Our annual What Went Wrong series examines the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2017-18 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
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The Detroit Red Wings went into the 2017-18 with at best tepid expectations after finishing the 2016-17 campaign with 79 points, but anyone that had hoped that they would at least do better this season were disappointed.
Detroit did get off to a 4-1-0 start and earned the distinction of being the first team to defeat Vegas (and for a while only team as Vegas opened 8-1-0), but the Red Wings followed that up with a six-game losing streak. The Red Wings lost 10 of 11 games from Nov. 19-Dec. 13, leaving them at 11-13-7 by the end of that. Detroit managed to be okay for a while after that before suffering one more major slump from Feb. 28-March 26 that involved them losing 13 of 14 games to kill whatever hope remained.
The Red Wings finished the campaign with a 30-39-13 record, which is six points worse than they did in 2016-17.
A big part of Detroit’s problem was a lack of offense as they scored 2.59 goals per game, which put the Red Wings in 28th place in the league. The reality there is that the Red Wings lack star power. Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom are gone while Henrik Zetterberg is now 37-years-old. The 21-year-old Dylan Larkin did step up with 16 goals and 63 points in 82 contests last season, but that alone isn’t enough to fill the void left by the Red Wings’ former giants.
Jimmy Howard – The Red Wings’ offense was an issue, but their goaltending wasn’t great either. Jimmy Howard was battered by injuries in 2016-17, but when he was healthy, he excelled with a 2.10 GAA and .927 save percentage in 26 contests. In 2017-18 though, he was pretty inconsistent and the end result was a 22-27-9 record, 2.85 GAA, and .910 save percentage in 60 contests. Detroit needs more than that out of its starter, especially if they don’t sign a top-tier backup over the summer.
Anthony Mantha – Anthony Mantha has been gradually improving over the last few seasons and reached new heights in 2017-18 with 24 goals and 48 points in 80 contests. Still, the rebuilding Red Wings have to hope that Mantha’s got some more upside left. He’ll be 24-years-old in September, so he’s transitioning away from being a prospect and he’ll settle into a role as one of Detroit’s offensive leaders for years to come.
Tyler Bertuzzi – Like Mantha, the hope is that Tyler Bertuzzi will eventually be one of the Red Wings’ driving forces, but Bertuzzi is a bit behind Mantha in terms of development. Bertuzzi, who turned 23 in February, had seven goals and 24 points in 48 games. Although Mantha has size at 6-foot-5, the 6-foot-0 Bertuzzi is more of a power forward who will probably end up doing less than Mantha offensively, but play a grittier game. The 2018-19 campaign could be a big one for Bertuzzi as there’s a good chance it will be his first full season in the NHL.
Frans Nielsen – Detroit signed Frans Nielsen to a six-year, $31.5 million contract in the summer of 2016 and so far he hasn’t lived up to that cap hit. He had 17 goals and 41 points in 79 games in 2016-17, which in itself was underwhelming, and took another step back last season with 16 goals and 33 points in 79 contests. To an extent, he’s fading into the background as the Red Wings’ next generation rises, but the Red Wings are still committed to four more seasons of Nielsen and they should be hoping for better value out of him than they’ve gotten thus far.
For some teams the title “What Went Wrong” seems unfair. Everyone goes into the season hoping to make the playoffs of course, but this was expected to be a rebuilding season for the Canucks. The big takeaway for Vancouver if you’re a Canucks shouldn’t be the final record as much as it is Brock Boeser’s amazing rookie campaign.
That all being said, there was a brief period of time where it looked like Vancouver might significantly surpass expectations. The Canucks got off to a 6-3-1 start and remained fairly competitive through Dec. 5 with their 14-10-4 record. They fell on hard times after that though, going 3-11-2 over their next 16 games and they never recovered from that slump.
In the end, Vancouver had a 31-40-11 record, which represented a four-point bump from the 2016-17 Canucks, but still put them far from a playoff position.
Vancouver had problems across the board, but among the issues was the offense. While Boeser was great for a rookie, he was one of just three players to reach or surpass the 50-point milestone. The other two that got there were the Sedin twins, who announced their retirement towards the end of the season. It’s unfortunate that the Sedins’ final seasons with Vancouver were so dreary, but they’ll go down as two of the best players to ever play for the Canucks. Their retirement marks the end of a chapter for Vancouver with a new one beginning in 2018-19.
Loui Eriksson – Loui Eriksson’s contract is becoming one of the worst active deals in the league. While you could argue that he’s making defensive contributions that aren’t readily apparent by just looking at his statistics, the fact that he recorded just 24 points in 2016-17 and 23 points in 2017-18 is still very disappointing given that he inked to a six-year, $36 million contract. When he was originally signed in the summer of 2016, the hope was that he would mesh well with the Sedin twins and now that they’re gone, the ideal would be that he bounces back offensively to take a little bit of pressure of Vancouver’s young core.
Sam Gagner – Sam Gagner had 18 goals and 50 points in 81 games in 2016-17, which led to Vancouver inking him to a three-year, $9.45 million contract. Unfortunately, his first season with the Canucks was underwhelming as he was held to 10 goals and 31 points in 74 games. There’s some bounce back potential here though, so perhaps the Canucks will get more out of him in 2018-19.
Adam Gaudette – Adam Gaudette only played in five games with Vancouver last season so we’re obviously not assigning any blame to Adam Gaudette. However, he is someone that the Canucks are hoping will excel going forward. Like Boeser before him, Gaudette is an NCAA looking to make a smooth transition to the NHL. In Gaudette’s case, he scored 30 goals and 60 points in 38 contests with Northeastern University en route to winning the Hobey Baker Award. He’s definitely going to be someone to watch in 2018-19.
Derek Dorsett – Derek Dorsett is a case where the problems were health-related instead of performance and unfortunately, that’s the end of the story. When he was able to play last season, he was great with seven goals, nine points, and 74 penalty minutes in 20 games. However, it was revealed in November that he had a cervical disc herniation and the doctors told him that he needed to end his hockey career at the age of 30. He was a great enforcer that could chip in offensively and it’s unfortunate to see his career end like that to say the least.