DETROIT – Where does Givani Smith’s older brother factor into the Yzerplan?
Is this really a playoff team?
Meanwhile, the NHL has rescheduled a boatload of the games postponed due to COVID. And we have an update on Justin Abdelkader who is ... not done.
First, last night
The Detroit Red Wings started fast and strong against the Dallas Stars on Friday night in front of a rocking Little Caesars Arena crowd. They had the Stars backing up a lot, scrambling to keep the Wings away from scoring chances.
There was lackluster goaltending at both ends of the ice, and that ended up costing the Red Wings in the end. Alex Nedeljkovic gave up two uncharacteristically terrible goals from bad angles -- actually, the same bad angle twice. He seemed a bit off all night. His teammates offered him good goal support at the other end, but everything caught up to them by the end of the 3rd period when they couldn’t hold onto the 4-3 lead.
Then, in overtime, Robby Fabbri took a penalty 200 feet from his own net. He was angry that there was no holding call, and he made that clear on his way to the penalty box, knowing full well that he had likely just cost his team the game. The Stars indeed prevailed on the 4-on-3 advantage, winning 5-4.
The Red Wings were their own worst enemy Friday night, which is sad to say because they played so well for most of the night with a solid forecheck from three lines. They exited their own zone well, too, as veterans Danny DeKeyser and Nick Leddy stood out to me. I’m not saying they played perfect games, but there were moments when they both looked ... younger.
Of course, Tyler Bertuzzi was magnificent with 3 points, and he could have had 6 with the way he was playing. That guy is something else. If ever there were a hockey player’s hockey player. Friday night was a prime example of how Bertuzzi can control the flow of a game when he’s out there. And that is why it was so hard to watch him basically throw it all away at the end when he tossed the puck down the ice and missed an empty net, causing an icing and giving the Stars the chance they needed with the extra skater in Detroit’s zone. He was shaking his head in disgust at his mental lapse.
And Dylan Larkin, well, he’s having a year isn’t he? What a gorgeous end-to-end goal to give the Wings a 3-2 lead.
But Detroit, as a team, couldn’t survive a few mistakes that ended up costing them the game -- two regrettable goals allowed by the goalie, failure to close out and hold onto a lead, then a really dumb penalty in overtime. Tough lessons to learn for the young roster. The Stars are just the kind of veteran team that can really bite you for your own mistakes.
Is this a Wild Card team?
The Red Wings are 18-17-6 at the halfway point of this season. They are 6 points out of a Wild Card playoff spot. The Boston Bruins are the team 6 point ahead of them, and the Bruins have played four less games than the Wings. Detroit and Boston will meet only one more time (April 5) before the regular season ends. Make no mistake: The Rd Wings can only do as good as a Wild Card spot. The Maple Leafs have 51 points in the 3rd spot in the Atlantic Division while Florida and Tampa have pulled even further away with 61 and 59 points, respectively. So forget about that if you haven’t already.
Detroit certainly is a fun team to watch on most nights -- especially at home where they have a stunning 13-6-3 record. They’re a good ticket at LCA. But then they are quite putrid on the road with a 5-11-3 record. They are a cliche -- the young team that can’t win on the road. I don’t know why this is a thing in this league. You’d have to ask the players, but it is a known fact young NHL teams struggle on the road.
The Red Wings have had a bad power play for most of this season, too. Their power play has looked better as of late, thanks in no small part to a confidence booster from the lowly Buffalo Sabres. Time will tell if they can keep that trend going in the right direction, but a 15.4% conversion rate on the power play will not cut it if they plan to squeak into the playoffs.
The Red Wings are in this Wild Card conversation due to the strong leadership from Larkin, who is having a career season, a resurgence from Bertuzzi, chemistry from Pius Suter and Fabbri, usually solid goaltending from Nedeljkovic, and of course the insane poise and strength from rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. But I don’t think that’s enough. Unless some of these other players -- Filip Zadina, for one -- start to contribute more offense -- including, and perhaps specifically, on the power player -- and the defense locks down more often, the Wings are not in the playoffs this year.
That doesn’t mean I’m not rooting for them. You always want to see a team make the playoffs. However, let’s not kid ourselves here. Steve Yzerman is probably not going out to buy someone at the deadline just to squeak into a Wild Card spot. If he’s making moves, I think it’s for assets again -- his favorite. That’s just where this organization is at in this moment. Things are going to change, though, I think we can all see it coming. There is something real here to build upon moving forward.
Gemel Smith claimed off waivers
Yzerman decided to grab Givani’s older brother, Gemel, off of waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
Gemel, 27, was drafted by the Dallas Stars in the 4th round of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He saw his most NHL action in 2017-18 when he appeared in 46 games with the Stars (6G, 5A). Overall, he has played in 88 career NHL games (12G, 12A).
