Detroit Red Wings name captain but need wholesale culture change

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

On Wednesday, the Detroit Red Wings named Dylan Larkin the 37th captain in franchise history, but was that enough?

By now, we are all aware of just how bad the Detroit Red Wings were last season, awful, atrocious, historically bad.  This 2021 COVID-19 shortened season couldn’t come fast enough; it’s just too bad we haven’t been able to wash that awful taste of last year out of our mouths sooner.

The odds were stacked firmly against the Detroit Red Wings to open the 2019-20 season with Stanley Cup odds opening at +10,000.  Yikes.  Bad, but even Vegas couldn’t have predicted the team would be as bad as they were.  Detroit ranked last in the NHL (by a mile) with an overall record of 17-49-5, good for 39 points.  The Red Wings many of us remember regularly accumulated 17 victories before the calendar turned from November to December.

Last year’s Red Wings also finished last in scoring, managing just 145 total goals while yielding, you guessed it, a league-worst 267 goals.  The Red Wings also finished last in SRS, which measures goal differential combined with schedule strength.

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Again, it was an awful season; but that is in the past.

We haven’t seen Red Wings hockey since March of 2020, but here we are in January of 2021; it’s opening day.

As I’ve expressed numerous times, I’m not much of a Jeff Blashill fan, but I expect he’s simply a placemat for the 2021 season.  Last Spring, Yzerman picked up Blashill’s option for the 2020-21 season but beyond remains unclear.  Don’t forget Yzerman’s former linemate Gerard Gallant remains unemployed.  Could the stars align for Steve to hire his old pal to be the teams’ next bench boss?  At this point, it would be my first choice.

I will say one thing about Blashill.  Since Yzerman took over Detroit’s front office, the youthful Red Wings didn’t become buried on its fourth line.  When Filip Zadina was in Detroit’s lineup, he’d been playing as a top-nine forward, not buried on the fourth line as he had been in the past.  This is just one example.  Another is rapidly declining center Fran Nielsen, a staple on Detroit’s second line but found himself buried in the lineup last season.

We are shifting to the present day.

I am beyond excited the organization finally rewarded Dylan Larkin‘s hard work, leadership, and determination. Still, I am somewhat underwhelmed with the franchise’s decision to leave the alternate captains in place.

The Detroit Red Wings often shared the ‘A’ over the past few seasons.  It had been rotated between Larkin, Justin Abdelkader, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening, and Niklas Kronwall in recent memory.

Kronwall has since retired. The organization chose to buy-out Abdelkader’s lucrative deal leaving Nielsen, who appeared to barely earn a spot on the 2021 roster, along with a pending free agent in Luke Glendening. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for Yzerman and Blashill to shift the franchise’s entire landscape after awarding Larkin the ‘C.’

Rather than having a pair of fourth-line players dawing a letter, the Detroit Red Wings had an opportunity to pair Larkin with Tyler Bertuzzi, who displays leadership on the ice, always eager to muck it up in the gritty areas of the ice.  Bertuzzi was Detroit’s lone all-star last season.

Another candidate would be Anthony Mantha after signing his four-year contract extension, giving both him and the team stability moving forward.  Mantha has broken his hand numerous times during fights sticking up for his teammates.  No, I’m not suggesting he should have a letter because he fights, but more about his willingness to support his teammates.

In my eyes, the final candidate would be Danny DeKeyser, although he’s failed to remain healthy throughout his career.  It’s always nice to have someone represent the organization on the backend.  One day I hope to be writing Moritz Seider here rather than DeKeyser, but only time will tell.

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I have no issue with Glendening wearing a letter, but I wish the organization replaced Nielsen with someone else.  It’s coming down the road, but not in 2021.