Detroit Red Wings mailbag: What on earth is wrong with them?
The Detroit Red Wings ' dismal start to the 2019-20 season is raising questions about why they are struggling so much.
The team just avoided breaking the franchise record 14-game losing streak set in 1981-82, going winless in 12 games between Nov. 12-Dec. 12. It's not even the halfway point of the season and the Wings are at the bottom of the NHL standings.
There is very little for anyone on the team to feel good about, except the draft lottery odds. If the Wings finish 31st, they could be pushed no further back than fourth. This week's mailbag focuses on why the Wings look worse than a year ago, the captaincy, and underperforming veterans.
The Detroit Red Wings haven't had much to celebrate as they near the midpoint of the 2019-20 season. (Photo: Paul Sancya, AP)
Jeff Blashill is under a spotlight, as coaches tend to be when their teams perform so poorly, but there is recognition within the organization that the team is patched with veterans performing below expectations and AHL call-ups. The Wings simply do not match up against their opponents most games. Thursday's victory over the Winnipeg Jets put the Wings at 8-22-3 after 33 games. They had scored 72 goals and allowed 131, a goal differential of minus-59. It is in stark contrast to last season - in 2018-19, it took the Wings eight games to seal their first victory, but they were 14-15-4 after 33 games. They had scored 93 goals and allowed 108, a goal differential of minus-15.
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There are several names that jump out as far as what is different. Gustav Nyquist was second on the team with 29 points (every statistic in this answer is though 33 games last season and this one). He was traded by former general manager Ken Holland at the deadline because of a contract demand upwards of $5 million annually (the Columbus Blue Jackets coughed up $22 million over four years in free agency). In exchange from the Sharks, the Wings received a second-round pick in 2019 ( used on defenseman Albert Johansson) and a third-round pick in 2020.
Nick Jensen is another player who was traded at the deadline. He was a stabilizing force on the defense corps, and had seven points after 32 games. The Wings have also missed defenseman Danny DeKeyser, who was injured Oct. 22. He has yet to practice, but Blashill said Friday that DeKeyser is closer, though no timetable was provided.
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Dylan Larkin led the team a year ago with 31 points, compared to 20 this season. Andreas Athanasiou had 11 goals and eight assists on Dec. 14, 2018; he was at five goals and 15 points after Thursday's game. But of the players who were on last year's team and this year's, veterans Frans Nielsen and Mike Green stand out for their staggering falloffs. Nielsen was third in team scoring with 20 points last December; he had one point, an assist, entering Saturday's game at Montreal. Green, who missed the start of last season because of a virus, still managed to pump 16 points into 23 games by mid-December; this season he had five points after 25 games.
Jimmy Howard is another veteran with a jarring contrast: Last season he was 10-7-4 with a .922 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average. This season he is 2-11-1 with a .887 save percentage and 3.94 GAA.
Holland had planned to name Larkin captain before the start of the season. When Steve Yzerman was named general manager of the team, that was put on hold. This is what Yzerman said at training camp: "I want to get to know all these guys - a few of the veteran guys I know somewhat from when I left the organization, but it's an opportunity to take the time to get to know everyone and when we eventually do name a captain, I intend that person to be the captain for a long time."What can be done about Nielsen? - S.W., via email
Yzerman placed veteran defenseman Jonathan Ericsson on waivers in October, but I doubt Nielsen will be put on waivers this season. Maybe he gets bought out this summer, but he is signed through 2021-22 at a salary cap hit of $5.25 million, so doing so would ding the Wings for four years. According to CapFriendly, this is the breakdown: $3.4 million in 2020-21, $4.4 million in 2021-22, and $666,667 each of the last two years. Buying him out in 2021 would count $4.25 million in 2021-22, but only $500,000 in 2022-23.
Comparatively, if a player on a one-way NHL contract is assigned to the minors, teams receive a measure of salary cap relief. This season and next it's $1.075 million, so if Nielsen was assigned to the AHL next season, he would count $4.175 million against the salary cap. With $1.125 million relief in 2021-22, Nielsen would count $4.125 million against the cap in the final year of his contract.Contact Helene St. James at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter.
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