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The Red Wings Say “Maybe Next Year”

Tyler Bertuzzi talks with Dylan Larkin
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Cruel hope. When this week began, the Detroit Red Wings were gunning for an unlikely playoff spot, boosted by the stumbles of teams like Pittsburgh and Washington and a seven-out-of-eight hot streak earned against mostly back-up goaltenders. Then they had to go to Ottawa. The Wings got drubbed in back-to-back games against the Senators, looking like amateurs against another non-contender working through a rebuild as they lost by a combined score of 12-3.

The Wings haven't played since, but with the trade deadline one day away, as they sit beneath a big dust cloud looking up at eighth place, they have seemingly decided to retreat. On Wednesday, Detroit GM Steve Yzerman made the call to trade Filip Hronek, the Wings' most valuable defenseman this season, to the Canucks for a conditional first-round pick and a second-rounder in the upcoming draft. On Thursday, he made a less surprising move, sending a more obvious trade target and a 30-goal scorer from last year in Tyler Bertuzzi to Boston in exchange for yet more picks—a first in 2024 and a fourth in 2025. Amid this movement, the Wings did close a critical deal for their future, locking up pending free agent and face of the franchise Dylan Larkin for eight years at $8.7 million per.

Each of these moves on its own makes a kind of sense. Bertuzzi, with his expiring contract, was assumed to be out the door for a while, and his injury troubles have made him mostly a non-factor this season. He'll be a high-upside guy to add to a Bruins playoff run that could be their best chance to win a Cup for many, many years. Hronek, meanwhile, is a little more puzzling, in part because he's still under team control for a while and in part because a franchise in even worse shape than the Wings gave up picks to get him, as if Vancouver suddenly thinks it's in win-now mode. But if Yzerman saw Hronek's career year as an aberration, and loves top prospect Simon Edvinsson as a guy to build around on the blue line (along with Mo Seider), then selling high to a weirdly desperate buyer could look savvy in the long run.

But it doesn't look fun right now, as Detroit stares down its seventh straight season without a playoff berth. This team in its previous form probably wasn't going to be the one to end the drought, if that Ottawa poison was any indication, but mathematically they are by no means done. While a lot of teams are clogging the lane, the current holders of that eighth seed, the Sabres, have only two more points than the Wings with one fewer game played. An impatient group of veterans might have made a run for it. But the Wings are still waiting to strike. Even as they recommit to Larkin as their guy, they're making moves that once again restart the clock on the rest of the roster. If these trades are going to pan out, in the sense that they lead to a player as good as 2022–23 Hronek or peak Bertuzzi, it will be several years before they know.

GMs don't get paid to be naive, or even necessarily optimistic, but they do get paid for results. With both his legendary career wearing the winged wheel and his success in the Tampa front office before coming back, Yzerman took this job in Detroit armed with maybe the most goodwill of any incoming GM in history. That positivity has mostly remained as the Wings have made slow but incremental improvements since 2019. But there will come a point, at some time in the next few years, when the Motor City faithful demand that Yzerman punch the gas.

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