His job is far from done, and Steve Yzerman would be the first to say so. The Red Wings are still at least a year or two away from honest playoff contention.
But this team should be substantially better than the one we watched last season thanks to Yzerman's many moves in free agency.
The Wings improved in goal, where Thomas Greiss will form a reliable tandem with Jonathan Bernier. They improved on the blueline, where Jon Merrill, Troy Stetcher and trade acquisition Marc Staal will help them suppress scoring chances. (Imagine that!) And they improved up front, where Bobby Ryan and Vlad Namestnikov will add some needed skill to their first two lines.
"There are a lot of changes," Yzerman told 97.1 The Ticket on Monday. "It takes a little bit of time usually for everybody to fit in and figure out where everybody plays and who they play with, but I think we’re an improved team.
"I can’t tell you if it’s five wins, 10 wins, 20 wins, but I think it’s an improved team, a quicker team. A little bit more skill up front with Namestnikov and Bobby Ryan in the lineup. Our D was a little bit older and banged-up last year, and I’m hoping that with Marc Staal, Jon Merrill and Stetcher we’re a little bit younger, maybe a little bigger even, but a little bit more energy on the backend now."
The Red Wings can also count on improvement from within. On the backend, Yzerman is expecting 22-year-old Filip Hronek to continue the ascent he began last season, and hoping 21-year-old Gustav Lindstrom can secure a full-time role in Detroit. Among the forwards, he's eyeing further growth from 20-year-old Filip Zadina and bigger contributions from Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi.
"I expect us to be better," Yzerman said. "I expect Filip Hronek to take a step. Does Gustav Lindstrom, who played a little bit for us last year, is he able to hang on to a full-time job and play regularly? I think Dylan, Anthony and Tyler are just going into their prime years. Filip Zadina unfortunately got hurt (toward the end of last season). He really showed signs that he was becoming an NHL-er with an ability to make plays and score goals, so I look to have him in there."
Mantha and Bertuzzi are both restricted free agents in need of new contracts, but Yzerman has no worries about getting that done.
"We’ll sign Anthony and Tyler. I’m pretty certain we’ll get them signed," he said. "It’s a question, is it one year, is it five years, is it four years? ... Each year as our young guys’ contracts expire, a year from now Filip Hronek’s up and we’ll extend his contract. But we’re hoping we can move our younger players in, one or two every year for the next two, three, four years."
Yzerman isn't fooling himself. The Wings are where they are, and the timeline is what it is. There's no shortening a project of this size, outside of perhaps winning the draft lottery and landing a generational talent. And that was what it was.
So the Red Wings used the fourth overall pick on Lucas Raymond, who we may see sometime in the 2021-22 season, and then used free agency to improve in the short-term. If nothing else, Detroit will be better in its own end next season. And it should score a bit more, too. It would be hard to regress in either department after the team posted the NHL's worst goal differential since the expansion-year Atlanta Thrashers in 1999-2000.
The Wings plunged to historical lows last season, unavoidable lows given the roster left behind by Ken Holland and the injuries that occurred thereafter. Yzerman is turning the arrow upward, both now and in the future, one move at a time.