What’s The Grind Line? Apart from the once-famous line of Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, and either Joe Kocur or Darren McCarty, The Grind Line is also The Hockey Writers’ weekly column about the Detroit Red Wings. This week Devin Little, Patrick Brown, Kyle Knopp, and Brian Oldani are the muckers who make up THW’s forechecking unit and sound off on Red Wings topics.
The new year is upon us, and the 2021-22 season has been a wild ride for the Detroit Red Wings and their fans to this point. The team is flirting with a playoff spot, but continues to play inconsistently, leading to streaky, frustrating, yet often exciting games. Some games look like the Wings are ready to return to the playoffs, highlighted by the play of rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. Other times it’s clear that they’re one of the youngest teams in the league, and have a lot of learning to do.
Regardless, our Grind Line crew here at The Hockey Writers put together a list of their 2022 resolutions, so let’s dive in!
Devin Little: Identify Players Worth Keeping
Some of the fun in following a rebuilding team is knowing that almost any player can be traded at any given moment. As much as I liked Anthony Mantha, that jolt of excitement was undeniable when the trade that sent him to the Washington Capitals was announced. Despite the fact that the Red Wings will most likely look to sell ahead of the 2022 trade deadline, the team’s progress this season should warrant a closer look at which players are expendable and which ones shouldn’t be on the trading block.
While it can be enticing to look at Tyler Bertuzzi, for example, and think about the premium assets Detroit could feasibly get in return for his services, that ignores the obvious chemistry between him, Dylan Larkin and Raymond, which has been a catalyst for the Red Wings’ progress this season. Is a first round pick from a contender worth breaking that up? Unless a team is willing to grossly overpay for players like Bertuzzi, I’m not sure that it is.
Kyle Knopp: Build Consistency
We all expected the Wings to continue to have struggles this season, they are still in the middle of a rebuild. In addition, they have relied heavily on multiple rookies this season to play a larger role than most fans had anticipated. However, even with the renewed excitement and energy surrounding this team, the Wings still have a ways to go to prove they are once again Stanley Cup contenders. With Sunday’s loss to the Boston Bruins knocking the Wings out of the final Wild Card spot, Detroit will need more consistency in 2022 to remain on the right track.
Too often, the Wings have gone on multi-game skids after coming off a hot streak of their own. Anytime the team seems to get momentum and begins to climb the standings, they drop three, four, or five games in a row by multiple goals, negating any progress made throughout the season. If Detroit can find a way to stay competitive in those games and keep them within reach, it will go a long way to building confidence, motivation, and a strong foundation to build off of for future seasons.
Pat Brown: Stop Overreacting to Blashill’s Job Status
Look, most Red Wings fans are guilty of praising Blashill during a Red Wings winning streak, as well as calling for his ouster during losing streaks, and the team has gone through its fair share of both this season alone. Blashill is the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL for a reason, and general manager Steve Yzerman has consistently provided his support for the 48-year-old Michigan native.
A team this young is bound to go through peaks and valleys, and this is truly the first season that Blashill has been at the helm, not counting his very first season, where the Red Wings are expected to shake their moniker of basement dwellers. Detroit has lost at least three straight games three times this season (and have currently lost two in a row), and has won three or more consecutive games twice, including a five-game streak Nov. 24 – Dec. 4. All of this is to be expected as the team begins to emerge from its years-long rebuild.
For now, fans should continue to evaluate Blashill in the same manner Yzerman does – on player development, and seeing as how Raymond (28 points, 10 goals, 18 assists), Seider (21 points, 18 assists), and goalie Alex Nedeljkovic (nine wins) all rank in the top echelon of rookies this season, fans should not be overreacting to Blashill’s job status based on wins and losses alone.
The time may very well come to part ways with their longtime bench boss, but it almost certainly shouldn’t happen as the team’s three prized rookies continue their potentially award-winning seasons.
Brian Oldani: Make Special Teams Truly Special
One of the biggest issues Detroit needs to address in the new year is power play. Currently firing at an abysmal 14.4%, Detroit finds itself 31st in the league following Sunday’s loss to Boston. The additions of Raymond and Seider have helped Detroit break into the zone and set up, but the team still struggles with finding the back of the net on the man advantage.
In the NHL, teams only get anywhere from two to four power plays a game, making the opportunities fleeting and more important. The Edmonton Oilers currently lead the NHL at 31.2%, but they aren’t the only team with more than double Detroit’s percentage. The St. Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs (29.5% and 29.7%, respectively) also find themselves on the list.
Sunday’s loss to Boston credited Detroit with an 0-4 power-play effort. If Detroit wants to stay relevant and compete for a possible playoff spot, it is essential to improve the power play and score with consistency.
What’s your New Year’s resolution as a Red Wings fan? Sound off in the comments section below!
A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.