The Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons are both set to begin their inaugural season at Little Caesars Arena, and both teams hope to improve from their 2016-17 seasons.
Red Wings fans are hoping to see progress this season, but the Wings have a steep hill to climb for improvement. It does seem the Pistons may fare better.
Before analyzing the Red Wings season at a LCA Arena, lets review what happened during the 2016-17 season. Last season the Red Wings were 9-0 in Shootouts that included departed Thomas Vanek being 5 for 5 in them, before being traded to Florida at the trade deadline. Vanek went on to sign with Vancouver this season. While Vanek wasn’t the fastest skater, he was very crafty. He taught the younger players on the Red Wings some of his moves and experience.
The Red Wings also had over 300 man games lost to injuries, which was near the top in the NHL. Notable injuries were to Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) and Jimmy Howard (Groin). There were many others which added to the total, but another reason the team missed the playoffs by 16 points were under performance by many players. Rather than listing the under performers the following list will show the team’s better performers starting with the soon to be 37 year old Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg was the leading scorer with 68 points, and played in all 82 games. That was quite an achievement considering his previous back problems. Anthony Mantha had 36 points in 60 games, which was respectable. Zetterberg and Mantha also had the best plus minus rating on the team, which earned them a high rating.
Andreas Athanasiou had 29 points in 64 games, which wasn’t too bad considering his playing time. It was reduced due to his defensive deficiencies. He is currently unsigned at this writing. The last player who played very well even though he had a groin injury was Goaltender Jimmy Howard. He only played in 26 games, but was one of the better goaltenders in the NHL before his injury.
A review of the current Red Wings begins with the forwards. It will evaluate how they performed last season, and what they need to do this season. There will be no line combination analysis, only individual player breakdowns since the lines are juggled anyway.
Henrik Zetterberg: If Henrik can somehow duplicate last season fans would be happy.
Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist had three times the number of assists to goals last season, which indicates he is an excellent set up man, but it would be great if he can score more goals.
Tomas Tatar: Tatar also played in all 82 games last season, and scored 25 goals. He scored nine goals early during the season, but the team needed more. The rest of his goals were scored after the team was far behind a playoff position.
Frans Nielsen: It was Nielsen’s first season in Detroit, and he did OK. He is a slick set up man, and the team is hoping for more.
Anthony Mantha: Mantha is a big guy, and the team is hoping he can crash the net with his size. He is developing as the team hoped he would.
Dylan Larkin: Larkin had a sophomore slump as teams figured out how to play against him. He also was placed at the center position, which is his natural spot. He had trouble adjusting to it at the NHL level. He seems to have a determined approach to the upcoming season. He needs to counter the other teams adjustments, which stifled him.
Andreas Anthansiou: Still unsigned. Andreas needs to hone his defensive game when/if he is signed.
Justin Abdelkader: Justin needs to step up. He only scored 7 goals last season while battling injuries. One year he had 23 goals with Pavel Datsyuk setting him up. He needs to continue being tough to play against, and to maintain a net front presence.
Darren Helm: Helm is a fast skater and goes all out, but it hinders him when it comes to finishing in front of the net. He usually has more time than he realizes. He also missed many games due to injury.
Luke Glendening: Luke is known for being good on face offs, killing penalties, and generally aggravating the opposition. He also missed time with injuries, but needs to improve this season.
Riley Sheahan: Riley was a prime example of one of the under performers last season. He went goalless until the last game of the season when he scored two goals, and he played in 80 games. He is big, but doesn’t usually play a physical game.
Luke Witkowski: Luke was signed as a free agent for his toughness, and his ability to play forward or defense.
David Booth: David was granted a PTO with the team and accepted a two-way contract, meaning he can be shuttled between Detroit and Grand Rapids. He played the last two seasons in Russia.
Martin Frk: Frk was on the Red Wings last season, claimed on waivers by Carolina, and then reclaimed by Detroit on waivers again. Frk has a cannon of a shot, and must learn to get it off quickly and accurately.
This is a sore spot on the team, and there is hope for some improvement.
Mike Green: Green is known for his offense, but not so much for his defensive play. Green’s offensive numbers were much improved during his second season in Detroit. His plus- minus numbers was not good, but about what is expected. If the Red Wings falter for their quest for a playoff spot, he could be a trade deadline candidate.
Nick Jensen: Jensen spent many seasons in the minors, which was a head scratcher. He was always a good skater, and adept at moving the puck out of his zone. Looking for more this season.
Niklas Kronwall: Kronwall has been a warrior for the Red Wings for many years, but missed many games last season due to knee problems. He is probably the best defenseman to walk the blue line during power plays, but will his knees hold up? Surly he will miss a few games to rest his knees.
Danny Dekeyser: Dekeyser had a forgettable season even though he played in all 82 games. He is best suited to be a number 3 or 4 defenseman, but was one the top pairing, where he had his problems. Maybe playing with newly acquired Trevor Daley will help.
Trevor Daley: Acquired as an UFA, Daley played in Pittsburgh winning two recent Stanley Cups. Even though he is considered a three or four defenseman, the hope is he can stabilize the defense.
Jonathan Ericsson: Ericsson seems to be an easy target of Red Wing fans wrath, he is big with a long reach. He missed a lot of the season after suffering a fractured wrist in February. He is also playing with a degenerative hip. The team is hoping for a better season from him.
Xavier Ouellet: Ouellet is a fairly stabile fifth or sixth defenseman, and the team is hoping he progresses.
Jimmy Howard: Howard only played 26 games last season, but was among the top goaltenders in the NHL. He needs to translate that type of play into a full season.
Petr Mrazek: Mrazek was an enigma over the past season and a half. His play and attitude deteriorated last season. He seemed to play better during the pre season, so there is hope.
Both goaltenders need to play well this season since they will be facing many shots over the course of a game.
That’s it as far as this Red Wing team is concerned. Remember this is a team, which finished 16 points out of the last playoff position in spite of being 9-0 in Shoot Outs. Coach Jeff Blashill stated the Red Wings were tied in the third period in 50 plus games last season, and squandered many points away. True, but there are many reasons for that statistic. One problem was an atrocious Power Play, which could not convert. The team was at the bottom of the NHL, and couldn’t score a power play goal on the road for over 3 months. It did improve the last quarter of the season, but it was too late. The powerless power play with a general inability to score during crunch time created many lost points during the third period. Add an inadequate defense, you have another reason for many losses.
To summarize, the Red Wings are being picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division by many. The team may not be as bad as many predict, but to be competitive many players need to improve. Many younger players need to take the next step. General Manager Ken Holland has been trying to rebuild on the fly, but his team is getting older. He has the right idea. As a comparison Edmonton had high draft picks for years, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs for ten years. Tanking doesn’t guarantee success, but the Red Wings armed with high draft picks in 2018 can try to hold down the fort while being competitive. Red Wings fans want to see progress, and won’t be upset if the Red Wings miss the playoffs as long as there is effort. It will be a challenging season for both Ken Holland who is in the final year of his contract, as is Coach Jeff Blashill.