USATSI_9262366_154158418_lowresThe Detroit Red Wings put the wraps on 2015-2016 with a 41-30-11 record, good for third in the Atlantic Division behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. Unfortunately for the Motor City, Detroit was eliminated by Tampa in the post-season in five games in the first round and watched the departure of Pavel Datsyuk to Russia.

The Red Wings scored a decent but unremarkable 211 goals for and allowed 224 goals against. Scoring was spread evenly enough, with 19 players reaching double digits in points. Henrik Zetterberg was tops with 50 points, while Dylan Larkin led in goals with 23. Winger Tomas Tatar had 21 goals, while the departing Datsyuk had 49 points.

The issues for the Red Wings are clear. They’ve been eliminated in the first round of four of the last five playoff attempts and will have to elevate themselves to contention again if they want to achieve respectability. It’ll be a tough road, but general manager Ken Holland has some flexibility. He was able to trade the residual year on the Datsyuk contract to Arizona and signed Frans Nielsen to a six-year deal.

Offence

Veteran Zetterberg is 35-years-old and he struggles putting in a full season at a high level. The Swedish forward still led the team in scoring last season, but he only had 13 goals and just two of them came on the power play. He averaged nearly 19 and a half minutes of ice time a game and will continue to be a fixture in scoring for Detroit, but the Zetterberg era is coming to an end and it’s time for a new plan.

Naturally, Larkin will be a big piece of the puzzle. The 20-year-old had 45 points last season and cracked off 221 shots on target. He’s fast as daylight and can put up consistent offensive numbers. He can crash the net and pull defenders out of position with his skating prowess, which can either put him in position for a goal or to set up a teammate.

Tatar had 45 points in 81 games and showed up with seven goals on the power play.  The 25-year-old can play both wing positions and brings a lot of speed to the Red Wings. He’ll receive a bump in ice time in Datsyuk’s absence and could should see an increase in scoring with the greater responsibility. Don’t be surprised if the Slovakian winger reaches 30 goals this season.

Justin Abdelkader is one of the most important players on this Detroit squad and word is that he’ll see a significant upgrade in 2016-2017. The 29-year-old had 19 goals last season and pulls off a lot of ice time for a forward, plus he could find himself as an alternate captain soon. With Nielsen as a probable second line centre and veteran Thomas Vanek looking to prove himself, there are a few more bright spots up front worth a second look.

Defence

With Danny DeKeyser signed to a six-year deal worth $30 million, the Red Wings avoided any controversy with their top blueliner and restricted free agent. The 26-year-old is entering his fifth NHL season and had 20 points last season, including eight goals. The Detroit native can move the puck well and averages nearly 22 minutes a game.

30-year-old Mike Green had 35 points, including five goals on the power play, and he continues to be a prominent point producer from the blueline. Unfortunately for fantasy owners, his shot totals seem to be taking a plunge of sorts and it’s not likely he’ll reach his glory days again. That said, he should clock in for some quality ice time and his profile on the man-advantage will continue to provide opportunities.

Niklas Kronwall had 26 points in 64 games and continues to be one of the most punishing hitters in the game. He averaged 22 minutes of ice time a game last season and should be in line for more if injuries don’t get in the way. Age is a factor, however, and Kronwall isn’t a safe bet for consistent point production.

Goaltending

Petr Mrazek is established as the top netminder, but he’s prone to some bad stretches. He wrapped up last season by getting pulled five times in 14 starts and the starting gig went to Jimmy Howard for a spell, so the 24-year-old will be looking to bounce back. He finished 2015-2016 with a 2.33 goals against average and a .921 save percentage.

Howard went 14-14-5 last season, with a 2.80 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. He had two shutouts and gives Detroit a quality backup option in case Mrazek hits another slump. Howard has a sturdy base for a goaltender and can make athletic saves thanks to his high level of flexibility. Consistency issues continue to dog him, though.

Prospects

The Red Wings have a good group of mobile defencemen in the system, but the fun really starts on the wing with Anthony Mantha. The 21-year-old from Quebec saw action in 10 games last season and could be ready for a bigger jump if he impresses at camp. He’s a natural scorer and skates well for a player of his size, but his play in his own end could use work.

Winger Evgeny Svechnikov may be a little further down the line for Detroit, but the Russian is impressive and should make a considerable impact when he does arrive on a full-time basis. The 19-year-old has great size on the wing and possesses soft hands and an excellent shot. He’s been impressing in Cape Breton and seems to be adjusting well to the North American game.

The Path Ahead

The Red Wings are in for a period of adjustment without Datsyuk, but they’ve been down this road before after the loss of franchise player Nicklas Lidstrom. With a few more Zetterberg/Kronwall years possible, the game plan for the immediate future is to focus on the young blood. If Detroit can make the transition without committing to a full rebuild, they should still make the post-season.

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