Much like Michigan Football, I’m not overly optimistic about the Detroit Red Wings championship hopes. I think they should be a lock for the playoffs if they stay healthy, but I don’t know if I see them being capable of making a playoff run. That being said, if Jimmy Howard gets hot, you never know what can happen. Things got off to a great start with Anthony Mantha breaking his tibia and he’ll be out 6-8 weeks. This is unfortunate because it gives him no chance at making the roster to start the year and he’ll begin the year in the AHL. I would expect that once Mantha is healthy he would be one of the first guys to get called up.
Things only got worse when Pavel Datsyuk was hit by Rob Scuderi in the first preseason game against Pittsburgh and he separated his shoulder. He’s expected to miss about four weeks and he’ll miss the start of the season for the first time in 13 seasons…not ideal. Talent was not the issue for the Red Wings last year and it isn’t the issue this year, it’s staying healthy. When this team is healthy, they have a very solid roster…but as we have learned, this team has trouble staying healthy now that they’re older.
So what will the optimal, fully healthy Detroit Red Wings roster look like? Something like this:
These aren’t the lines that I’m anticipating. This is just a look at the 23 guys that will be on the roster to start the season. I had hoped that Daniel Alfredsson would get healthy and would be signed, but his back keeps flaring up and he’s having setbacks. He has been skating again recently and if he can get healthy, I would expect him to be signed and most likely Tomas Jurco would be sent down.
No changes on the forward side for this season really. Todd Bertuzzi, Mikael Samuelsson and David Legwand were allowed to walk as free agent and only Legwand was picked up by an NHL team. Legwand did okay as a trade deadline acquisition, but trading Calle Jankrok for him could end up backfiring. Bertuzzi was well past his prime and he had some issues getting in the lineup down the stretch with the young kids. Samuelsson was absolutely terrible and it’s good to finally see him gone. Unfortunately, Danny Cleary was brought back for another season but I don’t think he will play much. If he plays 10 games this season he gets a $1 million bonus, so I would expect him to be scratched early and often. He’s certainly not doing himself any favors in the preseason anyways.
When Pavel Datsyuk returns, I expect him to be as dynamic as he always has been. It’s just unfortunate that after returning to full-health that he’s injured again. Henrik Zetterberg should be back to full-health now as well, but he’s had major back issues and who knows how long he can hold up. I don’t expect the young kids to be able to shoulder the load again, so the Red Wings are going to need Datsyuk and Zetterberg to be at their best.
I sort of look at Stephen Weiss as a free agent acquisition since he played so little last year. He’s a more than competent second line center and I would expect a solid 50-60 points out of him if he can stay healthy. Depth at center when the Red Wings are healthy is certainly a major strength. So much so that Darren Helm was playing wing with Pavel Datsyuk before his injury.
Johan Franzen is in dire need of a bounce back season. He’s one of the Red Wings X-Factors in my eyes, because when he’s hot, he can be a premier power forward in the NHL. The key cogs of this team now though are the young players. Expecting Gustav Nyquist to play at the level he did last year, which was honestly MVP caliber, is unrealistic. But, he will play the whole year with the Red Wings this year and that is extremely important. Add in the fact that Tomas Tatar has developed quite nicely and Riley Sheahan has had another offseason to grow, they have a very solid young core. Let’s not forget about Tomas Jurco either. He has been one of my favorites since I saw his YouTube video before the draft and he has a ton of offensive potential (15 points in 36 games). He’s going to need to improve in the defensive zone before Mike Babcock will roll him out regularly though.
It’s going to very nice to have depth up front for a change. They have 8 forwards that I will expect regular offensive contributions from, and that’s not including Justin Abdelkader or Darren Helm. If those two get going, then watch out. This team has a strong chance to score a lot of goals this season and the emergence of the young players is quite nice.
Top call ups for this year: Tomas Jurco (if Alfredsson is signed), Teemu Pulkkinen, Anthony Mantha, Mitch Callahan, Andrej Nestrasil
In a surprise move, Andrej Nestrasil has made the opening night roster. He had a great preseason and looked like a potential offensive contributor right out of the box. Based on practices, Cleary and Weiss seem to be the scratches for the opener, which is not good.
When Jonathan Ericsson got hurt, you saw how important he was to this team. Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson is a very solid top defensive pairing. I wouldn’t call it elite, but they are both an effective pairing. I have no concerns with them as a pair and I expect Kronwall to continue off his stellar 49 point season. Unfortunately though, out of the rest of the defenseman, Danny DeKeyser is the only one I have true confidence. DeKeyser has turned into a sturdy defenseman for the Red Wings and his strong skating ability has turned him into an asset. I personally am a Brendan Smith fan, certainly one of the few. He’s not as bad as you think and though he’s a bit of a riverboat gambler, he can produce on offense at a very good clip. If you don’t believe me, read this and it should change your mind drastically.
Outside of those four though, the Wings have issues. Kyle Quincey is atrocious, but the Red Wings were left with no real options other than to re-sign him or move some young talent for a better defenseman. Quincey received a pay raise, which is truly unfortunate, but they had the cap room to spare and they needed another defenseman. That being said, giving a guy $4.25 million when he doesn’t play on the powerplay or penalty kill is not good. He only posted 13 points and had a -5 rating while adding 88 PIMs. He’s not as bad in the defensive zone as you might think, but he’s certainly not good, that’s for sure.
