In his short time as Red Wings general manager, Steve Yzerman has shown a proclivity for high-upside trades.
Three players, all taken within the top 33 picks of the draft, all under the age of 25, all in need of more opportunity in the NHL. They've gotten it so far in Detroit -- and Fabbri, in particular, has made it count. He has two goals and four points in three games with the Wings, all of them wins. With Fabbri on the roster, Detroit may never lose again.
That's it. The rebuild is complete. Yzerman has delivered.
Jokes aside, in the case of the Fabbri trade, Yzerman sought advice from his good friend and Blues color commentator Darren Pang. The two of them played on the same youth hockey team growing up and remain in close contact today.
"Steve and I talk hockey all the time," Pang told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. "Doesn’t matter if he’s interested in a player or not, we talk about players and what kind of players fit in wherever. I’ve talked to Steve a little bit about Robby because I really like Robby Fabbri, I always have. I cheer for the kid because he’s a competitive kid. I do the majority of the games here in St. Louis between the benches, and one thing I found out, when the game was on the line and he wasn’t on the ice, he wasn’t happy. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s not a passenger on the bus, he wants to lead the bus."
Fabbri, the 14th overall pick in 2014, lived up to the hype as a rookie in 2015-16, netting 18 goals in 72 games. He followed that up with a terrific run in the playoffs, before the Blues lost in the conference finals to the Blackhawks. But back-to-back knee injuries the next two years, the second of which cost him all of the 2017-18 season, curbed Fabbri's development. Then the Blues made a coaching change midway through last season, and he fell further down the depth chart.
Now he's in Detroit, eager to prove himself all over again.
"Anytime Steve would ask me about a player, or any time I (could) bring up Robby Fabbri to any of my friends that are managers, I thought especially for Steve, Robby Fabbri would be a perfect fit for Detroit. Hungry, motivated. As I said to Steve at one point, 'He’s not a prospect. He’s a real player.' I mean, he had 15 points in 20 playoff games (in 2015-16). He just happened to get hurt and that one injury to his ACL resulted in another injury to his ACL, and that’s a bad bit of fortune there. Hopefully that’s all behind him now.
"Judging by the way he’s started with the Wings, looks good in No. 14 and looks like he’s flying all over the place."
As for Yzerman’s start with the Wings, it’s gone about the way we expected. The team is still losing, but Yzerman’s beginning to turn over the roster and supplement the young core. One thing he didn’t do, as he indicated he wouldn’t at his introductory press conference, was sign players in free agency for the sake of spending money.
That’s the kind of prudence he displayed in Tampa Bay as he built the Lightning into a juggernaut – and one of the characteristics that separates him from his predecessor in Detroit.
“I think people have to understand, Steve’s patience is his strength,” said Pang. “The willingness to say no to something is a strength of his, more than so many other mangers. You might say, ‘Yeah, but they haven’t made the playoffs for (three) years, they have to get better.’ But the fact of the matter is, July 1 is not the time to make your team better. There’s so many contracts out there that general managers look back at five or six months or three weeks later and go, ‘What did I just do?’ and I love the fact that he didn’t get latched onto some bad deals.
The bigger challenge for Yzerman will be rebuilding the team’s blueline. He looks to have a promising foundation in the trio of Dennis Cholowski, Filip Hronek and Moritz Seider, but there’s lots of work to be done.
“Everybody knows they’ve got some really good forwards that are quick, can get to plays and they’re hard to play against, and you can see that in the way they play. But it’s really just the backend that needs to be shored up,” said Pang. “And that wouldn’t take very much to get that fixed up. Maybe that’s next year’s UFA allotment – maybe that’s where that comes in – or maybe it’s just another good hockey trade that Steve makes and that changes things up on the backend.
“Because as everybody knows, you can have a lot of young forwards that are fast and can make plays, but the way to win in this league is to defend.”