The Detroit Red Wings have dominated the Western Conference for the past decade, winning nine of the last 12 division titles. However, with the retiring of their captain Nicklas Lidstrom, this may possibly signal a new beginning in “Hockey Town.” GM Ken Holland consistently constructs a team that competes game in and game out, while head coach Mike Babcock knows how to utilize his entire roster to achieve the best results in a given season. This past season was no different; the Red Wings finished 5th in the Western Conference with a record of 48-28-6 with 102 points. They had a very potent offense, ranking 7th scoring 2.7 goals per game, while they boasted an equally stifling defense, ranking 7th only allowing 2.4 goals per game.
During the regular season, the Red Wings saw their ups and downs, with a pair of seven game losing streaks. As expected though, the Red Wings fought back and finished fifth in the Western Conference, putting together some great streaks of hockey. The Red Wings were ousted in the playoffs by the Nashville Predators in five games. The Preds simply seemed to outmatch Detroit in the series, possibly signaling an impending power shift in the Western Conference.
Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Jimmy Howard
A perennial Selke contender, Pavel Datsyuk has made his name for being one of the most well-rounded forwards in the NHL. His skill on defense is rivaled by very few while his stellar offensive ability provides highlight reel goals after he dangles through the defense. Although he is 34, Datsyuk shows no signs of aging as he racked up 67 points in 70 games. Henrik Zetterberg was the Red Wings most productive player, scoring 69 points during the season. Zetterberg is a quick winger, while always being a threat to snipe one as he flies down the slot. Jimmy Howard has burst onto the hockey scene as a little bit of a late bloomer, but he is without a doubt here to stay. A calming presence in goal, Howard is one of the best goalies in the NHL, posting a record of 35-17-4 with a 2.12 GAA.
The loss of first ballot Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom at the blue line is most likely the largest single loss for any team this off-season, with the possible exception of Ryan Suter from the rival Predators. The captain was a 7-time Norris Trophy winner and anchored the Wings defense like few have done before in the history of the sport. The Red Wings also lost Brad Stuart this off-season to the Sharks, who traded away forward Andrew Murray and a 2014 7th round pick for his negotiating rights, eventually inking him to a three year contract. These two defensemen accounted for a combined 25 years of experience in the Red Wings organization, a presence that will surely be missed. I expect Nicklas Kronwall to take over a little more ice time in the absence of Lidstrom, while Ian White should play a larger role in the Red Wings future as well.
This off-season will be marked by what the Red Wings lost than more what they gained, but no one can blame Ken Holland and the front office for not trying. The Red Wings actively pursued Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. They believe that Suter would have been a potential replacement for Lidstrom, seeing him as having the ability to anchor the ice and take control of a game from the back end. Shane Doan, along with most other teams in the league, is a target of the Red Wings. The Red Wings signed Mikael Samuelsson (2 yr. 6 million), Jordin Tootoo (3 yr. 5.7 million), and Jonas Gustavvson (2 yr. 3 million). Samuelsson is a serviceable veteran who played with the Red Wings before, whose familiarity with the team should allow for an easy transition. Tootoo has been with the Nashville Predators for the past few years, filling primarily their 3rd and 4th line. Tootoo is not a flashy, but a decent player with a high hockey IQ that can kill off penalties. Gustavvson saw time last year in Toronto in net, filling a void as a backup goalie that hurt the Red Wings last year.
Strength: Veteran Presence
The Red Wings will continue to give their opponents a consistently physical matchup, as long as players like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Franzen still wear the red and white. They have been through nearly every hockey experience a player could endure, allowing for the young players to transition smoothly into the fray. Expect Datsyuk to wear the C next season and to bring the same intangibles that Lidstrom gave the Red Wings.
The loss of Lidstrom leaves the Red Wings extremely pressed in the back. Other than Nik Kronwall, even an avid hockey fan may be at a loss to name another Wings defenseman. Young players will have to step up to help aid in the impending transition period. Also, expect the Wings to experiment with the first line PP defenseman, a spot that Lidstrom manned for the duration of his career.
Although it would be easy to write off the Red Wings this season and relegate them as re-building, I think they may have a few seasons left of decent hockey. The key will be how the role players step up this year, to fill voids left through Free Agency and retirement. Mike Babcock will have his men ready to play every night and the Red Wings will fight, giving the rest of the NHL a tough night whenever they come to the Joe.
42-31-9, 3rd in Central Division, 6th in Western Conference