The last two defenseman, Jakub Kindl and Brian Lashoff, are a concern. Kindl has regressed at an alarming rate and after looking like a promising defenseman two years ago, he is now a question mark. He may have put up 19 points last year, but he started in the offensive zone more than most and wasn’t asked to do a whole lot in the defensive zone. Lashoff is a solid 7th defenseman and if he has to play 20-25 games this year, then I’m totally fine with it. I only get concerned when you have injuries and he ends up playing 50+ games, especially when you have a solid crop of defensemen in Grand Rapids. Keep in mind that Smith, DeKeyser and Lashoff have yet to play two full seasons in the NHL.
This is a group that is lacking depth and cannot afford an injury. I would personally prefer if one of the younger players was in the lineup instead. Nick Jensen was someone I hadn’t heard of prior to the preseason, but he’s played very well and got powerplay time in their most recent preseason game against Pittsburgh over Quincey, Kindl and Lashoff. Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko and Ryan Sproul are three other names to also keep an eye on, though Sproul has already been sent down to Grand Rapids. Jensen and Sproul are right-handed shots, so that has to be something the Red Wings management enjoys.
It may be time to accelerate the young defensemen’s development and toss them into the fire like the Wings did with Jurco and Sheahan last year.
It also would not surprise me for the Red Wings to pull the trigger on a trade for a defenseman once the year gets started and they see what they’re working with. A guy like Nick Leddy is someone I would like the Red Wings to get, who can bring his strong skating and solid offensive ability to the blue line.
A few other potential trade targets to keep an eye on would be Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers (who commanded a high price at the NHL Draft), Dustin Byfuglien and Keith Yandle. Though all four of these players will command a higher price than Nick Leddy and the Red Wings will probably not want to part with their young prospects.
Top call ups for this year: Nick Jensen, Xavier Ouellet, Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul
No concerns here whatsoever. I wanted the Red Wings to roll Petr Mrazek as the backup goalie this year instead of Jonas Gustavsson, but that’s got nothing to do with Gustavsson’s ability. Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson are a solid tandem. Howard took a step back statistically last year, posting a 2.66 GAA and a .910 save percentage, but he’s a very steady player. Rarely will he go out and stand on his head and win a game singlehandedly, but he’s going to go out and lose you a game fewer times than that.
When Gustavsson is healthy, he’s a premier backup and can provide some very solid spot starts. And even if he’s not healthy, they can always call on Petr Mrazek, who I think is one of the best young goalies coming up through the AHL. Mrazek is a future stud and if he could have gotten some more help offensively, he would have had a better record than 2-4. It’s tough to post that kind of record when you have a 1.74 goals against average and his only two wins came in shutouts. He’s got all the makings of a franchise goalie and I’m very excited for his future.
As I said, I look at the Detroit Red Wings roster when they are completely healthy and think they are a mortal lock to make the playoffs. Last year they were second in man games lost to injury and it would have been a lot closer if Penguins backup goalie Tomas Vokoun didn’t miss all 82 games. Not to mention the fact that the players the Penguins lost, aside from Kris Letang, weren’t as significant as the losses the Red Wings had.
That being said, even if they stay healthy, I don’t think that they have the depth on the blue line to end up making a run at the Stanley Cup. Playing in the Eastern Conference suits their style far better than the Western Conference, though I miss them playing in the West dearly. I think the Red Wings have enough to make it to the Atlantic Division final, but I think the Boston Bruins would dispatch them again like last year. The Bruins have great depth across their roster and Tuukka Rask is an elite goalie. If the playoff format was like it used to be (a VASTLY superior format) the Red Wings would have a strong chance to make it to the Eastern Conference Final, but unfortunately the format doesn’t do them any favors. Anything can happen with injuries to other teams, but until anything like that happens, I’m not going to get my hopes up about this team bringing home the Stanley Cup.
On a different note, Mike Babcock did not get an extension done before the season started and I’m not worried about him leaving the Red Wings…yet. In another three years though, it’s hard to say that he will still be here. The Red Wings signed Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill to a three-year extension that will make sure he won’t interview for any NHL head coaching gigs. This all but signals that he will be the Red Wings head coach within the next three years (after this season). I would expect Babcock to sign a short extension after the season and then return to Canada to coach one of their NHL teams.
NHL Season Predictions (Based On Little Evidence)
Central (asterisk denotes playoff team):
*4. St. Louis
*2. Los Angeles
*3. San Jose
Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Kings over Chicago Blackhawks, 4-3
*2. New York Rangers
* 4. New York Islanders
8. New Jersey
*2. Tampa Bay
Eastern Conference Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins over Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2
Stanley Cup Finals: Los Angeles Kings over Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2
I’m sure it won’t play out like this. There’s always tremendous parity that will throw a wrench into these somewhere along the way…too many favorites advancing, that’s for sure.
Hart Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Art Ross Trophy: Sidney Crosby
Maurice Richard Trophy: Steven Stamkos
Norris Trophy: Drew Doughty
Vezina Trophy: Jonathan Quick
Selke Trophy: Anze Kopitar
Calder Trophy: John Gibson
Jack Adams Award: Barry Trotz