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Detroit Red Wings

2013-2014 Preview: Detroit Red Wings

USATSI_7267735_154158418_lowresIt’s that time of the year when we spend a little time looking into the issues and factors that will influence your favourite teams leading into the upcoming season. For this outing, we’ll be looking at the Detroit Red Wings.

Among the league’s 30 teams, the Red Wings will be perhaps the most impacted by the realignment. They’ve been in the Western Conference since 1981, but now they’ll be making the change – along with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Winnipeg Jets – to the Eastern Conference. That makes the travel situation somewhat easier, with more Original Six match-ups in the wind.

“I think it’s a great time for our fans,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “They’ll be able to watch our games in prime time a lot more than they have in the past. And of course playing Montreal, Toronto, Boston more often, I’m hoping it’s going to spark that (enthusiasm from fans) even more. I know it will for us, for sure.”

Detroit has faced high expectations each season and is still considered a Cup-contending hockey club, but some familiar issues may make those long-term prospects a bit harder to reach.

In order to bolster the troops, GM Ken Holland brought Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson into the fold. The latter made waves by ducking out on Ottawa after nearly two decades, while the former gives the Red Wings some options for a second line.

But Alfredsson’s decision to join Detroit does seem to read an awful lot like Marian Hossa’s decision to do the same thing in the summer of 2008. In that instance, Hossa produced valuable points but his push to the post-season wasn’t quite enough and the Red Wings fell just short of winning it all. The difference between the Alfredsson and Hossa signings clearly has to come in the age department, with the former Senator nearing the end of his career. The good news is that Alfredsson can still produce the points and still move the puck effectively.

Alfredsson should be playing with Weiss and perhaps Gustav Nyquist on the second line, which means the former Panther will have to prove himself as well. He’s been hampered by a wrist injury, however, and wound up producing just four points in 17 regular season games.

Of course, many of the same issues that seem to plague the Red Wings will still require addressing. By the time the 2013-2014 season ends, they’ll have 13 players over the age of 30. That’s not a serious issue in the immediate future, but it does mean that the club will have to start addressing it soon. That means piping some new players into the system and turning to some of their prospects, like Swedish centre Calle Jarnkrok and Finnish winger Teemu Pulkkinen.

Right now, many of the key cogs in the Detroit wheel are over 30: Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Zetterberg, Todd Bertuzzi, and Niklas Kronwall. Alfredsson is 40 and Weiss is 30, while goalie Jimmy Howard, Drew Miller and Jonathan Ericsson will top 30 by season’s end.

The Red Wings have lost Valtteri Filppula to free agency, too, and that removes a solid faceoff advantage. Weiss could replace him to some extent, but his wrist issues could impact his ability to win draws. Datsyuk is still the team leader in the category and will win key faceoffs when necessary, but it would be nice to have some other options beyond the usual suspects.

There are other question marks that may or may not be resolved by the time the season starts. Danny Cleary remains an unrestricted free agent, for one. It looks like the salary cap may keep the veteran out of Detroit. Centre Damien Brunner is another free agent and the Red Wings are far away from locking him up. The Swiss pivot had 26 points in 44 games for the club in the lockout-shortened season, so his help would be appreciated.

Goalie Howard was signed to six-year extension worth $31.8 million in the spring, so the Red Wings are clearly standing by their netminder. He’s been their starter since the 2009-2010 season and has iced some significant numbers, but he took a big leap ahead in 2012-2013 when he posted a 2.13 GAA to go with a .923 save percentage. Detroit is clearly hoping those numbers hold so that Howard can join a long line of goalies in the club’s stable wheelhouse.

“Not only do I think he’s a really good goaltender, for our organization, it’s stability,” Holland said. “It’s a really, really important position. We’ve got a player that wants to be here, that’s grown up through our system, has gotten better every year.”

If Howard holds up and the Red Wings can start pushing some of their prospects into more active roles, the future could look surprisingly bright in Detroit. But if the team fails to evolve and leans on the same players, the age issue will inevitably catch up with them and a rebuild process will be in the wings (pun intended) in the long run. To keep their focus as a consistent playoff team and a potential Cup contender, Detroit’ll have to start looking ahead.

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