Everyone knew the Red Wings were in for a bad season, but nobody expected it to be this bad. At the time of this writing, the Wings are dead last in the league standings with a 4-12-1 record and a dire -33 goal differential. They haven’t won in four games.
Looking at the roster, it’s no surprise that this season was going to be painful. We braced ourselves for that with the caveat that we’d at least get to see young players continue to take strides into their primes. I’m talking, of course, about the Red Wings young core of players.
With Dylan Larkin at the forefront, these players are meant to lead the Wings offensively, fuel them defensively, and carry them to the best of their ability through the rough currents of the 2019-20 season. For the most part, this has been happening. Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Larkin lead the team in goals and points.
This is consistent with last year, when the three players each finished in the top-4 on the team. That fourth player who’s missing from the top of the stat sheet this year is Andreas Athanasiou.
Athanasiou is one of this team’s most dynamic players, yet he’s been suspiciously absent from the stat sheet this year. After fourteen goalless games, he finally netted his first goal the other night against the Nashville Predators. Add to that six assists, two of which came on the power play, and you’ve got an underwhelming seven points in fifteen games.
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) November 5, 2019
For a 25-year-old who should be in his prime and on an expiring contract, this is not an ideal situation.
“It’s just bad luck,” you might say. “He’s getting his chances, but they just aren’t going in!”
It’s a fair comment. I said the same thing. Athanasiou certainly passes the eye test with flying colours, likely because he’s flying out on the ice and draws your attention. But I dug a little deeper and the advanced stats aren’t too kind to AA.
According to NaturalStatTrick, Athanasiou is ranked 6th among team forwards (>46 mins played) in individual shots-, Corsi-for-, and scoring chances-per 60 at 5v5. While these are technically numbers of a top-6 forward on the team, which is what Athanasiou is, they look worse when you stack them up against his past seasons.
As the table shows, we’ve been trained to expect much more from Athanasiou over the last five years. He’s been a strong source of shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances in the past. This season, not so much. Looking at Micah Blake McCurdy’s heat map from hockeyviz.com captures it nicely in visual form. Spoiler alert: it’s not a pretty picture.
Athanasiou just hasn’t been good at getting the puck into high danger areas in the offensive zone this year. That big stretch of blue down the middle of the zone should be his sweet spot, yet the team isn’t getting shots in that area when he’s on the ice.
So what’s happening here? Part of it is the quality of his line mates. Athanasiou has spent most of his time on ice this year with Valtteri Filppula and Luke Glendening. Neither of these players are going to give their line mate the kind of lift he needs to perform at his capable level. They can barely even keep up with him.
But Athanasiou can’t put his lacking performance solely on the shoulders of his line mates. After all, he’s always spent more time with Thomas Vaneks than Dylan Larkins and managed to put up a better performance than he’s putting up now.
No, Athanasiou is in a place now where he can’t hope for his line mates to lift him up. He has to do the lifting. That’s what’s expected from a player like him on a team like this. It’s possible that he doesn’t have that in him. He could be a player who needs to be anchored to a number one center in order to put up top-3 points. If that’s the case, he won’t find that situation in Detroit and could find himself on the trading block.
However, If he likes being a Red Wing and wants to be part of the solution in Detroit, then he is going to have to flat out be better. His team needs him to be and, in a contract year, he needs himself to be.
For Andreas Athanasiou, it’s time to dig deep and be the player everyone knows he can be – the player we’ve seen in the last five years. He doesn’t need to turn this whole team’s season around, but he does need to show personal and independent progress. At this point in his career, regression is not an option.