It’s been repeated countless times on this website and many others across the hockey landscape. The standings will show you that it’s an undeniable fact. Yes, the Detroit Red Wings had a MISERABLE 2019-20 season.
There are plenty of ways to quantify it. You could look to the team’s 39 points through 71 games — a total so low that it’s almost unbelievable. You could look at their goal-differential of minus-122, another total that seems to defy logic. There’s also a point-percentage of .275, which would stand to be the worst of the salary cap era.
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But make no mistake — this isn’t what the Red Wings and their fans should come to expect from now on. Sure, things aren’t looking good now, or even heading into next season, but to struggle this mightily is something special. There are plenty of reasons to write this season off and be optimistic for a better 2020-21 season.
Unless the NHL tinkers with things, the Red Wings are set to pick in the top four at this year’s draft. They have a 49.4% chance of selecting in the top three. Regardless of where they pick, they will be adding a prospect that has the ability to challenge for a roster spot immediately. A single player can’t turn this ship around, but they can definitely make the sailing a lot smoother.
One weakness of the Red Wings’ makeup the past few seasons has been the lack of performance from the team’s top young players. Whether it’s Dennis Cholowski or Evgeny Svechnikov, the Red Wings have had to rely on expensive veterans to carry the load in the middle of the lineup, and the results have been less than ideal.
Adding a player from the top of this year’s draft should inject a player capable of holding down a spot on the team’s second or third line (at least). It’s far from a guarantee that anybody the Red Wings draft will produce at the NHL level. However, given the team’s need for young, impact players, giving whatever prospect the Red Wings select a shot is a necessity.
Perhaps the most underappreciated goalie across the NHL this season was Jonathan Bernier. Despite the shortcomings of the team in front of him, he managed a respectable save percentage (SV%) of .907%. According to Natural Stat Trick, Bernier also managed an impressive Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) rate of 18.09, meaning that he prevented 18 more goals than an average goalie would have under the same circumstances.
On the other hand, long-time Red Wing netminder Jimmy Howard endured the worst season of his career, and arguably for any goalie in recent memory. The 36-year-old managed just two victories despite playing in 27 games this season. His .882 SV% was easily the lowest mark of his career since breaking into the NHL on a full-time basis.
The Red Wings are highly likely to go shopping for a fresh face in net once this season officially comes to a close. Whether it’s through a trade or free agency, the player they bring in should get a little more luck than Howard did this season. Bernier may not be able to repeat his heroics from this season, but he should still be able to provide a solid presence in the crease. Complimenting that will increase the Red Wings’ performance next season by itself.
In a league where parity reigns supreme, any given team’s season success can be determined by whether or not they got a little luck. In terms of statistics, luck is measured by PDO. PDO is found by adding a team’s shooting percentage to their save percentage. If the total is higher than 100, then the team is determined to be lucky; if the total is lower than 100, the team is determined to be unlucky.
As you may have guessed, the Red Wings’ PDO this season was 96.7 at even-strength, the lowest mark in the league. This means they were very unlucky this season. The puck found ways to stay out of their opponent’s net, while finding every way to enter theirs.
There is something to be said about a team being capable of making their own luck. After all, a competitive roster is going to have more luck than a team without meaningful depth. Though the law of averages will tell you that the Red Wings should be a bit luckier next season, they can do themselves a favor by addressing the many needs of their roster.
During the 2016-17 season, the Colorado Avalanche had a stinker of a season. They went 22-56-4, and managed to score just 166 goals. They wound up with the fourth pick of that year’s draft and came away with defenseman Cale Makar for their troubles. The next season, the Avalanche saw an increase in points by 47, nearly doubling their total.
While the Red Wings are in no shape to turn into a playoff team by next season, they can look to that bit of recent history and feel that they can reverse their fortunes. Seasons like this are hard to repeat, especially if positive changes are made along the way.
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Make no mistake, the Red Wings aren’t out of the woods yet — not even close. However, fans should expect that the 2020-21 season won’t be as numbing as the 2019-20 one. The nature of a rebuild is turning 10-game losing streaks into 5-game losing streaks. Then, before you know it, those losing streaks become winning streaks, and suddenly everything feels good again.