the perfect addition to the rebuild.
4. Steve Yzerman is the GM
This is something I repeat to myself after every loss, so every game. I’m sure all Red Wings fans have thought, “What in the world are we going to do now? How are we this bad?” Well, Steve Yzerman is already hired, and that’s the most the organization can do. Now we have to trust he can turn around this franchise, just as he did with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yzerman gets a free year here. Then there are a dozen aging and downright bad contracts that are disappearing for the Red Wings this coming offseason. We will call it the “Summer of Yzerman.” This is when he can really start to make real moves for the future. Right now, he’s kind of stuck with some of the bad pieces. To his credit, he’s still making moves, tinkering and trying to add players to the fold when he can -- Fabbri most notably.
5. The team has heart
I know, I know, how cliché. To say this team has heart sounds like a real cop out in my stretch to find a fifth positive point. But, honestly, they have heart. What happened Saturday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs proves it.
The Red Wings were outmatched by Toronto, one of the most potent offenses in the league with a high payroll filled with young stars. They went into the game without much of a chance to win in Toronto. When the score was lopsided and things started to get chippy, the Red Wings answered the bell. Anthony Mantha stepped in and tusseled with Jake Muzzin. The outcome was less than ideal as Muzzin tossed Mantha to the ice, injuring the 6-foot-5 forward. Hopefully he’s OK. He had to be helped off the ice. The Wings did score on the ensuing power play.
Then Andreas Athanasiou took a run at Alex Kerfoot in the neutral zone and ended up wrestling Justin Holl to the ice in a fight. It was a big spectical that doubled over to Twitter where Leafs and Wings fans exchanged heated barbs.
Fabbri took a shot at Kerfoot, too. There’s no doubt he intentionally speared him, something he ended up being fined for by the league.
Call it dirty. Call it cheap. What I saw was a Red Wings team playing with some pride. The Leafs are without question their No. 1 rival right now and for the forseeable future. Toronto will be a measuring stick for them moving forward. Let’s hope the Red Wings can channel their energy into better hockey and, well, start winning some of these games against the Leafs sooner than later. You have to start somewhere.
I look forward to the April 2 meeting in Toronto.
Here’s what’s next on the schedule:
- Dec. 28 -- 7 p.m. @ Florida
- Dec. 29 -- 7 p.m. @ Tampa
- Dec. 31 -- 7:30 p.m. vs. San Jose
- Jan. 3 -- 8:30 p.m. @ Dallas
- Jan. 5 -- 7:30 p.m. @ Chicago
- Jan. 7 -- 7:30 p.m. vs. Montreal
- View the full schedule here.