Steve Yzerman wants 'improvement' out of his Red Wings team
Detroit — General manager Steve Yzerman had a simple response to the question.
When asked about what will Yzerman be looking for regarding this season, Yzerman was direct to the point, but basic.
“As simple as I can put it, I’m just looking for improvement,” Yzerman said.
The Red Wings had the NHL’s worst record last season and struggled mightily all season.
So Yzerman, during this long, pandemic-driven offseason, went to work acquiring or signing veteran free agents to short-term deals, to improve the roster and enable young players to continue maturing.
It’s the young players Yzerman will keep a specific eye on.
“As a team, we want to be better,” Yzerman said. “Certainly we’re expecting our younger players to be improved. They’re a year more mature and experienced and hopefully stronger and explosive and a little better conditioned.
“Again, we just want to see improvement. We’re trying to progress and if we can be better in every area, I don’t know what our point total will be or where we’ll finish in the standings, but throughout the whole organization we’re looking at improvement.”
And that doesn’t necessarily mean, Yzerman said, just the Wings’ NHL roster. But also prospects and draft picks just starting out in the Wings' organization.
“What people see, the fans, are the Detroit Red Wings on the ice, and we want that group to be better,” Yzerman said. “But we’re hoping our kids in the minors are getting better, we’re hoping everyone gets better, as we inch closer and we become more competitive.
“Regardless of whether they’re in Detroit or Grand Rapids, or wherever they’re playing, I want see us be a little better and have more optimism we’re getting closer by the end of the season.”
Yzerman doesn’t have a firm plan for the taxi squad this season, a newly-formed NHL idea for this pandemic ravaged season of six extra players who’ll practice and travel with the team.
But Yzerman surely doesn’t want any players in that group not playing.
“I don’t want anyone sitting on the taxi squad all season long,” Yzerman said. “The fact our minor-league team is in the state of Michigan (Grand Rapids) and relatively close by gives us a little more flexibility of how we use the taxi squad.
“But ultimately I don’t want these young guys who don’t need waivers, I don’t want them not playing. Whoever it is, young or veteran player, I’m not sure how long I want to keep them on it (taxi squad) if they can’t go up to the NHL. Maybe we move them to Grand Rapids just to play.”
Yzerman also talked about how difficult amateur scouting is this hockey season.
The Swedish junior league has suspended its season, and in North America, few junior leagues have even begun their schedules.
“There are obviously challenges this year as some kids aren’t even playing,” Yzerman said. “Scouting for the draft, it’s going to be hard, and if these leagues get up and running, there will be shortened schedules. If we do the draft in June, it’s going to be a real challenge because you have limited viewings on players and evaluating players that have played 24 games.
“I’m not sure how it will play out this year for the draft. Maybe we should consider doing the draft at a different time (later in the year).”
Helm, Djoos out
Red Wings Darren Helm and newly acquired Christian Djoos are among the NHL players unavailable to play or practice in accordance with the NHL's COVID-19 protocols.
The league released the full list on its opening night and will continue to do so on a daily basis for the rest of the season.
Players can be unavailable due to COVID-19 protocols as a result of a number of factors, including: an initial positive test, which remains unconfirmed pending another result, mandated isolation for symptomatic individuals, required quarantine as a high-risk close contact, isolation based on a confirmed positive test result and/or quarantine for travel or other reasons.
Helm has been unavailable the duration of the nearly two-week training camp, while Djoos, claimed on waivers Saturday from Anaheim, has yet to practice with the team.