NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Detroit Red Wings.
1. Will Dylan Larkin be named captain?
The Detroit Red Wings have not had a captain since the 2017-18 season and have had three since 1986-87: Steve Yzerman (1986-2006), Nicklas Lidstrom (2006-12) and Henrik Zetterberg (2012-18).
Yzerman, now the general manager, has said the Red Wings plan to name a captain before the season.
The obvious choice is Larkin, who grew up in the Detroit area, played at the University of Michigan and was selected by the Red Wings in the first round (No. 15) of the 2014 NHL Draft.
The 24-year-old is entering his sixth season with the Red Wings and has led them in scoring three seasons in a row. He’s the No. 1 center and carries himself like a captain.
2. How much can they improve?
The Red Wings have nowhere to go but up.
They went 17-49-5 last season. Not only were they last in the 31-team NHL, their 39 points were 23 fewer than the 30th-place team, the Ottawa Senators. Their .275 points percentage was the worst since the NHL salary cap was introduced in 2005-06.
They scored an NHL-low 142 goals, 35 fewer than the next-closest team, the Los Angeles Kings, and allowed an NHL-high 265 goals, 27 more than the next-closest team, the Senators. They ranked 29th on the power play (14.9 percent) and last on the penalty kill (74.3 percent).
“We’re just trying to upgrade really every position,” Yzerman said.
The Red Wings did just that in the offseason by adding goalie Thomas Greiss; defensemen Jon Merrill, Marc Staal and Troy Stecher; and forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestnikov.
Greiss, Stetcher and Namestnikov each is signed for two seasons. Merrill, Staal and Ryan each is signed for one. Though that gives the Red Wings flexibility, it keeps each player motivated to earn his next contract, in Detroit or elsewhere.
3. Can any prospects win jobs?
The new arrivals allow Detroit to be patient with its prospects, with many of them developing in Europe. But Yzerman said the Red Wings would not necessarily block prospects from making the NHL roster.
Some prospects are not playing in Europe and need to take the next step, particularly 24-year-old forward Evgeny Svechnikov, a first-round pick (No. 19) in the 2015 NHL Draft, and 22-year-old defenseman Dennis Cholowski, a first-round pick (No. 20) in the 2016 NHL Draft. Svechnikov is no longer exempt from waivers.
“If anybody’s ready to go and help the team and they’re going to play a lot, we’ll keep them, and we’ll figure it out,” Yzerman said. “But right now, we’ve filled our holes, or the spots that were available in the roster, but it’s not like it’s set in stone that we can’t change it.
“And wouldn’t it be fantastic if a young guy just came in and [was] just simply too good to send to the American [Hockey] League or too good to loan back to Europe or whatnot or loan back to junior? It’d be a fantastic problem to have.”