Red Wings offseason moves: How they’ve fared, what it means long-term
Back in July, the Red Wings made the clearest signal yet that they wanted to turn a corner in their rebuild. Between a draft-day trade and a flurry of moves to open free agency, they turned over a third of their lineup and committed real money and term to veteran players who could help their young core take a step. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn ranked them the most improved team in the league in the immediate aftermath.
Six weeks into the season, that title now belongs the dazzling New Jersey Devils — but the Red Wings have been an early season story as well. And not surprisingly, their offseason additions have been a big reason why.
So, now that we’ve gotten to see a real sample of games, it’s a good time to check in on Detroit’s summer acquisitions, how they’ve fared, and how they’re all shaping up to fit into the team’s future.
How it’s going: Through six weeks of play, Kubalik has looked like one of the summer’s best free-agent signings across the entire league. He’s definitely the most cost-effective. For an average annual value of just $2.5 million (for this season and next), Kubalik’s 21 points have him in the top 30 in NHL scoring through 18 games.
His big-time shot has been noticeable at all strengths, including helping what for years has been one of the league’s worst power-play units become respectably middle of the pack. Four of his nine goals so far have been on the man advantage. He’s also been a better-than-advertised setup man in that role, showing a knack for finding passing lanes to the back post, and has used his size and skating well on the forecheck.
All that said, there are reasons to pump the brakes. At five-on-five, Kubalik is carrying a concerning 41.3 percent expected goals share that ranks near the bottom of the team, according to Evolving Hockey. That hasn’t hurt Detroit so far, as his five-on-five goals-for percentage is actually a stellar 59.86 percent, but over time, that kind of chance share is tough to overcome. His 18.8 shooting percentage, too, is likely to eventually dip back toward his 13.6 percent career rate.
Those numbers indicate Kubalik is not likely to sustain his absurd production rate over the full season. But he also doesn’t need to. Even with some shooting percentage regression, Kubalik has a real shot to hit 30 goals and 60 points for Detroit — and even coming close would make him a remarkable steal for the Red Wings.
Future outlook: The big win with Kubalik is his current contract. But if he continues to produce like a legit top-six winger for the Red Wings, then extending him either this summer or next becomes a real possibility.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here, because Detroit will need (and have) a much larger sample size before getting to that point. That’s certainly true of those underlying numbers.
But one consideration that makes the possibility intriguing is the uncertainty around the future of winger Tyler Bertuzzi, who can become a free agent this summer. Bertuzzi’s been a huge part of the Red Wings throughout their rebuild, and if he and the team can’t agree on an extension, Detroit would suddenly find itself missing one of its most reliable goal-scorers. The option to potentially extend Kubalik — who is the same age — could help cushion the blow if it comes to that.
How it’s going: Another bargain contract that’s paying off early, Perron has 15 points in 18 games and has been perhaps an even bigger difference-maker on the power play, with the top unit essentially running through him on the left half-wall. Part of the logic in signing Perron was his veteran savvy, and while that shows up in numerous places, it’s most visible in his poise and patience on the man advantage.
“Obviously he’s world-class on the half-wall, but I think what goes unnoticed — which has helped our power play immensely — is his ability to retrieve and keep plays alive,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said this week. “I can’t tell you how many times the power play looks in trouble, and he’ll either make a poised play or a little pass maybe through our bumper or even through traffic and it gets to be re-started.”
Future outlook: Perron is signed for this year and next, and while he’s not realistically a long-term piece at 34, his situation will be a great litmus test for how Yzerman sees the Red Wings. Whether it’s at this trade deadline or next, there is sure to be considerable interest in Perron, who has won a Stanley Cup before and continues to play great hockey. At the last several trade deadlines, that would have meant a lot of noise in Detroit about his future.
But are the Red Wings finally at a point where they need his on-ice impact more than a trade return? Whether you buy Detroit as a playoff threat, Perron’s influence on a young team that hopes to be that sooner than later has been hard to overstate. And even if the team does come back to earth this season, the second year on Perron’s deal would keep him around for another attempt at the postseason in 2023-24.
What Detroit does with Perron will be telling, and the best guess right now is that they keep him in place into next season, and keep reaping the benefits.
