The Detroit Red Wings have taken a modest step this season, improving by six points and tightening defensively. They still finished 12 points from a playoff spot.
With better health, internal growth and contributions from a couple of new prospects, they should be better in 2023-24.
But that alone probably won’t end their seven-year playoff drought.
For this, they need outside help. They need more offense. They need an All-Star caliber forward.
They can explore the free agent market, but they probably won’t fill the void that way. The talent pool is shallow. The best they can hope for is a support player as they signed last summer with Andrew Copp, David Perron and Dominik Kubalik.
For the Red Wings to make a splash and acquire a player as good or better than Dylan Larkin, general manager Steve Yzerman needs to make a trade.
They have draft capital (two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts and three second-round picks this year). They might be willing to move a promising young player. Maybe a prospect will spark interest. Getting a proven high scorer will likely require a combination of strengths.
These kind of players are not easy to acquire, especially in a league of 32 teams.
The Red Wings could start their search in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs won a playoff round for the first time since 2004, ousting Tampa Bay, then fell flat in the second round, being eliminated by Florida.
It cost general manager Kyle Dubas his job and could lead to some big changes. Toronto has had one of the most talented rosters in the NHL in recent years and really nothing to show for it.
Since Auston Matthews joined the Leafs in 2016-17, only four teams have won fewer playoffs (Detroit, Buffalo, Los Angeles and Minnesota with none). With a supporting cast including John Tavares, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, this could be one of the biggest wastes of talent in NHL history.
That’s why speculation is rife that the Leafs will break the big four by moving one this offseason.
Would Toronto trade one of these very talented scorers within the division, even if it’s a three-team trade involving a non-Atlantic team? Would any of these players, all of whom have some form of no-move or no-trade clause, be willing to come to Detroit? Otherwise, it’s a moot point for the Red Wings.
But for now, here’s a look at what the future could hold for the Toronto Big Four and how it relates to the Red Wings:
Auston Matthews: It’s a pipe dream to think the Red Wings could acquire the 2022 Hart Trophy winner through a trade. Their best bet would be to overpay him as a free agent if he hits the market in 13 months.
The Leafs will do everything possible to lock in their franchise player who turns 26 in September and enters the final year of his contract with a cap of $11.6 million. He would not be happy if Dubas, whom he was close to, was fired. The Leafs can’t afford to let Matthews walk for nothing and could move him by July 1, when his full no-trade clause kicks in, if it looks like a deal can’t be reached.
Toronto would surely ask for Moritz Seider as a starting point for any discussion with the Red Wings. Detroit would likely be willing to round up any number of players, prospects and picks that don’t include Seider to get Matthews, provided they can lock him in overtime. But why would he sign an extension with the Red Wings when free agency is near?
Mitch Marner: If the Leafs extend Matthews, would they be willing to do the same with Marner, 26, at a slightly lower number by the time his contract (average annual value of $10.9 million) expires after 2024-25? He’s had 94 or more points in each of his last three full seasons. No Red Wing has had more since Pavel Datsyuk’s 97-point seasons in 2007-08 and 2008-09.
John Tavares: The Leafs captain turns 33 in September and is still productive (36 goals, 80 points this season), but he has two years left at an $11 million AAV and wouldn’t interest a rebuilding team like the Red Wings. . If Tavares doesn’t end his career in his hometown of Toronto, he’ll likely join a Stanley Cup contender in search of that final piece.
William Nylander: It’s the most sensible acquisition for the Red Wings. He is 27 years old and has just completed a career year (40 goals, 87 points) and begins the last year of his contract at 6.9 million dollars. If the Leafs hang on to the other three, they may not have the money or the inclination to re-sign Nylander for more than $10 million a season. They could seek to move him through the repechage (June 28-29). The Leafs have Boston’s first-round pick this year (No. 28), but not theirs and none in the second, third or fourth rounds. The Red Wings aren’t likely to move their first pick (No. 9) but would surely be willing to part with the 17th (from the New York Islanders via Vancouver) and one or two of their second-round picks. Whatever it takes, the Red Wings should sign him for an extension when the trade is made.
If the Red Wings can’t negotiate with Toronto, Yzerman will likely have other options in what could be a busy summer of NHL trades.
More: Some possibilities for the Red Wings in the draft with the picks n ° 9 and 17