Has Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman actually improved the team?

Steve Yzerman has been the general manager of the Detroit Red wings for 5 years now, but had the team really improved?
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7 / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

When Steve Yzerman was announced as the new Red Wings general manager (GM) in 2019, you could feel the excitement and relief from the entire Red Wings fanbase. He built the Tampa Bay Lightening team that that made the Stanley Cup Finals, including back to back Stanley Cups in 2020 and 2021. But, in the last year or 2 with no playoff berth to speak of, many questions have arisen about whether or not the "Yzerplan" is working.

What a lot of fans seem to forget is that Yzerman had a very tall task ahead of him, as Former Red Wings GM Ken Holland had nearly crippled the teams future by making numerous bad free agent signings and trades. Turns out trading a 1st round pick and Sebastian Piche for Kyle Quincey in 2012 as well as signing a beat up 30 year old Justin Abdelkader to a 7-year deal was a bad idea.

To be fair to Holland, however, these moves were not without reason. The Detroit Red Wings at the time were in the midst of maintaining the longest playoff streak in NHL history and he was trying to keep it going.

Yzerman also had to deal with the dreaded "COVID years" when every North American hockey league stopped running for nearly 2 full years. This resulted in many prospects at the time having their development stunted and taking longer for them to be effective in the NHL.

Yzerman did make some questionable moves

Steve Yzerman isn't totally absolved of making bad deals. In fact, he has made some pretty questionable and downright bad free agent signings. The first ones that come to mind are Andrew Copp and Justin Holl, both were overpays likely to entice them to a rebuilding team but have since become an issure regarding the team's current cap hit.

Copp has found a role that fits him better than the teams second line center, but that $5.625 Million, his contract still isn't a good one. Justin Holl's contract was a a mistake from the start. It was obvious that he was a better defender than Toronto media gave him credit for, but after the Jeff Petry trade and the addition of Shayne Gostisbehere in free agency, Holl became the odd man out, only playing 38 games this season. It's become apparent how Detroit Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde sees him in comparison to other players.

Some other questionable moves are the aforementioned Jeff Petry trade, the Ben Chiarot contract and the latest Jake Walman trade were all questionable at best.

Yzerman made some really solid trades since be became GM

While the bad moves are fairly bad, he has made quite a few good moves. Most of those moves come within the NHL Entry Draft, but had also made some really good trades in his tenure as the Red Wings GM as well.

The biggest trade that comes to mind is of course the Alex DeBrincat trade. The Detroit Red Wings traded the 2024 first round pick they got from Boston in the Tyler Bertuzzi trade, a 2024 fourth round pick, Dominik Kubalik and Donovan Sebrango. This was a major win for the Red Wings, as DeBrincat brought a much needed scoring touch that the Red Wings desperately needed.

A few other sneaky good trades that a lot of people forget about were the Robby Fabbri trade, The Jake Walman trade that brought him to Detroit and the Ville Husso trade were all net positive trades for the Red Wings.

Yzerman's latest Free agency signings have helped advance the rebuild

While I mentioned some of Steve's more questionable free agency signings like the Holl,
Chiarot, and Copp contracts, his free agency acquisitions for the 2023-24 season really allowed the team to take another step. It helped them get closer to the playoffs than they have been since 2016.

The most notable of those of course being Patrick Kane. The rumors of where "Showtime" would land were numerous. Was he gonna sign with Detroit to play with good friend DeBrincat? Would he go play in his hometown of Buffalo? Maybe he'd be willing to go back to New York City and play with the Rangers. Among other teams, the options for Showtime where plentiful. However, Steve managed to pull it off, Kane became a Red Wing and it worked out far better than anybody could have anticipated.

Some other free agent signings that seem to have been worth it are J.T. Compher, who seemed to almost thrive as the teams second line center as well as being a part of their top penalty kill unit. Christian Fischer, who brought much needed grit and also became a big part of the teams penalty kill, and Daniel Sprong who brought much needed depth scoring to the teams bottom-six.

Yzerman's best moves have definitely been during the NHL Entry Draft

The Red Wings GM loves the NHL Entry Draft. He's been very adamant about building the team through the draft and surrounding them with the appropriate veteran talent to help them develop. however it's the NHL's worst kept secret that Yzerman has " his type" in the draft.

The last three 1st round picks for Steve Yzerman are all pretty much the same exact player. Marco Kasper, Nate Danielson and Michael Brandsegg-Nygård are all 200-foot forwards who are good at all parts of the ice, but with subtle enough differences to stand apart from each other. Where Kasper is a gritty center who isn't scared to get in your face, Danielson is a really good play-making center, and Brandsegg-Nygård is a winger with a great shot.

He also has a Defensive type as proven with taking Moritz Seider and Simon Edvinsson. 2-way 6 foot+ giants are the playrs that he usually goes for. But, all have their own uniqueness to them. Moritz Seider has a high defensive IQ with enough offense for him to be feared in the neutral and offensive zones, where as Edvinsson is able to use his reach to keep attacking players to the outside during zone entry but also good enough stick handling to move between defenders on the rush.

When he does deviate from his normal player type, he ends up with players such as Axel Sandin-Pellikka who's a 5'11 offensive defenseman and Lucas Raymond who's a high scoring winger. The kicker is that both aren't defensive "black holes", which as we've covered, is a big quality that Steve Yzerman looks for when drafting. He also took Goaltender Sebastian Cossa at 15th overall in 2021, who's an athletic freak and projected to become Detroit's future starting goaltender.

He's also had a solid track record with picking players outside of the first round. Those players include guys like Carter Mazur (third round, 2021), Amadeus Lombardi (fourth Round, 2022), Trey Augustine (second Round 2023) and Carter Gylander (seventh round, 2019) among plenty of others.

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