How it’s going: Copp missed the whole preseason recovering from core muscle surgery, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he got off to a bit of a slow start jumping right into regular season action.
It is worth noting he’s now up to 10 points in 18 games — still a 45-point pace for the season — but he does have just one goal so far, which has been a drop-off from his 21-goal campaign last season. Shooting percentage is playing a role in that. Copp’s 5.3 percent so far is by far the lowest of his career and less than half his career average, but the bigger issue may be that he’s averaging just one shot on goal per game so far. That number is certainly going to have to rise.
Part of the reason Copp made sense for Detroit this summer, though, was that he doesn’t need to put up huge point totals to make a positive impact. He has long been a strong two-way forward, and for a Red Wings team that made defense an offseason priority, his ability to bring a strong floor at both ends was valuable. So far, however, Copp’s underlying defensive numbers have been rocky too, with Detroit giving up 3.16 expected goals per 60 minutes with him on the ice at five-on-five. That’s the highest number on the team.
Everything in Copp’s track record says that’s not going to last. It’s far more logical to believe, at 28, he’s still trying to get back to his pre-injury comfort level, rather than his whole career of strong two-way impact simply vanishing. A couple of encouraging recent games at San Jose and Columbus are positive indicators, too.
The most thorough assessment of Copp’s season so far, though, came from Lalonde on Tuesday.
“Someone asked me the other day, evaluating (Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond) on 100 (career) games, it’s almost unfair what we ask of them, and I would put Copper in that same boat,” Lalonde said. “First out on the penalty kill, he’s got the checking assignment versus the top (opposing line). We looked at some underlying numbers the other day, he is one of the top centermen in D-zone starts versus the top players in the league. And then he was one of the least O-zone starts. So we’re already setting him with some really tough tasks, then we’re putting the faceoff on his off-hand many times. So there’s really good — there’s a lot there.
“Again, he missed camp, he’s fighting through a core injury. I’ve had a little experience with core injuries — I remember Steven Stamkos had a core surgery and he came back not even himself. We were worried maybe he was at the end of his career. Nine months later he looked like he was 22 again. So I think there’s a reality of missing camp, the type of injury he had, and what we’ve asked of him. He’s probably our second or third minutes leader (among forwards), and we’ve just asked a ton of tough assignments (of him). Now, with that said, I think he’s up to the task, and he’s not going to shy away from that. So I think good, with Copper. It’s just managing what we ask of him.”
Future outlook: Copp signed a five-year deal with Detroit this past offseason, so he’ll be a big part of the picture for the foreseeable future. Realistically, that’s probably why fan reaction to his slower start was so intense.
But again, Copp’s fit with the Red Wings was never just about putting up numbers in one particular role. He’s a highly versatile forward, able to play up and down a lineup.
Right now, you can basically write him in ink as Detroit’s second-line center for at least this season and next, but over the life of the contract, he’s likely to play all around the lineup. He can flex to the wing, where his hockey sense and heaviness down low should play up. He can drop down in the lineup to center a more classic checking role. Basically, he can do whatever’s needed on a given night.
The recovery from surgery may be hampering him so far, but Copp has a long track record that shouldn’t get thrown out the window in assessing him.
How it’s going: Chiarot’s calling card is his physicality, and he’s shown why over the first six weeks of the season. Playing next to Seider since the start of camp, he’s made the area around and behind the Red Wings net a more intimidating place to be. His mobility has been noticeable as well.
The overall results of that Chiarot-Seider pair, however, haven’t been what the Red Wings were likely hoping for. Both are sporting an expected goals share of around 43 percent at five-on-five, and an actual goals share below that.
Throughout Chiarot’s career, there has always been a disconnect between his underlying numbers and his reputation around the league, and it’s not hard to see why. Shift to shift, you can see him killing plays and playing an imposing physical game. It’s also fair to give him and Seider — both great skaters with some tendency to freelance a bit — some more time to jell next to one another. But as the year goes on, Detroit will want its defensive results to be better than they’ve been so far with him and Seider on the ice.
Future outlook: Chiarot’s on a four-year deal, so like Copp, he’ll be around for the foreseeable future. The length of that deal has been a talking point from the moment it was signed, with Chiarot already 31, and it will continue to be.
