2017-18 Bench Life NHL Previews: 28. Detroit Red Wings

Part 4 of 31 in our NHL previews where Ballantyne, Burgess and I rank each NHL team 1 through 31 and give you an outlook on their season. We’re delivering each team’s preview in the order that we collectively power ranked them. This isn’t an exact science, but unlike like Bryzgalov’s musings of the universe, it’s not a humangus big deal.

Check out our other previews:
#31. Colorado Avalanche 
#30. Vegas Golden Knights
#29. Vancouver Canucks

2016-17 Recap

Record: 33-36-13 (79 points) 7th in the Atlantic division (25th overall) 
GPG:
2.41 (26th)
GAPG:
2.98 (26th)
PP%:
15.1% (27th)
PK%:
80.8% (16th)
Corsi For %: 48.5 (23rd)

Last season was a bit of a let down in the Motor City as the Red Wings ended Detroit’s famous record breaking playoff streak at 25 seasons. Their legendary core from earlier this decade has slowly but surely decayed to the point that 36 year-old Henrik Zetterberg is now the last man standing. The underwhelming Wings seemed to struggle at both scoring and preventing goals which is generally not a recipe for success.

But, despite inconsistent goaltending and a paper thin blue line, Detroit’s league-average penalty kill was one of their biggest strengths. This speaks volumes to the ability of shutdown forwards Frans Nielsen, Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkader and their collective ability to suppress the opponents opportunities.

Like most teams the Red Wings had to deal with fair share of injuries. But their season might’ve been completely different had Jimmy Howard not miss extended time with injury. He was only able to play in 26 but posted a  sparkling .927 save percentage in that time. The 2016-17 Red Wings were still a low-scoring team with poor possession numbers who had no business being a contender. But a healthy Jimmy Howard could’ve cut down their goals against and kept them in the playoff picture better than Mrazek did with a .901 save percentage over 50 games.

2017-18 Outlook

List of Key Additions: Trevor Daley

List of Key Departures: Thomas Nosek

The lack of offseason movement could be seen as troubling for a Red Wings squad that finished 25th with the NHL’s fifth oldest roster (with an average age of 28.047). Since the rest of the NHL has finally caught up to Detroit in terms of European scouting, it’s been a while since GM Ken Holland has hit a home run in the draft. Hurting matters is that the hard salary cap has reined in the Ilitch family’s ability to outspend other teams. This didn’t make a difference when Detroit drafted and developed a strong core of Datsyuk, Lidstrom, and Zetterberg in their prime and were able to sign free agents to supplement them. But now that the on-ice product isn’t as attractive and other teams can more or less match their contract offers, Detroit just simply isn’t a free agent destination.

That being said here is some young talent at forward whose development could help the team to improve internally. Also, while he doesn’t fill the gaping Lidstrom-sized hole at the top of the defensmen hierarchy, Daley is a solid defender who can effectively eat some minutes.

X-Factors

Team MVP: Henrik Zetterberg

Even at age 36, Zetterberg remains Detroit’s most important player on a night-to-night basis. Last season he led Red Wings forwards in ice time with an average TOI of 19:43. He led Detroit in assists (51), points (68), shots (195), primary assists (35) and powerplay TOI (2:57). Since an injury riddled 2013-14 season that saw “Hank” limited to 45 games, he has been a bit of an iron horse and has suited up for 241 regular season games out of a possible 246 in three seasons since. It’s remarkable that a player his age is still able to effectively center a team’s top line. While his career is certainly winding down, Hank has shown that he still has a bit of gas left in the tank. Exactly how much gas there is yet to be seen.

Team’s Strength: A nice collection of playmakers upfront

Heading into this season, Zetterberg will be flanked by speedy youngsters Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Both have a reasonably high ceilings. Larkin for his blazing speed and finesse and 6’5″ Mantha for his large frame and soft touch. While neither dazzled on the scoresheet last season, Larkin is a year removed from a 23 goal rookie campaign and Mantha has shown he can light the lamp at every level he’s played at and even had 17 goals in 60 games for the Wings last year.

Wingers Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar are both in their mid-twenties and have shown flashes of big-time talent as they look to break out in their “prime” age seasons. Tatar led Detroit with 25 goals last year while Nyquist looks to regain his 2013-14 form where he scored 28 goals in 57 games.

Look for Danish center Frans Nielsen to continue to play his criminally underrated style where he’s leaned on heavily on the PK and can chip in with some offense on the second line.

