DETROIT – The Red Wings have completed their sixth consecutive losing season, but there are still rumors in Motor City that one of the NHL’s top-ranked franchises may finally be on its way back to fame.
It has a lot to do with Mortz Cedar – the league’s happiest surprise rookie during the 2021-22 season. The 21-year-old German defender, whose sixth overall pick in 2019 surprised many draft observers early on, Cedar has proved himself more than capable of being an early choice.
He has shown the rare softness and toughness found in first-year blue liners, as well as an aggressive touch that has impressed comparisons with former Hall of Fame wings defender Nicklaus Lidstrom. And, after playing all 82 games, leading the Detroit skaters in average snow time and topping all the cheaters with 43 assists, he won the Calder Memorial Trophy for the best cheater of the year on Tuesday.
“He’s a star in the making,” said Keith Jones, a former player and veteran NHL broadcaster. “Anytime a young defender can come and play this position well, and with such maturity, it’s incredible. The baby’s roof is very high.”
Cedar won 170 of the 195 first positions among members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association. He said he did not prepare the speech, but still managed to tell a joke during the awards ceremony in Tampa, Fla., Where Lightning will host Colorado in Game 4 of the final on Wednesday.
“My parents couldn’t do that,” he said. “He has just returned from Croatia and he thinks it is more important to go on vacation.”
Cedar is not the only reason to enlighten Detroit’s perspective. Another newcomer, winger Lucas Raymond – who drafted fourth overall in 2020 – ranked third among fraudsters with 57 points and fourth in calder voting.
Wings also has a cadre of other rising stars from the early 20’s to mid-20’s, including Dylan Larkin, who scored 31 goals and 38 assists this season. Tyler Bertozzi, who scored 30 goals with 32 assists; And defender Philip Haronick, who had 38 points and blocked 81 shots.
The team competed in the playoffs for most of the season and played more than .500 in February, but injuries and declines in the goal-scoring game created a long gap when the team lost only seven of 28 matches. I won. His three wins in April came against some of the league’s top teams, including Tampa Bay, who are vying for their third consecutive Stanley Cup Championship, but finished sixth in the Detroit Atlantic Division and for the sixth consecutive season. Stayed out of the playoffs.
Wings can use another high level center and play better in the net. Alex Nedeljkovic, who started 52 games, scored against an average of 3.31, more than the league’s best 1.90 a year ago when he was the caller finalist with the Carolina Hurricanes.
“They need some more pieces but it won’t take long,” Jones said. “They will get there.”
Cedar and Raymond’s drafting has boosted fans’ confidence that a look at General Manager Steve Eiserman and his talent will bring Detroit back to the glory it had during his playing days. Yzerman, who brought three Stanley Cups to Detroit as a player, built a massive Lightning’s Cup-winning roster before returning to the city in 2019.
The club has made promises to both of its first-round picks from last year’s draft, with Simon Edwinson, a promising Swedish defender who finished sixth overall, signing in April. The Wings will also have the No. 8 pick in the July 2022 draft in Montreal.
“There’s definitely a buzz around the team,” said Evan Lobsinger, a longtime Wings fan and host of the Winged Wheel Podcast. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen fans do.”
Detroit’s renaissance will be welcomed in many hockey circles. An original six team, Wings is the most successful NHL franchise in the United States, with 11 Stanley Cups. Some of the NHL’s biggest stars – Gordie Howe, Sergei Fedorov, Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk – are wearing winged wheels on their sweaters.
The Wings last won the cup in 2008, and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the final the following year. Since then, they have failed to advance beyond the semi-finals of the conference while trading in draft picks and signing faded veterans after their star players retired. The Wings have won just 19 of 56 games in 2021 and only 17 wins in 71 games before an epidemic forced the league to halt the 2019-20 season. With the help of 6-foot-4 Seider, the team managed to win 32 this season.
Cedar grew up in Erfurt, a city of about 200,000 people in East Germany. But when he had the opportunity to join the development program of Adler Mannheim, a club in Germany’s top pro league, the Deutsche Ishoki League, his family moved to the western part of the country to further their hockey ambitions. After gaining experience in international competitions and Playing in the DEL at the age of 18, he was best suited for being selected late in the first round.
When Yerzman announced this in the draft, Cedar sat down with his jaw loose and eyes open a moment before he hugged his mother. “It was number 6, so I wasn’t really paying attention,” Cedar said in a phone interview later this season. “I told my mother, ‘You’re excited, I’m nervous, so let someone cool down here.’ It was all about not stumbling down the stairs or looking stupid.
Wing fans, many of whom did not know who Cider was, were worried, especially since many other important possibilities were still available, including Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Dix Phenom who were in the rookies with 61 points. Calder was second and Calder was second in voting. “When it was chosen at six overall, it was pure shock and frustration,” Lobsinger said.
After spending 2019-20 with Detroit in the American Hockey League and 2020-21 in Sweden’s Top League, he made a roster of wings outside of training camp this season. In a short time, he was playing a power play, giving punishments and giving bone crushing checks, doing it all with full attention. He made eight assists in his first nine games, was named the rookie of the month in October, and scored his first goal in November to beat the Buffalo Sabers in overtime.
In a game in March, Cedar found himself defending Edmonton’s Connor McDavid’s rush, and when the Eulers star tried to turn the corner towards the net, Cedar calmly took the game’s best player’s stick. Removed from
“On the draft, I was like, ‘Stevie Y, what are you doing?’ But Cedar just blew me away, “said Lone Grantham, who has been a high school girls hockey coach and Wings fan for four decades. “You have to have a strong D to compete. Every cup team has an elite defense man. So yes, I feel optimistic with this man.
Cedar said he is aware of some reactions to the draft and has used it as a stimulus. “I think he gave me the confidence to come abroad and prove everyone wrong,” he said. “That’s all I’m trying to do.”
As far as the wings go, Cedar said the team is very motivated to improve. “As a team we can’t look like we want to be but people are really determined to be a playoff team in the future,” he said. “Everyone is sick and tired of losing. Everyone is working hard for this next step.”