The good news is, even at 31, Chiarot moves very well, and so far looks entirely capable of playing his physical brand of hockey for years to come. But again, Detroit’s going to want better defensive outcomes from his minutes before too long.
Right now, he’s playing as their top left-shot defender, but in time you’d expect top prospect Simon Edvinsson to take on that mantle. That could put Chiarot in more favorable matchups in the later years of his deal.
The bottom line today, then, is largely the same as when the contract was signed. Chiarot’s skillset is increasingly rare and still valuable in the modern game — more than underlying numbers are likely to fully capture — but finding the right role for him will be key as it ages.
How it’s going: We covered Määttä’s impact in more depth earlier this season, but the short summary is that he’s been exactly what the Red Wings signed him to be, plus some extra. The foundations of Määttä’s game are strong defense and simple, well-executed puck moving. The former has resulted in some of the best underlying defensive metrics on the team, and the latter has added up to seven points in his first 18 games as well — just one point shy of his 66-game total last season.
But one of his biggest impacts can be seen, in part, through the resurgent performance of his defense partner, Filip Hronek. This isn’t meant to take anything away from Hronek, who has been excellent. But Määttä’s reliable defensive game seems to have allowed Hronek to really tap into his natural offensive abilities. The two have even taken some of the tougher defensive matchups recently. Their pairing has been one of the biggest early success stories of the season.
Future outlook: This one’s fascinating, because looking at how helpful and effective Määttä has been, the natural inclination would be to start thinking extension for the 28-year-old, who is on a one-year deal. Määttä has already said he’d like to stick around.
One of the deepest parts of Detroit’s farm system, though, happens to be at his same position: left defense. Edvinsson is the most notable and should be the first of the group to make the NHL, but William Wallinder, Albert Johansson, Shai Buium and Jared McIsaac were all second-round picks by the organization, and 2020 third-round pick Donovan Sebrango has NHL potential as well.
Outside of Edvinsson, most of that group should still be at least a year away from the NHL. But regardless, Detroit hasn’t been overly concerned with “blocking” prospects so far under Steve Yzerman. And if Määttä continues to have this kind of impact for the Red Wings, it could be very tempting to try and extend him for another year or two, especially given his ability to insulate and elevate young defense partners.
The particulars would be key, of course. But given Detroit’s desire to improve defensively — and Määttä’s demonstrated impact doing just that — there’s a real case to be made to keep him around.
How it’s going: Hägg missed much of camp after he took a puck to the head in Traverse City, and his early-season numbers have been rocky as well. Detroit’s expected goals share with him on the ice at five-on-five is 42.38 percent, giving up 2.9 expected goals per 60 minutes. That’s not ideal for a defensive defenseman in a third-pairing role, and with Jake Walman now back from injury and Jordan Oesterle playing well, he’s on the outside of the lineup looking in as things stand.
He’ll draw back in eventually, of course, and the key will be making the most of that opportunity and showing he can limit the chances against.
Future outlook: Hägg’s on a one-year deal, and it’s hard to see him around long-term. The Panthers were willing to give up a sixth-round pick for him at last year’s trade deadline, so it’s possible a contender comes calling on him again as the year progresses, with defensive depth always a commodity among contenders.
How it’s going: Husso has emerged as the Red Wings’ No. 1 in net, with a .916 save percentage through 12 starts. Basically, he’s been what Detroit needs him to be: not so much a game-stealer as he is calm and reliable in the net. Most nights, that’s been enough, as the Red Wings have gotten at least a point in 10 of those 12 starts.
Detroit will have to be careful not to overtax Husso, who entered the season with only 53 career starts, and Alex Nedeljkovic is going to get more opportunities. But it’s clear the Red Wings view Husso as their top option right now.
Future outlook: On a three-year contract, Husso will be around for at least that long and could spend much of that time as the starter. Top prospect Sebastian Cossa is still years away — he’s playing well in the ECHL this season but needs more time and reps.
Husso has still played in only 69 career NHL games, so it’s too early to crown him a legit No. 1. But he’s been what the Red Wings have needed him to be, and that’s worth a lot in the modern NHL.
(Photo of Andrew Copp: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
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