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    Red Wings’ quiet NHL trade deadline: What it means for the playoff race

    DETROIT — As Steve Yzerman did his prep work for Friday’s NHL trade deadline, he got the sense it might be a quiet deadline for him and the Detroit Red Wings.

    His head coach, Derek Lalonde, might have telegraphed that last week when he opined: “Maybe the most aggressive move of all would be no move at all. I think that would speak volumes on where our group’s at. … Because (it would mean he’s) confident in the group.”

    And as the deadline came and went, that’s just about what happened. The Red Wings traded away forward Klim Kostin, clearing his $2 million cap hit from their ledger next season, but made no other moves — signaling that they will instead rely on their organizational depth (especially from AHL Grand Rapids) as they look to end a seven-year playoff drought.

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    That’s not to say Yzerman didn’t consider adding. He said Detroit “certainly did a lot of talking” about adding another forward after dealing Kostin — a move the general manager had mixed emotions about but ultimately rationalized by saying, “In the role that he was being used in, it doesn’t make sense to have a $2 million player.”

    But when push came to shove, Yzerman didn’t like the prices it would have taken to add another forward, especially when considering what the Red Wings feel they have waiting in the wings.

    “I like to think part of why we weren’t very active this year at the deadline is we like the depth we have within the organization,” Yzerman said. “We have some good players in Grand Rapids, players that we signed last summer, some of our young prospects that are playing there — they provide us good depth. So here, sitting at the deadline, looking at some of the things that we felt maybe (were) areas that could help us, ultimately giving up this year a first- or a second- or a third-round pick for depth, we were better off bringing up our guys from Grand Rapids for that.”

    And so, the Red Wings stood pat, which was not unexpected, although still a tad anticlimactic as Detroit seeks to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

    “We’ve got a real good race, which is going to be good for our team down the stretch,” Yzerman said. “And hopefully it works out that we finish the regular season in a playoff spot.”

    With the deadline now passed, the only remaining question is: Can they, as currently constructed?

    It won’t be easy, not with Dylan Larkin out through at least next week with an unspecified lower-body injury. Detroit has played one game without Larkin so far, and it ended in a 7-2 blowout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. That’s one of the NHL’s top teams, though, and facing the Avalanche, on their home ice, without the ability to dictate matchups is not a reasonable measuring stick.

    What comes next, though, will be. If you’re going to buy in to Lalonde’s comment from last week — the inaction from Yzerman would be the most aggressive move of all because of the confidence it signals — then finding a way to survive without Larkin, who is their captain, leading scorer and on-ice engine, is a non-negotiable.

    That starts Friday in Arizona. The Red Wings will play the Coyotes with 11 forwards and seven defensemen after trading out Kostin, but it won’t take long for the bet on Grand Rapids to factor into the equation, either. Yzerman said a call-up would be forthcoming on the trip, and while he did not specify whom, winger Jonatan Berggren was conspicuously absent from the Griffins’ lineup Friday night.

    Berggren, of course, is the Griffins’ leading scorer and one of the players Yzerman mentioned Friday afternoon, saying, “If we need a winger to step in, an offensive guy, we think Jonatan is ready to do that.”

    He’s probably been ready to do it all year. Berggren played 67 games for Detroit last season, potting 15 goals and 28 points. But the Red Wings made a conscious decision to leave him in Grand Rapids to start the season, wanting him to continue to improve and play a bigger role with the Griffins than they would in Detroit. He’s gotten nine more NHL games this season, too, with two goals and five points, but mostly he’s been in Grand Rapids, where he’s posted 46 points in 43 games.

    For all those reasons, Berggren should be able to provide offense for the Red Wings if he is indeed called upon.

    With Larkin out in the short term, Detroit will need to find a way to replace his team-leading offense. But that’s generally been a team strength all year. The Red Wings are the NHL’s sixth-highest-scoring team, and they’ve done it with depth the whole way.

    What Yzerman thinks will make or break the Red Wings’ playoff push, though, has more to do with the other end of the ice.

    “We’ve got to be a strong defensive team, and we’ve got to continue to work at that,” he said. “And in my opinion, that’ll be the key for us going down the stretch here.”

    And that’s where the quiet deadline may be most interesting. Detroit has a log-jammed blue line, and if anything, could have stood to move out a contract on Friday — much like they did with Kostin up front. The Red Wings have the organization’s top prospect, Simon Edvinsson, waiting in Grand Rapids, and Yzerman raved about Edvinsson’s growth as a defender this season, even though maximizing his puck touches and power play opportunities were the driving reasons for keeping him in the AHL.

    “He’s gotten more confidence, his closing plays, his play in front of his own net, reading the play and when to box out and when to front, and reading the play in front of him but knowing where everybody is behind him — just his overall defensive play has gotten better,” Yzerman said. “He really is becoming an excellent, excellent defender.”

    Whether that will translate to time in Detroit remains to be seen. The Red Wings have seven veterans ahead of him in the lineup, and none of them moved at the deadline. A call-up is still possible at some point, especially in the case of injury, but the Red Wings have held off from doing so just about all year (Edvinsson was called up for two games in December).

    So, with Detroit’s lead in the wild-card race down to just two points over the New York Islanders, the bet is clear. Yzerman still is not ready to aggressively buy at this time of year, like the league’s true Stanley Cup contenders did this week. He also didn’t sell off, as he did in a not-so-different situation last season.

    This time around, Yzerman saw enough value in trying to snap the league’s second-longest playoff drought. But the Red Wings are going to have to do it primarily with the players who got them here.

    (Photo of Steve Yzerman: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

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