The Detroit Red Wings may be inclined to upgrade their roster on the backend following the holiday freeze. General manager Steve Yzerman shifted gears this past summer by adding a bunch of NHL defenders rather than going with a much younger roster as I expected they'd do this season. Yzerman signed Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere in free agency.
Yzerman also traded for veteran Jeff Petry to pair with their returning three experienced defenders, Moritz Seider, Jake Walman, and Olli Maatta. Over the course of the season, head coach Derek Lalonde has had a healthy scratch carousel going between Holl, Maatta, and Petry. On Saturday night, Lalonde surprisingly elected to make Walman a healthy scratch. Despite all of this experience on the backend, the Detroit Red Wings collectively haven't been very good defensively of late. Walman, in particular, has had a rough go of it over the past couple of weeks. Rewind to Detroit's overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks, Walman failed to hustle on the back-to-back Sharks' shorthanded goals. Since, and he is not alone, has continued to struggle with defensive responsibilities, defensive zone coverage, and choosing to pinch in the offensive zone at horrendous times. With Detroit going 1-6-1 over their past eight games heading into Friday's contest with Philadelphia, Lalonde clearly wanted to send a subtle message to his team by scratching Walman.
It could be more of a maintenance day for Walman, but he was present at the teams' morning skate and in a regular uniform. A team going through a slump like Detroit over the past couple of weeks needs its best players in the lineup if they can play. I believe this was more of a message that Walman and his teammates should respond to positively. Everyone will get the memo whenever a top-line player or top-pairing defender is scratched. It's a shame to see the Detroit Red Wings all but spoil the 6-1-0 stretch they produced following their disappointing trip to Sweden, and as horrible as December has been for them, they can still salvage things with a strong finish to the month. Detroit has a quick turnaround following Friday's game at home against the Flyers and will take on the Devils in New Jersey on Saturday night before the holiday break. Maatta was forced to leave Friday's game with an injury, which means Walman will need to be re-inserted into the lineup on Saturday. Detroit has allowed 39 goals over their last nine games and, as I've mentioned above, has had numerous defensive/brain lapses over this stretch.
Dylan Larkin spoke about Detroit's recent defensive zone struggles.
"“We hung Reims out to dry with back doors and extended O-zone shifts for Winnipeg,” Larkin told Bally’s. “We’ve tried it all in the past couple of weeks --different line combinations, different coaching, coming in and being hard, trying to pump us up, whatever it is. But it’s got to come from within the room. Every guy’s got to be better. The offense isn’t clicking and you can’t win hockey games playing D like that,” he said. “When we get five guys back, we got to simplify and grind it out. … We just defended so poorly.”"
That begs the question, will Yzerman and the Detroit Red Wings be looking to add a defender for the second half of the regular season?
Yzerman already addressed a need up front by adding superstar Patrick Kane, albeit it's somewhat of a risky addition following hip resurfacing surgery. The risk outweighs the reward, knowing how productive Kane can be even if he doesn't ultimately return to his old self. The deal is for one year and is worth $2 million in real money. So far, he's produced at a point-per-game pace for the Detroit Red Wings.
I would like to see Yzerman upgrade Detroit's goaltending situation by trying to obtain a bona fide top option like John Gibson from Anaheim or kicking the tires on Elvis Merzlikins, but maybe sifting through the available defenders is more critical. James Reimer is a valuable third option in goal, but if the team needs to count on him to play as the top option due to injury for an extended amount of time, it won't bode well for the Red Wings.
Ville Husso hasn't proven to be a franchise goaltender, nor has Alex Lyon, but before the injuries to both, Lyon had given the organization the best opportunity to win, and Husso, despite being called upon the most, seemed to be playing his way out of a lengthy funk. If Yzerman is content in wringing out the most he can from this trio, perhaps looking to add a legit top-pairing defender becomes more of a priority. Maybe it's as simple as bringing up top prospect Simon Edvinsson, but if Yzerman felt he was ready, he'd already be in Detroit.