Gemel spent a season in the Boston Bruins organization before he signed with the Lightning in 2019. He’s spent the past three seasons mainly with Tampa’s AHL club the Syracuse Crunch. He’s appeared in just eight games (1G, 3A) with the Lightning since 2019. He has missed the entire 2021-22 season so far after undergoing surgery and ending up on injured reserve. As he prepares to come back to action, Tampa put him on waivers.
The Red Wings stepped in and now Gemel joins an organization with more opportunity. He must be kept on the NHL roster after such a waiver claim. I see him as a depth forward, clearly, but perhaps something more. The guy is cheap against the cap this year and next at $750,000 both seasons. His contract is done at the end of 2022-23. I really don’t know what to expect but he’s an experienced pro hockey player at 27 years old now. I think you need these kinds of players in a rebuilding system if you can get them at a bargain, which is what Yzerman has done.
Gemel Smith career:
As for his younger brother Givani, 23, he is starting to carve out his role with the rebuilding Red Wings. The 2nd-round pick from 2016 has appeared in a career-high 31 games with the Red Wings this season (2G, 2A, 68 PIMs).
I’m excited to see them both in the lineup at some point -- perhaps soon. Right now, Gemel is listed on something called “season opening injured reserve” because he was injured before the season even began. It’s a special little loophole the league allows. But when he comes off of that list, he must stay up with the NHL roster. You can’t claim a player off waivers and then send him down to the minors. Yzerman knows this, of course, so I think we can assume there is real intent to work Gemel into this lineup before the season ends. Beyond that, who knows.
This makes me think there could be some kind of trade coming. I always think that -- the deadline is a ways off, though on Monday, March 21.
The massive schedule update
The NHL announced this week the league will play 95 games from Feb. 7-22 as part of a comprehensive update to the 2021-22 regular-season schedule. The update allows all 32 teams to complete their 82-game schedule by the season’s original end date of April 29.
The three-week window in February was previously designated as a pause in the season to accommodate NHL player participation in the Olympics, but the NHL announced Dec. 21 it would not be participating because its season had been disrupted as a result of increasing COVID-19 cases and a rising number of postponed games. As of Wednesday, 104 games had been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns. Six had previously been rescheduled.
The Red Wings had many of their games postponed, and now most of those are rescheduled for that three-week window in February:
The Feb. 26 game against the Leafs originally was scheduled to be in Toronto and April 26 was to be in Detroit. Those are now swapped due to COVID protocols in Canada right now.
Alright then. It looks like they will have no problem getting through this season after all. COVID cases across the league have been on the downswing in the past week, finally. Moreover, the NHL and NHLPA announced Tuesday they have agreed to stop testing asymptomatic and fully vaccinated players and staff members for COVID-19 after the All-Star break.
The NHL All-Star festivities are Feb. 4 and 5. The skills competition is Friday, Feb. 4, followed by the 3-on-3 All-Star tournament on Saturday, Feb. 5.
Here are the COVID protocol changes:
- There will be no testing of Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff during the All-Star break (including for participating Players and staff), unless needed for travel or development of symptoms.
- There will be a single test upon re-entry to Club facilities post-All-Star, after which there will no longer be asymptomatic testing, or testing of Fully Vaccinated close contacts.
- Thereafter, testing will continue only on a limited “for cause” basis in Fully Vaccinated Players and Staff who develop symptoms or require testing for cross-border travel.
- The post-COVID “testing holiday” will remain at 90 days, but symptom-based testing can still be done at the team physician’s discretion. Testing for cross-border travel post-COVID will be dictated by the relevant health authority, which is currently 90 days for entry to the U.S. and 180 days for entry to Canada.
📅 Coming up
Abdelkader signs PTO with Griffins
On Friday, the Grand Rapids Griffins signed left wing Justin Abdelkader to a professional tryout. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. I know he’s good guy to have around -- the organization always respected his presence. Beyond that, not sure why he’s doing this. I guess he’s not ready to call it quits.
UPDATE: The Griffins on Friday signed left wing Justin Abdelkader to a professional tryout. #GoGRG— Grand Rapids Griffins (@griffinshockey) January 21, 2022
Details >> https://t.co/pDtRkMhwor pic.twitter.com/ND0vW42Oit
He had a good season with EV Zug after the Wings bought out his contract. He won a Switzerland National League Title. Through 22 combined regular season and playoff games, the 34-year-old forward earned 17 points (10G, 7A) and 69 penalty minutes. Maybe he feels great after that, ready to keep going but wants to be closer to home -- he’s originally from Muskegon, remember.
After that buyout, Abdelkader is still on the Red Wings payroll through 2025-26. So, yeah, interesting.
- View: Red Wings statistics page 🔢