Hockey is finally back after a prolonged lock out, and will feature a 48 game season. The Detroit Red Wings have many new additions to the team roster, but let’s start with the subtractions from the team. No longer with the team are Nicklas Lidstrom, Brad Stuart, Tomas Holmstrom, and Jiri Hudler. Lidstrom and Holmstrom retired while Brad Stuart signed with the San Jose Sharks, and Jiri Hudler with the Calgary Flames.
Nick Lidstrom is irreplaceable as he was one of the best defensemen ever to play in the NHL. Even at the age of 42 he is still one of the top defensemen in the league even though retired. He would settle the team down during a critical period of a game. Brad Stuart played a solid positional game, and led the team in hits, and was an excellent shot blocker. Losing Lidstrom and Stuart leaves a big hole on the defense. Also factor in the retirement of Brian Rafaski two seasons ago means the Red Wings have lost 3 of their top 4 defensemen over the last two seasons. This leaves a big hole on defense, and not easy to fill. The loss of Tomas Holmstrom leaves the team without the best net presence in the league. He took a lot of punishment over 15 years while tipping pucks, and providing screens. Jiri Hudler scored 25 goals last season, and while small in stature is an excellent playmaker.
The Red Wings have many additions since last season, but this article will review each player as stated by position. Starting with the goaltenders Jimmy Howard and Jonas (Monster) Gustavsson. Jimmy Howard although not considered an elite goaltender has been solid for the Red Wings and has something to prove as he is in the last year of his current contract. Jonas Gustavsson is also a solid goaltender and is signed to a two year contract. He should push Howard to play better this season. Both goaltenders are relatively young at 28 years old.
The defense will be the biggest area of concern this season. The elder statesman on the defense is Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall may very well be the player the Red Wings cannot afford losing to injury. Jonathan Ericsson improved last year and was very good on the penalty kill. The Red Wings are looking for continued improvement. Ian White had a good season playing alongside Lidstrom. The team is counting on White to continue his steady play. Kyle Quincey was reacquired at last year’s trade deadline. He had difficulty adjusting to the Red Wings style, and had some injuries which hampered his play. The Red Wings believe he is a top 4 defenseman, and are looking for better results.
Carlo Colaiacovo was signed as a free agent after previously playing with St. Louis. Colaiacovo is is good puck mover, but has a history of injuries. Jakub Kindle is in a situation where he may be expendable unless he becomes a more consistent player. Brendan Smith has excellent potential as a top 2 defenseman, but has played a total of 14 NHL games. He will be given every opportunity to show what he’s got to offer. Except for Kronwall the other 6 defensemen need to contribute a lot to stabilize team defense. With an unproven defense, the Red Wings may need to alter their defensive strategy, possibly using more of a trapping approach on defense. Based on the current defensive lineup, look for the Red Wings to make a trade or two before the April 4, 2013 trade deadline. If not then possibly this summer.
The forward lineup has many pieces which should enable the Red Wings to score many goals and improve the power play this season. The power play should be dangerous with the addition of Tom Renney as an assistant coach. Mr. Renney was the former head coach at Edmonton, and he made the Edmonton Oilers’ power play one of the best in the NHL last season. The forwards are led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg (Captain), and Johan Franzen. Datsyuk is the best two-way player in the league, while Zetterberg is also a top echelon player. Franzen can score goals in bunches, but has had a tendency to float in stretches. The Red Wings are looking for more from Franzen. Todd Bertuzzi is a player who has excellent (soft) hands and provides size and smarts around the net. He was recently diagnosed with mononucleosis and may be out for a month.
A surprise addition might be Damien Brunner. He was a prolific goal scorer in the Swiss league playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg during the lockout. He has yet to play a NHL game, and it will be interesting if he can adapt to playing on a smaller ice surface compared to the larger rinks in Europe. Mikael Samuelson signed for his second tour of duty with the Red Wings last summer. He provides size, and a booming right handed shot. Valtteri Filpula is also on the last year of his contract, so he also has something to prove. He prefers passing to shooting, but the Red Wings want him to take more shots.
Both Daniel Cleary and Patrick Eaves are recovering from injuries. Eaves has been out for 14 months with concussion problems since being hit in the face with a puck. Cleary had a leg problem which was taken care of last summer and should be healthy. Jordin Tooto was also signed last summer to a 3 year contract. He previously played for Nashville. Tooto provides grit something the Red Wings seemed to be lacking, and also has a scoring touch. Darren Helm provides speed and fore checking ability which is valuable for a third line center, but he needs to learn how to finish his scoring opportunities. Drew Miller is a versatile forward who is a good penalty killer who occasionally chips in with timely goals.
Justin Abdelkader is a player whose job is grind down and irritate opponents. He needs to avoid picking up cheap penalties during critical points of a game. Jan Mursak along with Cory Emmerton are two players fighting for a chance to stay with the team. Both players cannot be sent down on waivers without the chance of being claimed by another team. There is the possibility they may be packaged in a trade later. Gustov Nyquist, Thomas Tatar, and Petr Mrazek among others are players the Red Wings can call up to the parent club if the need arises.
The projected Central Division standings based on the current state of the Red Wings are:
1) St. Louis
You can flip St. Louis and Chicago and Detroit and Nashville in the standings also. Predicting Detroit to finish third in the division also means a lower playoff position. Will the Red Wings continue their 21 season consecutive playoff streak? The answer depends on injuries and possible trade deadline moves. So the best answer is maybe.