Season Preview: Detroit Red Wings
The fragile nature of Detroit’s core was fully exposed last season, with the former power house losing players to injury at almost every turn.
Still able to secure a wild card spot, the eleven time Stanley Cup winners now seem to be approaching a cross roads as the old guard ages, their coaches future is under question and Eastern Conference rivals improve.
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Captain Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Darren Helm and Daniel Alfredsson all remain strong performers – when they are healthy. Only the former Ottawa captain played more than 60 games last season and is yet to decide what he wants to do this year, and only Helm is under 33.
Detroit still has the ability to compete with the best in the NHL, but it needs its big names to be healthy if it is to succeed.
This extends to Stephen Weiss, who joined as a free agent last summer after eleven years with Florida, but scored just 2 goals and 4 points in 26 games before a groin injury ended his season.
With four years remaining on his deal, 31-year old Weiss needs to rebound and fill the second line role he was signed for.
One small advantage of the Wings injury woes was recapturing sufficient cap space to give Gustav Nyquist his first serious run with the club. The Swede scored 28 goals and 48 points in 57 games, and is entering the last year of his current deal just as he looks set to become a key part of the line up.
Tomas Tatar also had a good year, but Detroit needs the Czech winger, and other youngsters like Riley Sheahan, to kick on and ease the burden on its creaking stars.
At The Back
Niklas Kronwall moved in to the role of #1 D man seamlessly, but otherwise Wings defence struggled with injury and form too often last season.
Hopes are still high for Danny DeKeyser, whilst Brendan Smith has developed well. But the club will hope for a little more from Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson, who missed 24 regular season games and the play-offs through injury, this season.
Brian Lashoff and Kyle Quincey round out a unit that can still be effective when on its game.
Between The Pipes
Jimmy Howard remains somewhat divisive among NHL fans. The 30-year old put up respectable, if unspectacular numbers last season but needs to be better if Detroit is to maintain its incredible play-off streak.
Jonas Gustavsson improved in his second season with the club, going 16-5-4, but is under pressure from Petr Mrazek after the 22-year old had another impressive cameo with the club last season.
Behind The Bench
Mike Babcock’s future may be a little clouded after he said he would not negotiate a new contract once the new season begins, but his relationship with the club appears to be as strong as ever entering the final year of his current deal.
With a Stanley Cup win, two further Finals appearances and two Olympic gold medals on his resume, Babcock could cash in next summer – but for now he has to guide the Red Wings through perhaps its most difficult phase for more than 20 years.
But if anyone can get the Wings to the top of the NHL again, it’s Babcock.
Biggest Addition – A Healthy Line Up
Only Stephen Weiss remains on the shelf, giving Detroit fans plenty to be positive about heading in to the new season.
Biggest Loss – David Legwand
In lieu of a concrete decision from Alfredsson, former Nashville plugger Legwand’s departure removes a solid depth player from the Wings line up.
Never a big scorer (he only passed 60 points once, in 2007), the 2nd overall pick in 1998 has been durable and dependable for much of his career – two qualities Detroit could have found valuable should the injury bug strike again.
Key Man – Henrik Zetterberg
The Wings captain scored at more than a point per game last season, despite back surgery causing him to miss most of the Olympics, 24 regular season games and 3 play-off games.
Now 33, Zetterberg is signed through to 2021 and needs to stand tall on a team who were expected to rule the East but have questions to answer.
This Seasons Chances…
When healthy, it’s hard not to believe the Wings aren’t still one of the top sides in the NHL – elite talent, good depth, great coaching. Whilst a little help on the blue line (Jamie McBain?) might not go amiss, Detroit has a heck of a lot going for them.
On the other side of the coin, another spate of injuries and a little less ineptitude from a few other Eastern Conference teams and the Wings could be in danger of missing the play-offs for the first time since 1990.