What's up with Danny DeKeyser, 30, and what's the Red Wings' plan moving forward?

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Danny DeKeyser has been one of the Red Wings’ best defensemen during his nine seasons in the organization — a reliable defensemen who was a factor at both ends of the rink, and given his age (30), maybe could bridge the past to the future through the current rebuild.

Then, DeKeyser missed most of last season with a herniated disk. Not playing at all through the calendar year of 2020 because of surgery and the pandemic, DeKeyser returned to the ice in January for this shortened season.

It was expected to be, and has been, a challenge, to the point that DeKeyser was a healthy scratch (though not totally healthy) for nine games earlier this month.

Danny DeKeyser

It was obvious to the coaching staff that DeKeyser wasn’t close to himself.

“We talked about it before that long (11-day) road trip,” DeKeyser said after Tuesday’s morning skate. “Basically the discussion was to give me a little bit of time off and use that time to hit it hard in the weight room and try to improve as much as possible in that time frame. Moving forward is the same thing. It’ll be a night-to-night basis as to how I’m playing,

“I know I have to be playing well to stay in the lineup. I wasn’t asking for any free passes. I know the reality. If guys are playing better, then that’s how it is, so I’m going to try to play the best I can and stay in the lineup.”

DeKeyser returned to the lineup Saturday and played over 12 minutes.

“I’m definitely getting there,” DeKeyser said of his health. “I don’t know if I can place a percentage on it, not quite 100 percent, but definitely getting a lot closer for sure.

“I really do think the break there for three weeks actually helped me quite a bit.”

Subscribers: Wings are 29th out of 31 NHL teams, so why does GM Steve Yzerman see progress?

DeKeyser was slated to return to the lineup again Tuesday night against Nashville, as coach Jeff Blashill continues to analyze DeKeyser's progress.

Blashill's decision to use DeKeyser will depend heavily on health.

"A lot of it is performance based, and where we think he is health wise," Blashill said. "We have some glimpse of where we thorught he was at in the last game. As he gets challenged more and more, we’ll get to see how his body is responding. If we think his body is responding to a point where it puts him in our top six, then he’ll play. If it’s something where he’s still not close enough to 100 percent and there’s six guys ahead of him, then we’ll do what we did for a bit (rest DeKeyser) and he’ll keep trying to get stronger with it.

"When Danny is healthy, he’s one of our best defensemen. But he’s not 100% right now.”

We're running a new-subscriber special — $1 for three months. Come join the fun, and subscribe here.

The type of back surgery DeKeyser had can easily be a two-year process before a patient returns to full strength. Blashill knew this could be a process.

"The nature of the surgery can take to two years to heal and sometimes it never fully heals," Blashill said. "He's worked his way to get to where his numbers in terms of a lot of things we evaluate off the ice are getting closer, certainly not to the norm of players on our team, they're still behind, but he's moving in the right direction, which is a positive."

DeKeyser received a jolt last week when the Red Wings placed him on waivers to gain roster flexibility.

With one more year left, after this season, on his six-year contract worth $30 million ($5-million cap hit), there wasn't much thought DeKeyser would be claimed by another team.

But, ultimately, DeKeyser was a "little surprised" by the situation.

More: Red Wings' Darren Helm moves into larger role as health improves

"But in today’s game anything can happen," DeKeyser said. "It’s a performance-based league and an every night league, so if you’re not showing results, stuff like that happens.

"I've seen it, I've been around here long enough to know that's the kind of stuff that goes down."

Ice chips

Forward Tyler Bertuzzi (upper body) still isn't practicing and a return still isn't set. Bertuzzi last played on Jan. 30, and has missed the last 11 games. 

Meanwhile, defenseman Troy Stetcher (lower body) is day to day.

... The Wings went with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Saturday's victory, but Blashill wouldn't commit to that lineup again.

"There's a lot of factors that go into it," Blashill said. "Where you feel you're at with the defensemen, are they all healthy, where they're at with their games, who is on the power play and penalty kill up front."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan