For the first time in a long while, there will be some roster turnover for the Detroit Red Wings this season. While a few familiar faces have exited, some new players give Detroit a lot of depth, both up front and on the back end.
The last of the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup-winning squads are almost gone with the retirements of Chris Osgood and Kris Draper. Nicklas Lidstrom and Tomas Holmstrom are the last remaining players from either one of those teams. Both players will have a somewhat reduced role this season, however, as younger players are expected to take on bigger responsibilities.
Holmstrom will likely be relegated to the fourth line with an occasional stint on a scoring unit. His net-front presence on the power play will continue, and he is still one of the best at that role in the league, despite being a little long in the tooth.
Lidstrom, on the other hand, is coming off of his seventh Norris Trophy and is still playing like a top-tier blueliner. But the coaching staff wants to keep his minutes down to preserve the elder statesman for a possible playoff push. Niklas Kronwall will likely be the top minute muncher on the back end this season.
Here are the possible line combinations for this season based on training camp:
Dan Cleary – Pavel Datsyuk – Patrick Eaves
Datsyuk remains one of the craftier players in the league, both offensively and defensively. He is a wizard with the puck and a relentless back-checker. Cleary and Eaves are similar players possessing good skills and quick skating strides. Eaves may get a chance at a scoring role after playing on the third and fourth line for the Red Wings over the last two years. He has a great shot and will not be out of place at all.
Valtteri Filppula – Henrik Zetterberg – Johan Franzen
There isn’t really a first and second line in Detroit. It’s more like 1 and 1A. Zetterberg, the Red Wings returning point leader, gets two very solid offensive players on this line. Franzen is a power forward with a tremendous shot. He is a very streaky scorer, but Franzen also has two great passers at his disposal on this line. Filppula has been better on the wing than as the second line center, a role he played when Datsyuk and Zetterberg were together. This should be a productive unit.
Justin Abdelkader – Darren Helm – Todd Bertuzzi
This is the new version of the “two kids and a goat” line, a unit that was originally made up of Datsyuk, Boyd Devereaux and former sniper Brett Hull. Zetterberg replaced Devereaux to make the more famous – and more successful – version. While there isn’t nearly as much offensive flair to this combination, there is a lot of speed, tenacity and potential. Abdelkader and Helm are two players who Detroit’s management thinks are key components to the future. Both are relentless puck hounds. Bertuzzi’s soft hands and skill should be a nice compliment and help get the best out of the two youngsters, while giving Bertuzzi a shot of adrenaline.
Drew Miller – Cory Emmerton – Jan Mursak
This is one unit that isn’t set by any stretch. The eight preseason games will decide who makes the cut. Miller signed for two years in the offseason and has been a key member of the penalty-killing unit. Coach Mike Babcock loves Mursak’s game and has repeatedly complimented him throughout training camp. His speed rivals Darren Helm, but Mursak also has soft hands and serious offensive potential. Emmerton has the inside track at the fourth-line center job as he has paid his dues for three seasons in Grand Rapids. He brings good hockey sense and skills on both ends of the ice, but many in the organization think he should be more productive offensively with his skill set.
On the outside looking in:
Jiri Hudler is going to be on a short leash. After just 10 goals last season at nearly $3 million per year, Hudler might spend more time in the press box than on the ice if he doesn’t turn things around. He will probably be rotated as a healthy scratch with Emmerton, Miller and possibly Mursak. Training camp invites Ryan Johnson and Fabian Brunnstrom will have to go to Grand Rapids if they want to stay with the organization, unless they have unbelievable performances during the preseason.
Nicklas Lidstrom – Ian White
Lidstrom just won a seventh Norris Trophy and is still one of the best defensemen in the league. A new partner – particularly a right-handed player – to replace Brian Rafalski is the likely route Detroit will travel. Lidstrom and White could also be the blueliners on the first power-play unit. White brings a calm, steady presence to a defensive corps that turned the puck over a lot last season. Despite his lack of ideal size, White is also a tough player who isn’t afraid to protect himself or his teammates.
Niklas Kronwall – Brad Stuart
A very productive tandem in the past, Kronwall and Stuart are by far the most physical unit on the team. Kronwall’s open-ice hits on Dany Heatley and Ryane Clowe during last season’s playoff series with San Jose illustrate his physical prowess. Stuart is no slouch, either. He led the team in hits last season, and the only teammate that came close was Abdelkader. With Lidstrom taking a slightly smaller amount of ice time, Kronwall and Stuart will have to step up and contribute even more.
Jonathan Ericsson – Mike Commodore/Jakub Kindl
With a new contract comes new responsibilities and expectations, especially when you’re Jonathan Ericsson. Many believe the Red Wings overpaid to keep the 6-foot-5 d-man, but he’s hoping to prove otherwise. Babcock has said during training camp that Ericsson has looked steady and poised, perhaps his biggest downfall during his struggles. The real competition here is between the youngster Jakub Kindl, who played very well toward the end of last season, and newcomer Mike Commodore. They play contrasting styles, as Kindl is more of a finesse player despite his big stature. He has a very good offensive game, and the Red Wings think he is a big part of their future. Commodore brings a presence that Detroit hasn’t had recently, a punishing, net-clearing blueliner who toes the line between physical and dirty. Look for both to get a lot of playing time.
On the outside looking in:
Prospect Brendan Smith is perhaps the most highly-touted defenseman in the Red Wings’ system in recent memory. The Red Wings’ scouts and front office members love his offensive abilities, and his defensive skills are improving rapidly. He is being looked at – as much as anyone possibly could – as the “replacement” for Lidstrom when he retires. Of course, no one player is going to replace Lidstrom. It will be a team effort. But Smith is simply the best young player in the system and perhaps one of the best defensive prospects in all of hockey. Veteran Doug Janik returns to the Grand Rapids Griffins, but with the depth on the back end this season, it’s unlikely he will see much NHL time, if any.
Detroit showed its faith in Howard by rewarding the netminder with a two-year extension toward the end of last season. Although his save percentage and goals against average took a bit of a downturn, he still posted 37 wins – the same as his rookie season – with a sub-par defense in front of him. He performed admirably in the playoffs, and with the retirement of Chris Osgood, Howard will have to carry most of the load in Detroit.
Ty Conklin/Joey MacDonald
Babcock has made it very clear that just because the Red Wings signed Ty Conklin, that doesn’t automatically mean he will get the backup job. MacDonald played pretty well in spot duty last season for Detroit, notching a .924 save percentage and 2.21 goals against average. Conklin struggled mightily with St. Louis last season. The only certainty is that the backup battle in Detroit is far from decided.
On the outside looking in:
Former first-round pick Thomas McCollum has really struggled since turning professional. He had such a bad go of it during his rookie season in Grand Rapids that he was sent to the East Coast Hockey League’s Toledo Walleye, where he still couldn’t get it together. The Red Wings like his potential, however, and many within the organization believe he is talented enough to play in the NHL. His confidence must improve, and the mental aspect seems to be McCollum’s biggest hurdle. The Red Wings are looking for a bounce-back season this year to remind them why they took a risk by spending a first-round pick on a goaltender.