Also, fresh off of an 18 goal season (in 64 games receiving bottom-six minutes) that netted him a two year contract extension, look for the lightning quick Andreas Athanasiou to rise into a more prominent goal-scorer.

Team’s Weakness: Shaky defense core

While he doesn’t score score 70 plus points anymore, Mike Green is still a pretty effective defenseman. While the 30 year-old right-handed shot can play on most teams’ top pairings, he’s probably best suited as a second pairing, powerplay specialist guy on a competitive team. Unfortunately Green just isn’t good enough to prop up the cardboard cut-outs that populate Detroit’s blueline. Trevor Daley should help some, but Detroit’s d-group struggles mightily with skating the puck out of the zone and making outlet passes. This in-turn doesn’t give their speedsters upfront a chance to maximize their offensive potential and leads to an in-your-own-end style that will grind your goalie to a pulp. 36 year-old Niklas Kronwall is a husk of his former self and Dekeyser and Ericsson are just flat out ineffective. After all of the dynamic bluelines that Ken Holland has assembled over the past 20 years (Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski, Schneider, Kronwall in his prime), this group that he’s assembled makes you question whether the legendary GM has lost his fastball.

Rookies/Farm:

The most likely rookie to break camp with the big club this season is scrappy winger Tyler Bertuzzi. Nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi, Tyler is a sand-paper grinder who can flash a bit of skill. If he succeeds, it will be in a Matt Cooke, Steve Ott-type agitator role which can add a valuable element to their team.

Detroit’s system currently is not flush with bluechip talent. Most of their big prospects have already been promoted to the NHL. As of right now their farm system is headlined by Russian winger Evgeny Svechnikov and this year’s 9th overall pick Michael Rasmussen.

Svechnikov was Detroit’s first round pick in 2015 and has shown a knack for passing and goal-scoring. The 6’3″ winger was electric in his rookie season with the AHL’s Grand Rapid Griffins scoring 20 goals and 51 points in 74 games. While he did get in 2 games with the Wings last season, don’t expect Holland to start rushing prospects at this point.

At 6’6″ and 215 pounds, Rasmussen is a hulking center who has shown a penchant for scoring around the net in his time playing for the Tri-City American’s in the WHL. While Rasmussen’s 32 goals and 55 points in 50 games is pretty impressive, some evaluations that I’ve read are concerned that most of his scoring damage was done on the powerplay with his even strength numbers being pretty underwhelming. He does move well for his size and has very good hands. The Wings are hoping he can be the next in a long line of net-front beasts like a Johan Franzen-type. But in the back of your mind you can’t help but feel that with someone of Rasmussen’s skillset being taken that high in the draft that there is a bit of potential for a Jake Virtanen, Joe Colborne like bust.

Key Player: Jimmy Howard

In just 26 games last season, Jimmy posted an Even Strength Save % of .927, a Shorthanded Save % of 0.925 and a 2-0 record in shootout games. He was absolutely dialed in. While it is a small sample size, it was a good glimpse at Jimmy’s ceiling and it showed us just how good he really can be. The fact that 33 year-old Howard was protected in this summer’s expansion draft over 25 year-old Mrazek could be looked at as proof of management’s confidence in Howard or just how little they think of Mrazek. Regardless of Ken Holland’s opinion, at least one of the two goalies is going to need to step up if Detroit has any hope of escaping the Eastern conference’s cellar.

Did you know? 

Detroit’s selection of Michael Rasmussen ninth overall is the earliest that they have picked in the draft since taking Keith Primeau third overall in the 1990 draft.

Our Rankings

T. Waind: 27th

C. Burgess: 28st

B. Ballantyne: 26st


A lot of things have to break right for the Red Wings to be respectable this season. Healthy seasons from their goalies, significant development strides from the kids and Trevor Daley and Mike Green somehow plugging the holes in this sinking ship of a blueline would go a long way to getting the Wings back into the post-season.

While it’s likely that this team is destined for another lottery pick in the upcoming draft, I’m not as pessimistic on Detroit as some. I actually like this team as a frisky middle-of-the-pack team with the potential to squeak into the playoffs if everything breaks right.

That being said, it’ll be quite some time before they can even think about the Cup. Whether or not the team can get back to its former glory without having to do a full tear-down rebuild will rest on the shoulders of Ken Holland and his draft team. But if the past five offseasons are any indicator, expect Detroit to be stuck in the “battling for the eighth-seed” no-mans land for years to come.

 

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