Season Preview: Detroit
By Tab Bamford, TheFourthPeriod.com
never use the word "rebuild" in Detroit, but it's going to be hard for them to
define "replace" in the coming season. The Red Wings haven't opened a season
without Niklas Lidstrom on their blueline since the 1990-91 campaign; to put
that in perspective, one of the young players expected to fill some of the void
left by Lidstrom, Brendan Smith, was born in 1989.
After a third-place finish in the Central Division last year, Detroit was quiet
in free agency. Many of their key forwards -- Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg,
Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi -- will be in their mid- to late-30s
this season, so the transition to youngsters that are ready, willing and able to
fill the significant roles of some household names will make for an intriguing
dynamic in Detroit this season.
Much of the core group of veterans remains in Detroit, with the familiar face of
Mikael Samuelsson back in the fold. The only notable addition up front in free
agency for the Wings is Jordin Tootoo, who had played his entire career with
division rival Nashville. The Red Wings did suffer a significant loss up front,
as 25-goal scorer Jiri Hudler signed with Calgary.
As long as Datsyuk and Zetterberg remain among the most lethal two-way players
in the league, the Wings can win any game. But Detroit will need their veterans
to stay healthy, and increased production from young forwards to stay in the mix
in the Central.
As we already noted, the hole left by Lidstrom will be enormous, but replacing
Brad Stuart, who was Detroit's ice time leader on penalty kill, leaves another
significant void on the roster. With Niklas Kronwall returning, there will still
be a physical force in Detroit, but the roles of veterans Jonathan Ericsson,
Kyle Quincey and Ian White will be impacted by the development of Smith and
Jakub Kindl. The loss of Lidstrom and Stuart from the Red Wings' special teams
will create opportunities for new faces to step into major roles quickly.
Jimmy Howard rebounded last year with a strong season, but he has played in 183
games over the last three regular seasons. The lockout will undoubtedly help
Howard by reducing his workload, but adding depth behind him will be something
Detroit will look for in the coming season. If Howard plays at the elite level
he did in 2011-12, it will help ease the transition on the blueline.
It's been decades since Detroit wasn't either the clear-cut favorite to win the
division or at least a strong candidate, but the dynamics on their blueline open
the door for doubt heading into the new season. They'll need to address and
answer significant questions with their group of defenseman early in the season
in the talented Central. The Red Wings will have their hands full with St. Louis
and Chicago, but should be considered a safe bet for the post-season (again).
3 Players to Watch
He's a magician when he has the puck and a thief when he doesn't. There
isn't a better two-way center in the game, and he does something every night
that's worth watching. Datsyuk might be the most taken-for-granted star in
the league today.
The eyes of Detroit's fans will be on the group of defensemen, and Smith is
their top blue line prospect. How Mike Babcock uses him, and how Smith
responds to the evolution of his role throughout the season, will be a major
factor in the Red Wings success.
After posting 23 goals and 66 points a year ago, it's time for Filppula to
emerge as a top-tier scorer. Somehow, there wasn't a single 30-goal scorer
on Detroit's roster last year, and the loss of Hudler means the Red Wings
will need increased production from Filppula.