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‘The Yzerplan’ starting to work for the Red Wings early in 2023-24 NHL season

Detroit is 5-1-0 as we enter the second full week of the 2023 NHL season. We look at what that means for Red Wings’ playoff chances and future outlook.

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Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red WIngs attends the 2023 NHL Draft at the Bridgestone Arena on June 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In April of 2019, the Detroit Red Wings announced that Hall of Famer and franchise legend Steve Yzerman was re-joining the front office as general manager. This was after a very, very successful stint with the Tampa Bay Lightning, one that would result in the team winning back-to-back Stanley Cup championships from 2019-2021. While Yzerman had left at that point to go back to Detroit, he helped lay the ground work that helped Tampa Bay win the Cup twice.

Now in his fifth season back in Detroit, we’re starting to see that ground work come to fruition this season with the Red Wings.

Detroit is 5-1-0 to start the 2023-24 regular season and tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with the Ottawa Senators (another surprise team). The ATL division is absolutely stacked along with the Eastern Conference in general. A lot of the reason for that sentiment is because of teams like the Red Wings, who are starting to put it all together at the right time. We saw a similar jump from the New Jersey Devils last season. It appears this time around it’s the Red Wings making that jump.

A lot of it has to do with drafting well and bringing in the right pieces around that young talent. Most of it starts with captain Dylan Larkin, who is entering his prime and has been waiting for this opportunity to compete for a playoff spot for some time now. Larkin is really the only holdover player from the pre-Yzerman rosters. If you go back to 2019-20, Larkin is the only player from that team still on the roster. Everyone else was brought in or drafted thanks to Yzerman.

We’ll start with some of the trade acquisitions, the big one being wing Alex DeBrincat. He’s an early Rocket Richard candidate with eight goals in six games to start the season. DeBrincat has climbed up to +1600 to lead the NHL in goals, seventh best odds on DraftKings Sportsbook. He’s looking like the top-line wing Larkin has needed his entire career.

Detroit also added two defensemen via trade: Jake Walman from the Blues and Jeff Petry from the Canadiens. Walman has provided a steady two-way presence on the top pair with Moritz Seider while Petry has spent most of the past eight seasons or so as a top defenseman for Montreal. Now, Petry doesn’t have to play a ton of minutes and can be more effective as a mid-pairing D.

In net, goalie Ville Husso was acquired from St. Louis to be the No. 1. While goaltending is voodoo, it’s good having someone eat up a lot of starts and steal a few games per season. Last season, Husso had four shutouts in 56 starts despite playing as the backbone of a mostly awful Detroit team. Husso’s numbers aren’t great to start 2023-24 but he has three wins. Along with backup James Reimer, the Red Wings have a solid pair in net, especially if the team is going to play like this all season.

The rest of the roster is comprised of quality free-agent signings and draft picks.

Andrew Copp, J.T. Compher, Klim Kostin, David Perron, Daniel Sprong, Christian Fischer, Ben Chiarot, Shayne Gostisbehere, Olli Maata. All those names are steady veterans with plenty of experience. Lucas Raymond, Seider, Michael Rasmussen, Jonatan Berggren, Joe Veleno all make up some quality picks, more of which should filter into the roster in the next few seasons. Let’s also not forget Robby Fabbri, who looked great in the season opener before being placed on injured reserve.

Perron, Compher, Copp and Sprong have been particularly good making up the middle-six forward group. Rasmussen, Compher and Copp on the second line is a very tough line to play against. It also compliments the top line of DeBrincat, Larkin and Raymond well. Fabbri going down isn’t ideal since depth could become an issue at some point if injuries pop up.

The Red Wings also have a solid stable of prospects and have good cap flexibility for the future. Detroit ranks as the 8th best farm system back in August by Corey Pronman of The Athletic. This is mostly because Pronman still considers Mo Seider and Raymond in his rankings. But Detroit also has recent first-round picks Nate Danielson and Marco Kasper and Simon Edvinsson. Danielson and Kasper will be key additions to the top-6 in the next few seasons. Edvinsson could get on the blue line in 2023-24 if there’s an injury or players underperform. There’s also a few goalies in Trey Augustine and Sebastian Cossa.

So now that we’ve gone over the Red Wings’ resurgence (or path to that), we can take a look at how their odds have been impacted since starting 5-1-0. The Red Wings are at +5000 to win the Stanley Cup on DraftKings Sportsbook. Detroit is +2500 to win the Eastern Conference and +1400 to win the ATL division. The Wings are also +130 to make the playoffs.

Looking at potential bets, winning the ATL division is likely the most attainable. This could just be a hot start or an early mirage but there’s good reason to believe the Red Wings can sustain success. There’s good depth at forward and in the system. Same goes for the defense with seven NHL defensemen, plus Edvinsson and prospect William Wallinder. Detroit is also 5-1-0 despite Husso looking shaky in net through three starts.

The Red Wings’ offense can clearly keep up with other top teams, having defeated the Lightning, Penguins, Senators and Flames along the way to a five-game winning streak. Defensively, the Wings can roll four lines and are very tough to play against. Special teams have also been a strength. The power play ranks second behind New Jersey at nearly 40 percent and the kill is top-10 through six games.

The power play being top-5 likely isn’t sustainable but the kill is very good. If Husso can round into form and be an average goalie the rest of the season, Detroit could even get better. And it isn’t like their schedule so far has been a cake walk. The Devils, Pens, Lightning, Sens and Flames all figure to contend for the Cup or a playoff spot.

It’s too early to bet on the Red Wings to win the Cup or the East. Those odds should move as the season progresses but still hold good value in a few months. The odds to jump on now are definitely the Red Wings to win the Atlantic. Detroit should at least contend for first place and be among the top-3 most of the rest of the season.

Looking at the rest of the division, the Bruins are 5-0-0 but haven’t played anyone good. The Sens are off to a good start and should be in contention. The Maple Leafs entered as the favorite and should be in the top-3 most of the season but could run into issues in net and on defense. The Lightning, Canadiens, Sabres and Panthers are all underperforming early on. Other than the Bolts, none of those teams have as good defensive forwards as Detroit.

Boston should regress. Toronto will be the top competition, but Detroit should be better or on par with Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Florida and Buffalo. It’s not crazy to think the Red Wings can win the Atlantic Division after what we’ve seen.

Betting picks and 2023-24 aside, if it doesn’t happen this season, the Red Wings aren’t far off from returning to contender status. In one or more of their prospects pan out, we could see Detroit in the Stanley Cup conversation in a few seasons. It took a bit, but the “Yzerplan” is taking shape and could get the franchise back to where it was in the ‘90s and ‘00s.