Will Detroit Sink or Swim in Lockout Shortened Season?
With the NHL lockout over, NHL players that were playing overseas are flooding back to North America in anticipation of NHL training camp starting in a few days. That includes a few Detroit Red Wings players.
Henrik Zetterberg, Valterri Filppula, Pavel Datsyuk, Drew Miller, Jan Mursak, Damien Brunner, Jakub Kindl and Cory Emmerton were some of the Detroit players that played in Europe while the lockout was in progress, and almost all of them have returned to Detroit.
Datsyuk is staying in the KHL until he and his agent know when training camp is starting, and the status of Damien Brunner is unknown. He is currently playing for Zug in the Swiss league, but will likely end up in training camp in Detroit.
Zetterberg and Brunner were linemates in Switzerland and were basically unstoppable. Zetterberg had 32 points in 23 games while Brunner has a whopping 57 points in only 33 games. Datsyuk had 36 points in 31 games in the KHL, Miller had 30 points in 23 games with the Braehead Clan of the EIHL, Mursak tore up the Austrian League with 47 points in 30 games, and Kindl had 11 points in 27 games with Pardubice HC of the Czech League.
Emmerton's tenure in Finland only lasted a couple of shifts after he broke a finger, and Filppula sprained his MCL playing for Jokerit Helsinki, but still tallied 15 points in 16 games.
As for Detroit players who didn't go overseas, Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson (who played a few games in Sweden), Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jimmy Howard, Jonas Gustavsson, Ian White, Mikael Samuelsson, Joey MacDonald and Jordin Tootoo spent time training in various locations and took part in a few charity games in Windsor and Toronto.
Kyle Quincey stayed in USA, playing for the Denver Cutthroats of the CHL for 12 games, totalling 11 points. Carlo Colaiacovo was hurt in the Spengler Cup when Brunner hit him from behind. He is expected to miss 2-3 weeks of action.
Finally, player sthat might make the Red Wings roster when the season begins have also been playing in Grand Rapids in the AHL. Gustav Nyquist, Brendan Smith and Tomas Tatar all have a shot of making the team in training camp, with Smith being a virtual lock. Smith has 20 points in 32 games from the blueline, Nyquist leads the Griffins with 32 points in 33 games, and Tatar is a cose second with 29 points in 33 games.
The only players attending training camp from the Griffins will be ones who can make the Red Wings, so it is safe to say that Smith, Nyquist and Tatar will be the only ones invited. No CHL or European prospects will be invited since their respective season are still ongoing.
The Red Wings are going through a big transition period where they lost captain Nicklas Lidstrom to retirement, and their core of players is another year older. Lidstrom's departure mean that in the last three years, the Red Wings have lost three of their top four defenceman, including Lidstrom, Brad Stuart (traded to San Jose) and brian Rafalksi (retired). The Detroit defence will be thin from the start without Colaiacovo, and no one will replace Lidstrom.
Kronwall and White figure to be the top pair, with Smith, Ericsson, Quincey, and Kindl battling for the 3-6 spots while Coloaicovo is out. One more injury would mean that either Brian Lashoff or Adam Almquist is next in line for a call up.
The goaltending will be slightly upgraded from last season. With Howard another year more seasoned, coming off an impressive year in which he made the All Star Game, the Red Wings look to a battle of the backups in Gustavsson and MacDonald. The Monster was signed from Toronto to see if he has anything left to show that he belongs in the NHL, and MacDonald was stellar when Howard was injured late last season. Whoever doesn't make the cut will likely be waived to Grand Rapids, and it will likely be MacDonald, unless Gustavsson chokes.
The Red Wings return a large portion of their forwards, with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Filppula leading the way. With the loss of Jiri Hudler to Calgary, Mikael Samuelsson was brought in as well as agitator Jordin Tootoo. Cleary and Bertuzzi must show that they are still capable of top line minutes while Brunner, Nyquist and Tatar get more experience. Helm, Abdelkader and Miller are a lock to be the checking line, with Tootoo chipping in. Mursak and Emmerton are on the bubble though, with both 2006 picks at the bottom of the totem pole and both might be waived after traingin camp to make room for Nyquist and Brunner.
The Red Wings will most likely be looking for a defenceman come trade deadline if they are in the hunt, and if not, look for a couple of older palyers to be sent packing. This year is a crucial time for the Red Wings and their future will depend on if they perform this season or finally fizzle out.