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Atlantic Review: The Steve Yzerman era begins (again) in Detroit

Welcome to The Leafs Nation’s 2019 Atlantic Review in which we take a team-by-team look at the other seven teams in the Atlantic Division. Today, we have the rotting husk of one of hockey’s greatest dynasties, the Detroit Red Wings. 

There’s a new (old?) sherrif in town. Steve Yzerman is (finally) the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

Prior to the start of the 2018-19 season, Yzerman stepped down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. This came as a shock because the Lightning that Yzerman built were poised to get over the hump and finally win a Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay, of course, would go on to put together one of the best regular seasons in the salary cap era before getting shocked by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round.

What came next for Yzerman was the worst-kept secret in hockey for the entire year. While it wasn’t said out loud, everyone knew that he was going home. Long-time general manager Ken Holland got promoted to senior vice president and Yzerman was subsequently hired as general manager.

This, of course, was a long time coming. Yzerman is a legend in Detroit. He was drafted fourth overall by the Red Wings back in 1983 when the franchise was a complete disaster and he was the superstar that the subsequent dynasty was built around. Yzerman played 1514 games, put up 1755 points, and won the Stanley Cup three times in Detroit.

The goal now for Yzerman is to bring the Red Wings back out of the dumps and back to glory, this time as a general manager rather than a player.

What did they do this off-season?

Notable additions: Valtteri Filppula, Patrik Nemeth, Calvin Pickard, Adam Erne. 

Notable subtractions: Niklas Kronwall, Luke Witkowski, Thomas Vanek, Martin Frk. 

It wasn’t a very exciting start to the Yzerman 2.0 era.

At the draft, Yzerman went off the board and selected German defenceman Moritz Seider with the Red Wing’s sixth-overall pick. It seemed random at the time, but maybe Yzerman sees a little bit of Niklas Lidstrom in this kid. He’d know best, right? Who knows!

Moving along… The rest of Yzerman’s first summer at the helm consisted of minor moves, which, given Detroit’s horrendous salary cap situation, isn’t all that surprising.

The Wings are in a bit of a tricky spot right now because the late Mike Illitch made it a priority for Holland to continue the Red Wings’ epic playoff streak regardless of the ramifications it had on their long-term success. Though the Wings likely should have blown it up a few years ago, they kept trying to squeak mediocre teams into the playoffs.

Now, the Wings are fully in rebuild mode. Yzerman let go of Luke Witkowski, Thomas Vanek, and Martin Frk, while captain Niklas Kronwall announced his retirement. All of the additions in replacement were minor ones, as the Wings brought Adam Erne, Patrik Nemeth, and Valtteri Filppula on board.

Again, these moves don’t really matter.

How does this affect the Leafs?

This is a long-term build for Yzerman. He isn’t going to be able to fix the Red Wings in one summer. It took Yzerman four years to turn the Lightning, who already boasted elite building blocks in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, into a contender and he’s inheriting a more challenging situation here.

The Wings are loaded with bad contracts. Darren Helm is paid $3.85 million for two more seasons, Danny DeKeyser and Frans Nielsen are paid $5 million and $5.25 million annually for three more seasons, and Justin Abdelkader is paid $4.25 million annually for four more seasons.

There are a few quality players on the team and in the system now, but it isn’t the same foundation as Stamkos and Hedman were in Tampa Bay. Dylan Larkin is a good player, but he’s hardly the superstar you want to build a team around. Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, and Tyler Bertuzzi are in their mid-20s and might not even be around when the young core of Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, and Seider really break into the league.

What does it all mean? The Red Wings will continue to be a punching bag in the Atlantic Division yet again this season. They put up 74 points last year, 73 the year before that, and you could bet on that trend continuing and them putting up 75 points this year.

But, as I said when I wrote about the Ottawa Senators earlier, this team isn’t going to be bad for long. It’ll take Yzerman some time, but, given what he did in Tampa Bay, the Red Wings will become mighty yet again. Hopefully, Yzerman takes his time and it doesn’t interfere with Toronto’s Stanley Cup window.