2017 was a hard year for the Detroit Red Wings. In addition to missing the playoffs for the first time in twenty five years, the team said goodbye to its historic arena that was home to four Stanley Cups in the last twenty years. To top it all off, the team said an emotional goodbye to long-time owner Mike Illitch, or, as he’s more commonly known, Mr. I. By the time March rolled around, most of us just wanted it to be over, longing for a fresh start in October.
The team’s troubling play carried through to this season, though. Through 36 games played so far, the Wings are 13-16-7. Their measly 33 points are third worst in the Eastern Conference and fourth worst in the NHL. Needless to say, things have to change for this team in 2018 if they want to achieve their goal of making the playoffs.
Since the team likely hasn’t done this, I’ve taken the liberty of putting together a list of five resolutions for them for 2018.
1. Improve On The Powerplay
At first glance, the Red Wings powerplay doesn’t look that bad. With a 21.2% conversion, they rank 9th in the league. Digging deeper into the 5v4 stats, though, reveals some troubling issues. With a 92.14 shot attempt percentage, they are certainly controlling the play, but they’re only managing 48.37 shots for per 60 minutes, which is the 3rd least in the league. When they do get shots on net, they are of poor quality as evidenced by their 84.38 expected goals for percentage (ranked 23rd in the league).
The Martin Frk powerplay experiment was fun to watch, but teams have caught on and cover him pretty well. Plus, constantly shooting from the outside results in more missed and blocked shots. Detroit needs to get more pucks on net by finding ways into the dangerous areas on the ice. This team isn’t great at 5v5, so they need to capitalize on their powerplay time. It has the power to steal games for them.
2. Better Zone Exits
This is something that Prashanth Iyer wrote about back in October for The Athletic. For those of you who are stuck outside of the paywall, the basic idea is that zone exits with possession, either by pass or carry-out, lead to zone entry with possession which ultimately leads to more shots. Last season, Detroit ranked 25th in the league in successful zone exits that result in a zone entry.
This burden mostly falls on their defensemen as they generally are the ones who make that first pass. And the turnovers this year have been abysmal:
In 2018, the defensemen need to slow the play down in their own zone and make smart plays to exit. These giveaways are not sustainable.
3. Play A Full Sixty Minutes
“Playing a full 60 minutes” is one of those coach-isms that normally falls on deaf ears in the locker room, but too many times this past year has Detroit been a victim of poor play in the 2nd or 3rd periods. More often than not, if the team is leading after the first or second period, they win the game. They are 8-2-1 when leading after the first and 8-0-3 when leading after the second. They’ve still lost six games in the second and third periods of games that they were leading. What’s more concerning is Detroit’s record when they are tied. They are 4-6-4 when they are tied after one period and 4-4-2 when they are tied after two periods, per hockey-reference.com. For a team where every two points could make or break their season, they are not playing well enough to steal a lead in a tie game.
Playing a full sixty minutes makes the team more competitive. In 2018, I’d like to see the team carry momentum through an entire game.
Above, I talked about getting more pucks on net at 5v4 to take advantage of powerplay situations. Well, the Wings need to do the same at 5v5. So far this season, the team has taken a total of 807 shots on goal, which is the 25th highest in the league. This shakes out to 29.45 shots for per sixty, which ranks 21st in the league.
In addition to volume of shots, the team needs to improve their quality of shots. Their expected goals for of 62.05 is 25th in the league and indicates they are not getting off quality shots. The below heat map from hockeyviz.com illustrates this quite well. The Wings take a lot of shots from down low (close to the goal line) on either side of the net. There’s not a lot of open net from that angle. The real concerning part is the big blue circle right in front of the net. Detroit is taking far less shots from in there than the rest of the league.
It’s the same issue as they’re having on the powerplay. They just haven’t been able to get the puck into that dangerous area of the ice. It’s something to work on in 2018.
5. Be Creative and Have Fun
This resolution is not just for the players, but for the coaching staff and management team as well. This team has been dull and irrelevant, drowning in mediocrity, for too long now. There are some exciting young players on this team, but they are constantly crushed by the “culture” and “process” that is the Red Wings Way. Don’t get me wrong, having a winning culture and mindset is important, but it crushes any personality and creativity out of these young players.
So to Jeff Blashill and co., the resolution is to forget the process and let these young players have some fun and be creative out there. To Ken Holland and the rest of management, it’s about getting creative with the roster and their salary cap situation. Make a bold move that doesn’t necessarily prioritize veterans. Make smart, calculated decisions, but don’t be afraid to take a risk. If it ends up being a failure, at least it will be an exciting ride.
For the players, the resolution is to just be creative and have fun on the ice. Being so serious all the time is not great for morale and there is some serious skill on this roster. They just need to have the confidence to unleash it.
So there are my five New Year’s resolutions for the Red Wings. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think in the comments.
From all of us here at WingsNation.com, have a safe and happy new year’s eve. Here’s to a great 2018!