Season Preview, For Now
Well, what a boring, disappointing, lackluster, saddening and gut wrenching offseason it;s been so far for the Detroit Red Wings. Look in a thesaurus and find more words that mean demoralizing, but the way things have gone this summer have not gone according to plan, if there was one at all.
For the millionth time, let's recap what happened. First and most importantly, Nicklas Lidstrom retired. No more number five on the blueline. No one to cover mistakes. No one to play 25 outstanding minutes a night. There is literally no one that can replace Lidstrom, although the Wings did try.
They made an attempt to pry Ryan Suter from the Nashville Predators, but he went to Minnesota to be forgotten for the rest of his career. Cross off the other defenceman from the UFA list because none come close to filling the void. The only other option was Shea Weber, Nashville's captain. Philadelphia signed him to a massive offer sheet, and the Predators matched it, allowing them to retain their star defenceman for the rest of his career.
The rest of the options remain only rumours. Keith Yandle of Phoenix, Jay Bouwmeester of Calgary, and even Sergei Gonchar of Ottawa have been mentioned as possible trade candidates to put little jump in the Red Wings' defence.
The only UFA's that would have a minor impact are Carlo Colaicovo, Michal Roszival, and Brett Clark, but they are only band aid solutions.
On free agency day, the Wings signed Damien Brunner, Mikael Samuelsson, Jordin Tootoo and Jonas Gustavsson. Kyle Quincey was resigned and one has to think Justin Abdelkader will as well.
So, here's the grim news; as an unbiased Detroit follower, next season looks grim if the roster stays as it is, The following is a season preview if the team started with the current roster.
DEPARTURES - Nicklas Lidstrom (retired), Brad Stuart (SJ), Jiri Hudler (CGY), Doug Janik (UFA), Garnet Exelby (BOS), Ty Conklin (UFA)
ARRIVALS - Jordin Tootoo (NSH), Mikael Samuelsson (FLA), Jonas Gustavsson (TOR), Damien Brunner (Swiss)
The forward core of the Red Wings is still largely intact from last season. Hudler and his 25 goal, 50 point season is gone to Calgary, replaced by Samuelsson and his aging body. Sammy is a right handed shot, which helps, and the main reason he might have been brought in is to play the point on the powerplay, whistling slappers into Dan Cleary's jaw and the 25th row at the Joe Louis Arena.
Tootoo is the most interesting signing, one that made you wonder is Ken Holland was just trolling everyone with, but thinking about it, the signing makes sense. The Red Wings lacked a pest last offseason, and if Tootoo wants to stick, he'll have to drop the mitts and be a you know what disturber.
Brunner is a wild card. The Swiss scoring star has a right handed shot, and is said to be even better than Hudler. He has speed to burn and soft hands. If all goes well Mike babcock wants him on the top two lines, and in the shootout with his array of silky Datsyukian shootout moves.
Gustavsson is a huge upgrade over Ty 'The Sieve' Conklin. Joey MacDonald is still hurt after back surgery, and much can't be placed on him to repeat what he did last season when Jimmy Howard went down with a broken finger.
Obviously, Pavel Datsyuk ad Henrik Zetterberg will carry the load this year. It will be apparent early i nthe year if Babcock needs to reunite the Eurotwins on the same line of keep them seperate. One key element in that decision is Valtteri Filppula's emergence as a number two center. The slick skating Finn was a force last year, carrying the puck and making plays. He can still shoot more, but in many eyes, he is a crafty playmaker.
Johan Franzen is the darkhorse. He needs to regain the Mule like drive and determination that made Steve Yzerman give him the nickname. Datsyuk and Zetterberg don't have skilled wingers playing with them. The top four forwards has to be Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Filppula night after night. Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Samuelsson are third line players at best that play on the second line.
The third line might be the best in hockey. With Tootoo, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader, the trio could be the reincarnation of Grind Line hockey. The gritty players win championships, as seen with Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Kirk Maltby, Dallas Drake and Joey Kocur.
The remaining players consist of Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Jan Mursak, Cory Emmerton, Gustav Nyquist and Brunner. The ideal would be to have Brunner and Nyqust pan out on the top two lines, and why not give them a shot? The Red Wings said that they aren't rebuilding, but they can't rely on old guys like Bertuzzi, Cleary and Samuelsson to carry the scoring load. For once, the Red Wings need to let their young stars play.
Mursak and Emmerton are likely the odd ones out. They need to clear waivers to get sent down. If Nyquist and Brunner get sent down to accomodate those two, fans will be very unhappy.
Therefore, the Red Wings need some things to fall into place for the forwards to be succesful.
The defence, however, is a different story. Niklas Kronwall is the best defenceman, but this year he will be forced into a number one role. No longer will he play against the second lines of teams. Now, he gets to go head to head against the big boys, and we will get to see what he is made of. The Wings' assistant captain will need to play the same way he did last year - thunderous hits and a lot of goals, 15 to be exact. The Red Wings' success comes when the back end starts scoring. With no Lidstrom, Kronwall is the next guy in line to get the attack going.
After Kronwall, nothing is certain. Ian White looked good with the best defenceman of all time by his side. The few games Lidstrom was out, White looked bad. Brendan Smith will get his first shot at full time NHL duty. Enough of the 'over-rippening of prospects,' they need to give Smith top line minutes and see what they have.
Kyle Quincey struggled mightly after his trade from Colorado. The first round pick given up in the deal for a player the Wings gave away for nothing a few years back looked foolish, and the deal he re-signed puts even more pressure on him to pick up his game. A full offseason to get used to his surroundings again will help.
Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl are the most puzzling. Kindl because he was a first round pick in 2005 at 19th overall, and he still finds himself in the press box every night. A first round pick shouldn't really be destined to be a sixth defenceman, so Kindl has to show some spunk this year. Ericsson, however, was a last overall pick, so I really don't expect a lot from him. His 'potential' is what he is now; a borderline NHL player that still looks bad against third and fourth line players on opposing teams.
The defence looks like it will torn up this year by superior offences.
Howard and Gustavsson will have their work cut out for them. A lot of the blame for losses will fall on them, but knowing Howard's pedigree, we should look to the team in front of him. Gustavsson is a nice project to have, and will take some time to develop a consistent game.
Overall, the Red Wings look like they will struggle to stay afloat this year. Expect some 6-5 games, and possibly some games where they lose big. My guess is that they squeak into the playoffs, and then you never know. Moves may be coming, but as of now, Hockeytown holds it's breath as they enter a new journey into unchartered waters.