Returning home from a three game road trip, the Red Wings venture to Western Canada was not pretty. Over the three game stretch, Detroit’s offense was only able to muster 3 goals, all the while, allowing 12 goals against in the process. The season as a whole they’ve failed to generate even an average offensive attack, relative to the rest of the league. As of this writing the Red Wings sit 28th in goals for per game (2.38 G/GP). You won’t win a lot of hockey games with a number like that.
The story all season has been the lack of middle-6 scoring. The first line, as expected, has been a dominant trio, making up the majority of the team’s offense. The only way Detroit has been able to win games is by being carried by the ludicrous scoring pace they were on in the first week. Even with the unsustainable numbers the Larkin line was putting up, they’ll be the heartbeat of this team.
The fourth line has stepped up recently which couldn’t have come at a better time. Darren Helm’s strong play, in particular, has earned him a swiss army knife type role, being moved up and down the lineup.
Just looking at some standard advanced metrics, players from the perimeter lines make up the top-5 for both xGF% and CF% in terms of Red Wings at 5-on-5.
Statistics via Corsica Hockey
Unfortunately, the middle-6 lines have been invisible, forcing Jeff Blashill’s hand to switch things up. To the dismay of many, Blashill had to burst out the blender and break up the top-line, but how can anyone blame him?
Relative to the rest of the lineup, the first line has clearly been superior to the rest. But as good as the Bertuzzi-Larkin-Mantha grouping has been, they can only be out on the ice for around 16-18 minutes a game at even strength. The other 30 some minutes at even strength will see the bottom-9 being deployed. The tittering of the lines was experimented on the trip to Western Canada, and the results were perfectly depicted by the final score.
The scary truth is there is no real fix out there, aside for some hail mary call up. One has to ponder if last years Gustav Nyquist trade was really worth it. Now a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Swedish forward built up strong chemistry along side Larkin last year, and could really have helped answer the questions Detroit is currently facing. The second and third round picks they acquired for him were, and still are, nothing more then a scratch off lottery ticket.
Now hindsight is 20-20, so its not fair to condemn the past regime for moving on, but that doesn’t make it any less regrettable. The main reason behind the Nyquist trade was due to his impending unrestricted free agent status. Any argument in favor of extending Nyquist was a tough one to be made, with the uncertainty of new contract details and all.
Yet, on the open market, the 30 year old was only able to land a 4 year deal with an AAV of $5.5m. Possibly taking a discount to keep his family in the Michigan-Ohio area, the Red Wings certainly could have managed to squeeze that contract on to their payroll.
Reports suggested Nyquist had interest in staying with the Red Wings, and Steve Yzerman made the decision to go after Valterri Fillpula instead, so not all the blame can fall on former GM Ken Holland. But you have to think just how much better the Wings would be with Nyquist on the roster. His ability to play well with Larkin would make the idea of splitting up the top line a little more digestible. That in turn only helps the likes of Athanasiou to play better, having one of Mantha or Bertuzzi to play with, while not always trailing because of a lack of offense from the top line.
Its certainly something to think about. I’d gladly forfeit the 2nd (Albert Johansson) and third round picks, if it meant adding Nyquist on his new contract. Maybe the current reality is to the fault of no one, but either way, Detroit is desperate as hell to find some sort of consistent middle-6 scoring. There is no denying that.