Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
This is the newest file in The THN Hot Seat series, a continuing series of THN.com columns where we pick out a member of every NHL team facing significant pressure in the 2021-22 season. The person we put on the Hot Seat person will be either an NHL player, team owner, GM, or head coach. On this day, we’re looking at the Detroit Red Wings.
WHY: Detroit will begin the 2022-23 season on an optimistic note, after GM Steve Yzerman infused the lineup with free agent veterans, including forwards Andrew Copp and David Perron, and defenseman Ben Chiarot. But their biggest free agent acquisition is goaltender Ville Husso, whose negotiating rights were acquired by St. Louis in early July, and who subsequently signed a three-year, $14.25-million contract to become the Red Wings’ starting goalie.
To be sure, there were stretches last season with the Blues where the 27-year-old Husso looked like a legitimate No. 1 threat in net, and he did finish the regular season with career-highs in games played (40), Goals-Against Average (2.56) and Save Percentage (.919). However, Husso ultimately lost the starter’s job to veteran Jordan Binnington by the end of the season, and his seven playoff appearances in 2022 for St. Louis were not ideal (2-5 record, 3.67 G.A.A., .890 SP). If he were better than Binnington, the Blues wouldn’t have traded Husso.
Nevertheless, Wings GM Steve Yzerman had to improve on his team’s abominable goaltending performance last season, and he clearly saw Husso as the best option available to him this summer. He paid the price of a third-round draft pick to St. Louis to get ahead of his competitors and sign Husso before he hit the free agent market. And then he gave Husso a hell of a raise from the relatively paltry $750,000 he made in 2021-22. A $4-million raise, in fact.
So, now. Husso is “The Man” in Detroit, but that comes with highly-raised expectations. He has only 57 regular-season games of NHL experience, and he’s not going to be playing in front of the most stingy defensive team, even with the addition of new head coach Derek Lalonde. The Red Wings have a different defense corps with Chiarot and veterans Mark Pysyk and Olli Maata joining rising star Morris Seider and Filip Hronek. But that may not be good enough to push the Wings into a playoff berth in the Atlantic Division. They’ll need Husso to step up and steal some games.
Husso’s understudy in 2022-23 will be 26-year-old Alex Nedellkjovic, who only last season was seen to be Detroit’s goalie-of-the-future. Nedeljkovich completely cratered in his first year as a Red Wing, posting a 3.31 G.A.A. and .901 SP. In his defense, he did play under a totally hapless Wings defense, but there was no way Yzerman could’ve came back this season with Nedeljkovic as his No. 1. Nedeljkovic can now still push for playing time, and perhaps that’s a better position for him to be in.
But Husso? Well, Husso simply has to deliver what’s being asked of him. At nearly $5 million per year, he’s been heavily invested in by Yzerman, and he’s now in a market in which frustrated fans and media will put his every move under the microscope. He and the team cannot afford for him to wobble. Another season of misery and letdown will start to mar belief in Yzerman, and while that’s another story altogether, suffice it to say Detroit hockey fans deserve better than what they’ve been given of late. If Husso can come through and assert himself as a keeper, the Red Wings’ fortunes will finally rise.
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NHL Hot Seat Radar: Detroit Red Wings – The Hockey News
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports