With Jobs Up For Grabs, Yzerman Says Red Wings 'Better Have Pride'

This is his message to the players down the stretch.

Jamie and Stoney
February 25, 2020 - 11:44 am

As the Red Wings approach the final month of a hellish season, Steve Yzerman will be watching closely. Not to see how the team fares in the win-loss column. And not so much to see how the players fare in the stats column. 

Yzerman wants to see which of these Red Wings have pride, which of them have the fortitude to fight to the finish. It will help him determine which of them will be Red Wings next season.

"Guys are fighting for jobs. I have to decide who we're bringing back and who we’re not bringing back," Yzerman said Monday. "That goes for unrestricted free agents, restricted free agents and guys that are under contract. A lot of how they conduct themselves and how they perform over the end of the season is going to kind of finalize the decision for me.

"Our players are going to be judged on their character, on how they handle this down the stretch. Whether they’re playing for a spot on the team or they need new contracts, there’s a lot for them to play for. But ultimately, they also better have pride. And I think they do." 

18 games remain for the Wings, 18 chances for the players to make their case to Yzerman. Consider Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha. While both are purportedly part of the core, they're still playing for new deals this summer. Consider Frans Nielsen and Justin Abdelkader. While both are under contract through 2022, neither is guaranteed a spot next season. Consider, even, Jimmy Howard. While this looks like the end of the road for the longtime goalie, could a strong finish earn him one more year? 

And consider Dylan Larkin. While he feels like the team's captain to be, he's yet to earn that title from one of Detroit's greatest captains ever. 

"We’re trying to impress upon the guys, 'You have a lot to play for. You have your job to play for, you have your pride to play for, you have your contract to play for, a spot on the roster next year.' They’re being assessed all the time, that’s just the nature of sports," Yzerman said. "Every player is being assessed on everything they do all the time." 

For Yzerman And Red Wings, Rebuild Still Years From Completion

In an interview with the Jamie and Stoney Show on Tuesday, Yzerman was asked if there's anyone on the roster he considers untouchable. While he declined to answer outright, he did say, "Some players I have no desire to trade at this time. And quite frankly, they’re hard to trade because you’re never going to find a fit, an equal value. I’m not going to trade a real good young player that we think is going to be here for a long time because they’re hard to move."

On top of that, the Wings have spent the last four trade deadlines swapping players for draft picks. 

"At some point you need players," Yzerman said. "We’re hoping we can replace those players eventually. We can’t just keep wheeling out guys for picks. But with any player, you look at, where does he fit on our team, can I sign him, does his contract make sense? There’s certain players I have no interest in trading at this time and they’re part of what we’re going to do long-term. I'd just leave it at that." 

Yzerman also doubled down on his endorsement of Jeff Blashill, saying he doesn't feel the need for a new voice in the locker room after several losing seasons. 

"Maybe at some point, (but) I don’t see it as that yet. Jeff took over at a very difficult time in the organization. ... We’re in a rebuild, and that’s a difficult team to coach when we’re trading out players and acquiring draft picks. I don’t believe in making a coaching change just to make a coaching change, I think you have to assess the team and decide, is the team underperforming or I don’t like the way the team is playing. Right now the team isn’t good enough to say, ‘This is Jeff Blashill’s fault. I’m going to bring in a new coach and change things and it’s going to turn our fortunes around.'

"We need to improve our team. We need more young players coming in to develop. Maybe at some point you say that the players have tuned out the coach, I really don’t believe that. At this time, I’m not worried about the coaching staff. It’s improving the team, improving the prospect pool and improving the organization as far as being able to develop players, making sure Grand Rapids is in a good spot. As I said, I’ve enjoyed working with Jeff. I watch very closely. I think he’s done a really good job of having our team compete, he’s tried a lot of different things with systems, he gets the chance to experiment a little bit. I can change the coach, it’s not going to make a dramatic difference at this point. We need to improve our hockey team."