The Red Wings have moved past the “will they, won’t they” season they had last year in regards to continuing their playoff streak. Making a strong final push and winning a series proved that this team can still win when its meaningful, they were able to work some things out in the shortened season that help set them up for more success in 2013-14 with the move to the Eastern Conference.
However, with the questionable signing of Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson in the summer of 2012 (by questionable, I mean that I screamed “WHYYYYYYYYYYY??????” when announced), it leaves the team with too many forwards and not enough room for the more talented, younger players like Gustav Nyquist, Thomas Tatar, Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson. Re-signing Danny Cleary just a few days ago doesn’t help either, even though he also provides more value than Bertuzzi or Samuelsson.
Let’s start with what we know for sure about this team, the Defense, Goaltending and top 2 lines.
On Defense, Nicklas Kronwall and Jonathan Eriksson will make the top pairing again for Mike Babcock. Kronwall showed he can be a #1 Defender last year in his first season with out Nicklas Lidstrom and Jonathan Eriksson showed that all the promise and hope during his first few (somewhat disappointing) seasons was worth it. Eriksson may not be a top pairing Defender on most teams, but he works well with Kronwall and has the size to move bodies from in front of the net and showed he can play 20 plus minutes per night.
The second pairing right now is Kyle Quincy and Brendan Smith, a pairing sure to make most fans groan, but both can skate well and move the puck well. And, if they know the other is prone to turnovers, hopefully will be able to cover for each other as well. However, the third pairing is quite strong, so I don’t view this as a traditional Top 4 bottom 2 Defensive group that most teams will employ. The third pair is smooth skating local boy, Danny Dekeyser and Jakub Kindl, a pair that could be a 2nd pairing on quite a few NHL teams. So, while the team may have a lower end top pair, they have such a strong third pair that it makes up for that and the group as a whole is going to be quite reliable this year, putting a stop to the inability to hold a lead in the 3rd period that was far too prevalent last season.
Jimmy Howard carried this team last year. He will do most of the heavy lifting again this season (if healthy, 65 games) and if healthy, Jonas Gustavsson will be the back up. But, during Gustavsson’s inevitable 2 injuries, Petr Mrazek, the wunderkind from the Czech Republic, will be recalled from Grand Rapids and amaze all that see him during his cup of coffee in the NHL this season (full disclosure, I think Mrazek wins a Vezina Trophy with the Wings one day, I think he’s that good).
Now the top line: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Abdelkader (to start the year). Not much to be said, Abdelkader can skate with these two (physically), he doesn’t have the offensive skills but he has a knack for driving to the net and shoving home rebounds, which is all you really need when the other two play a two man offensive game anyway. The Second line right now is newcomer Stephen Weiss centering Johan Franzen and Danial Alfredsson. This is an interesting line that could produce very good results, all three are or were centers and play strong in their own end but, also have the ability to put up points. Weiss is a playmaker at center and will be looking to set up Franzen and Alfredsson both and if Mule can become more consistent (doubtful) this could be the key to the Wings walking through the regular season and fighting through it in the middle of the pack.
Now the rest. Here is a list of forwards with a chance to be on the team on opening night:
- Todd Bertuzzi
- Mikael Samuelsson
- Darren Helm
- Cory Emmerton
- Joakim Andersson
- Gustav Nyquist
- Thomas Tatar
- Daniel Cleary
- Jordan Tootoo
- Patrick Eaves
- Drew Miller
Seriously. 6 spots, 11 players. Where things stand now, Darren Helm will start skating again soon but most likely start the year on Injured Reserve. 10 left. Drew Miller and Danny Cleary are on the team, playing on the 3rd line, running into everything that moves. 9. 8. Unfortunately, Gustav Nyquist still has a options to Grand Rapids and will probably start the season there. 7.
Joakim Andersson does not have options and will not make it through waivers, he will be on the team, probably centering Miller and Cleary or the 4th line. 6. Samuelsson has a 35+ contract, meaning, he can’t be buried in the minors, has a no trade clause and if the Wings cut him, they are stuck with his cap hit…he’s on the opening night roster. 5. Read the previous sentence and replace “Samuelsson” with “Bertuzzi.” 4. Pick a center to play between them, if not Andersson, it will be Cory Emmerton. 3.
The three players that leaves is Thomas Tatar, who will go to Grand Rapids (also, very unfortunate), Patrick Eaves and Jordan Tootoo. Eaves will probably be waived or traded and Tootoo will stick around as the highest paid member of the press box (outside of Wojo), watching games while collecting paychecks (what a life) and occasionally being dressed against a team like Toronto, who employs 3 face punchers in Colton Orr, Frazier MacLaren and Mark Fraser.
This is not the best line up the Red Wings can ice, but it is pretty much the only option they have with 1 year remaining on both Bertuzzi and Samuelsson’s contracts. Here’s what the line up SHOULD look like (even with Helm still hurt):
- Miller-Emmerton-Eaves (Helm when healthy, centering with Emmerton replacing Eaves on the Wing)
However, here is what the team will look like:
- Tootoo eating popcorn next to Wojo
Yes, that’s right, resigning Cleary is a mistake. There is a reason no one was willing to give him more than a Pro Tryout, he’s slowed down and is more injury prone due to the style of game he plays. I do expect Nyquist and Tatar back up with in the first month because expecting Cleary, Bertuzzi and Samuelsson all to stay healthy is unrealistic and they will spend time on Injured Reserve this year.
Overall, this is not a terrible problem to have. Yes, the younger guys deserve to be playing in the NHL, but the top end of the team is strong enough to carry it and allowing some crafty veterans some ice time is not the end of the world. But, I believe that Ken Holland needs to learn a lesson that his “draft and develop for 4 years” system is not the best in all situations and he needs to be more careful signing 35+ contracts as they are impossible to move and clog up the system.
The Wings have plenty of other talent in Grand Rapids just waiting to get a chance so this is just the beginning of the changing of the guard in Detroit and the more time the young players like Tatar, Nyquist, Riley Sheehan, etc get to spend with Zetterberg, Datsuyk, Kronwall, etc the better for the future of the franchise.
Only two more weeks until puck drop. I can’t wait.