Despite finishing the regular season with a 43-25-14 record and landing third in the Atlantic Division, the Detroit Red Wings knew something had to change. Sure, they had 100 points and scored 231 goals. And they only lost 10 games at home. In the post-season, they lost a close one to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In most hockey markets, such a season would be considered at least halfway laudable. But for the Red Wings, it’s not enough. Change began with head coach Mike Babcock, who made his way to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The new bench boss is Jeff Blashill and that’s a good thing, as he has experience with a lot of the team’s younger players. He also has a working relationship with the core of the group.
With Blashill behind the bench and some new names on the roster, like Mike Green and Brad Richards, the Red Wings look to continue their trend of playing quality team hockey. Nobody is bigger than Hockeytown, bigger than the legacy of the game in Detroit, and that’s served them well down the line. The team is hoping for more of the same, with an added boost here and there to vault them to another Cup.
Up front, the Detroit Red Wings always dress a team worth watching. Pavel Datsyuk is one of the most dangerous players in hockey, even if last season saw him nagged by injuries a little. He finished with 65 points in 63 games, putting up 23 goals. In seven playoff games, he had five points. The 37-year-old Russian continues to be among the league’s best players. He can stickhandle through an entire roster.
Henrik Zetterberg is also one of the league’s best. The 34-year-old Swede had 66 points in 77 games, but his post-season was on the disappointing side. He clocked just three assists in seven games and is prone to slumping on the scoreboard. Without question, injuries hampered his production as the season drew to a close.
Beyond the one-two punch of Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the Red Wings are fleshing out nicely. The addition of Richards gives them a second line centre with a few years left in the tank. Richards posted 37 points last season. Other forwards, like 28-year-old Justin Abdelkader and Gustav Nyquist, add some options for the top two lines. Nyquist scored 27 goals last season.
While the days of Nicklas Lidstrom are in the rearview mirror, the Detroit Red Wings can still put up a defensively responsible group. The unit starts with Niklas Kronwall. The 34-year-old Swedish defenceman has experience, timing, hitting ability, positioning, passing, and puck-handling on his side. He posted 44 points last season and three of his nine goals came on the power play.
Danny DeKeyser is quickly growing into his role as a number two defenceman on the depth chart. The 25-year-old Detroit native is a terrific puck-mover and he can skate. Some have knocked his lack of physical play, but that’s something he can continue to grow into. He’s the sort of all-around player to suit this roster well for years to come.
The addition of Green gives them more flexibility from the back end. He logs ice time like a forward and skates like one, too. Green has the ability to pressure the opposition and quarterbacks the power play. He had 10 goals last season, posting 45 points in 72 games. Along with shutdown defenceman Jonathan Ericsson, Green will give the Red Wings more to work with along the blueline. The likelihood is that Green will be paired with DeKeyser, which is thrilling stuff for Detroit fans.
This is an interesting team in terms of goaltending. Petr Mrazek looks ready to rock. The 23-year-old Czech goalie played in 29 games last season and came out with 16 wins, charting a goals against average of 2.38 and a save percentage of .918. In seven post-season games, he won three – two of which were shutouts. He allowed just 14 goals in what would’ve otherwise been a lights-out playoff performance had the result against Tampa swung the other way.
Jimmy Howard was once the man in Detroit, but Mrazek is testing that situation. The Syracuse native still took the lion’s share of the regular season workload, playing in 53 games and winning 23. He had a goals against average of 2.44 and a save percentage of .910, but he’s been the subject of reactionary local trade talk as of late. For now, he’ll be part of a captivating tandem with Mrazek.
It probably stands to reason that Detroit would have a group of adaptable forwards waiting in the wings (har, har). The likes of Dylan Larkin seem almost ready to emerge and that once again proves this team’s depth down the middle. Larkin is a solid offensive threat around the net, plus he has a respectable two-way game. In 2014-2015, he was the second leading scorer for the University of Michigan behind Zach Hyman.
Evgeny Svechnikov is also worth a look. The 18-year-old from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was a first round selection in 2015 and he’s got a great upside. He was the third leading scorer for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles last season, scoring 32 goals and tying Kyle Farrell for the team lead in assists with 46. Scarier still, Svechnikov did this while missing 13 games due to injury.
The Path Ahead
The Red Wings are in for another good year, for all intents and purposes. The goaltending situation is perhaps the biggest question mark, but Mrazek should be up to the task set before him. He’ll have to prove that the post-season performance wasn’t a stroke of luck, but Howard’s capabilities will help cover any rough spots.
The forward group continues to threaten, especially if Datsyuk can get on his feet once the season starts. There are some issues there, but the Red Wings are deep enough to dress a solid group every night. And with a profound prospect pool at forward to come, Detroit will continue to grow from within as years go by.