Steve Yzerman raising overall expectations next season for the Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have slowly but surely continued to improve under the tutorship of Steve Yzerman, but heading into next year, overall expectations will be increased.
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The Detroit Red Wings finished the 2023-24 season with 41 victories and 91 points, a significant improvement from the year before when they notched just 35 victories and 80 points.

Yet, the Red Wings failed to qualify for the postseason, but well general manager Steve Yzerman appeared in a good mood during his end-of-year press conference; he did mention that he's raising expectations for some individual play and the overall team. Yzerman acknowledged that in today's salary cap, draft lottery era, it's quite difficult to make the postseason. Pair that with the current playoff format, and you understand that if the Red Wings hope to qualify for the playoffs, they will need to improve on the 91-point season. Yzerman knows that it won't be easy.

"Expectations are raised, I think, for some individuals," Yzerman said. "For our team, we had 91 points, 41 wins. That’s tough to do, and we still (missed) the playoffs. We’re probably going to have to get more than 91 points next year to get in, and that will be a challenge for us. But the overall growth of our young players, I see that as progressing, and I hope that translates into more wins for next year and actually getting into the playoffs."

"I long for the 21-team league, where 16 of us were making the playoffs and everyone was saying the system was a joke,"he said a few days after the Wings just missed out on the playoffs, their drought growing to eight years, the last five with Yzerman as general manager. "Everybody makes the playoffs."

What can the Detroit Red Wings do this summer in hopes of improving on their 2023-24 season?

If the Detroit Red Wings are going to improve on this past season, they will need a couple of their young prospects to make a significant impact as the organization gets closer to the salary cap crunch. Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider will see a substantial raise. Yzerman mentioned that he'd love to bring back all of the Red Wings' pending free agents, but looking at their current cap situation, it doesn't seem logical.

Although re-signing Patrick Kane should be a top priority, he will have a ton of suitors this summer and will be looking for a multi-year deal and a significant raise. If Yzerman hopes to bring the future Hall of Famer back, he must get creative by moving some money, perhaps finding a trade partner for Robby Fabbri, who carries a $4 million cap hit, along with Justin Holl ($3.4 million) and Andrew Copp ($5.625 million).

All three of these deals feel nearly impossible to move without retaining a large portion, but clearing up space plus not keeping a couple of pending free agents such as Shayne Gostisbehere, Joe Veleno, and Daniel Sprong may create enough space to bring back Kane, David Perron, and Christian Fischer along with adding an impact-like player via trade or free agency like Sam Reinhart or Steven Stamkos. Sometimes it feels like you need to be a mad scientist to manage the modern-day salary cap, but the way I see it is: If you have a top-heavy salary team, the bottom half of your roster should be on rookie deals or filled-out with veterans earning $2 million (or so) per season that can produce in a variety of ways.

Of course, I'd expect to see Simon Edvinsson slotted in as a top-four defender from the get-go. Still, players like Jonatan Berggren and Marco Kasper hopefully find themselves productive in an everyday role. Yzerman wouldn't rule out Nate Danielson making the team out of training camp, but my guess is that the young center will begin in Grand Rapids for further evaluation. Others that appear close are defenseman Albert Johansson and forward Carter Mazur.

It's noteworthy that Johansson and Berggren are no longer waiver-exempt beginning next season. Berggren, if he's not dealt, could be someone who can replace a Fabbri or Sprong in Detroit's lineup. Johansson is a very intriguing prospect. He's spent the past two years playing as a top-four defender in Grand Rapids. This season, he's notched six goals and 20 points over 65 games while maintaining a plus-6 rating. Can he be someone who can slot in on Detroit's third pairing next season with Olli Maatta or Jeff Petry?

Steve Yzerman is happy with the Red Wings coaching staff.

"I think we competed hard, there was a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of determination among the players," Yzerman said. "The most important thing is, from my vantage point, I feel our players are motivated, our players are determined. There’s a good atmosphere within the locker room, and part of that is the coaching staff helps foster that or create that.

"So I am happy with the direction we’re going, the coaching we have. Ultimately we have to become a better defensive hockey team, and it’s the fundamentals of defending, and I’m counting on our coaching staff to work with our players and our players be determined to do that."