Red Wings general manager Ken Holland wants to move more younger players onto the roster.(
DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg stood in the dressing room Tuesday after the team photo, hoping one day to play in the postseason again.
The odds don’t appear in his favor, even though he will return next season.
The Red Wings are done trying to retool on the fly with some off-season patchwork geared toward sneaking into the playoffs, with the hopes of getting hot at the right time.
They are embracing a multiyear rebuilding project after missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season.
"Obviously very disappointing season," general manager Ken Holland said. "The theme going forward is the future, it’s rebuild, it’s young kids. But young kids put into the lineup when they are ready to play at this level. I believe that you need to have some veterans on the club that are good role models. We’ve got those."
The Red Wings cleaned out their lockers following their first season at Little Caesars Arena, in which they finished 27th overall with 73 points (30-39-13). Holland, who the club announced on Saturday has signed a two-year extension, mapped out the future, which includes coach Jeff Blashill for at least one more season.
They will rebuild primarily through the draft and have 11 picks this year, including seven in the first three rounds. But unless they get lucky in the April 28 lottery and acquire the top pick (they have an 8.5 percent chance) – Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 selection – it might be a year or two before their first pick joins the team and likely several seasons before anyone else from the draft provides help.
The Red Wings aren’t likely to be too active in a free-agent market that’s becoming increasingly thin. They would like to re-sign defenseman Mike Green, preferably for two years. He’s coming off neck surgery and will be ready for the start of training camp. They need to sign a goaltender to either back-up Jimmy Howard or compete for the starting job. Carter Hutton of St. Louis is on their radar.
No player on the current roster was acquired through trade, but Holland said he’d "love to do a value for value deal."
The Red Wings have a good nucleus of young forwards. Dylan Larkin was their leading scorer (16 goals, 63 points) and best player. Anthony Mantha (team-leading 24 goals, 48 points) made strides. Tyler Bertuzzi came on strong near the end. Andreas Athanasiou (16 goals, 33 points) did not take the next step but still has much untapped potential.
Holland said 6-foot-6 center Michael Rasmussen, their 2017 top pick who is dominating in the WHL playoffs for Tri-City (nine goals, 19 points in six games), has a chance to make the team next season. Evgeny Svechnikov, their 2015 top pick, also will be competing for a spot.
Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg discusses the rebuilding job ahead
They are not as deep on defense, on their roster and in the system. They hope one of Joe Hicketts or Filip Hronek makes the jump from AHL Grand Rapids to the NHL at the start of the season.
"I’m hoping and expecting that minimum of two, maybe four or five kids between the ages of 19 and 22 are on the roster next year that weren’t on the team to start this year," Holland said. "I want to get those young people onto this roster when I think that they can help us be competitive."
Zetterberg, who turns 38 on Oct. 9 but hasn’t missed a game the past three seasons, said this is the only way to go.
"There’s no other way but to start to do the rebuild," Zetterberg said. "We (he and other veterans) are right in the middle of it. But I also played long enough that I know a lot of stuff can happen. I’m really hoping to play playoff hockey here."
The Red Wings must improve in all areas. They finished 28th in goals per game (2.59), tied for 23rd in goals-against (3.10), 24th on the power play and tied for 23rd on the penalty kill.
"You have to be able to put the puck in the net," Zetterberg said. "But there’s a lot of different ways to create more offense. One of them is not spend so much time playing defense. We got to find a way to not spend so much time in our own end."
Said Frans Nielsen: "You look around the room and see all the talent and all the good players we have and sometimes you do wonder why we don’t score more. I think we figured it out a little bit at the end and hopefully it’s not just that we were out of it and sometimes you play a little more freely."
The Red Wings were 10-14-13 in one-goal games. They were 3-12 in games decided in overtime.
"If we found a way to win a number of the close games, we would have been in the mix way longer," Blashill said. "If certain young players can show the type of growth where they go from being here to being here, we’ll be a really good hockey team. Does that happen in a year? I don’t know. I think Ken, rightly so, is looking at the long-term best interests of this hockey club.
"A coach’s focus is always more narrow. We’ll make sure we do everything possible to help our players become the best they can be to be the best team we can."
Holland said the goal is to build a Stanley Cup contender, for which he had no time frame.
"I’d like to think playoff contention you’re hoping in a year or two," Holland said. "Depends what goes on in the lottery, what goes on in free agency. Right now, we need lots of good, young players. Next up is trying to complement them to bring in some players that are a little bit more experienced or make a trade that will make us better and compete for the playoffs."
The Red Wings are 104-105-37 in three seasons under coach Jeff Blashill.
Zetterberg has seen Blashill grow, even if the team’s record hasn’t reflected it.
Matt Lorito (MLive file)