Detroit Red Wings – 2013/14 Season Preview

Image courtesy of nhl.si.com.

Image courtesy of nhl.si.com.

W e’ve all reached that point where the wait for October to arrive, bringing with it the return of NHL action, has simply become too much; that feeling of loss in the depths of our stomachs beginning to dictate our every move, as we wander like ravenous zombies searching for on-ice sustenance.

With memories of last season becoming hazy, drifting into that burnt summer sunset hovering on the horizon and disintegrating as we watch sports that people only ever watch as a last resort, there’s nothing left to do but look ahead to what the 2013/14 NHL season might hold in store for us?

Next up in our series of previews, we’ll take a look at the 2013 Western Conference Semi-finalists, the Detroit Red Wings.

What happened in 2013?

H eading into the regular season, the Red Wings were still reeling from the retirement of their inspirational captain Niklas Lidstrom, with most of the hockey world believing they would struggle without the ever-present and indomitable weight of his four Stanley Cups and seven Norris Trophies. As it turned out, Detroit produced a season which was marred by inconsistency, harassed by injuries, littered with young stand-ins and haunted by the prospect of unaccustomed failure for the franchise, but when all was said and done, they stood up proud and fought for every inch of ice.

Returning from the lockout, January (3-2-1) was a sign of the unpredictable season to come, losing two of their opening three games to the St Louis Blues and Dallas Stars before picking up points in their next three contests.

Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

February (7-6-2) and March (7-5-2), brought similar themes of failing to capitalise on early leads and struggling on the road. The situation looked particularly bleak after the latter month ended with an abysmal 7-1 home defeat to eventual Stanley Cup champions Chicago Blackhawks. In the pitch black of despair, there were even murmurings from some quarters of the inconceivable, the Red Wings failing to make the postseason for the first time in 21 years.

Fortunately for Detroit, April’s performance of 7-3-3 and their resilience under pressure proved just enough to see off a rampaging Blue Jackets and Sergei Bobrovsky. Finishing the regular season with four straight wins also pushed them above the faltering Minnesota Wild and into seventh-place in the Western Conference, extending their postseason-reaching streak to 22 seasons.

In arguably the most scintillating series of the first-round, the Red Wings endured a seven-game epic against the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks, who had themselves stunned the Western Conference with a blistering start and a terrific goaltending tandem featuring Swedish rookie (only in terms of the NHL of course), Viktor Fasth. After the Finnish Flash Teemu Selanne settled a 3-1 Game One victory for Anaheim, a high-scoring Game Two culminated in Gustav Nyquist’s OT game-winner levelling the series for the Red Wings. As the series progressed the Ducks won Games Three (4-0) and Five (3-2 OT), whilst the Red Wings once more displayed a remarkable tenacity to win Game Three in OT, Damien Brunner’s efforts to crowd the net rewarded.

Fighting for their survival and trailing 3-2 in the series, the NHL veterans in the Detroit line-up reared their mighty heads in their 4-3 Game Six win, Pavel Datsyuk weaving his own brand of sorcerer’s magic and Henrik Zetterberg showing a true captain’s spirit. Game Seven was a similar tale, the now playoff-savvy Red Wings proving too stoic for a Ducks side in their own building, goals from Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader and Valterri Filppula eventually sealing a series upset that had become less of an underdog story, and more a case of a new identity for the team in Detroit.

Image courtesy of o.canada.com.

Image courtesy of o.canada.com.

In their Western Conference Semi-final, the Red Wings found themselves up against the Chicago Blackhawks, who had spent most of the regular season chiselling their names into the NHL record-books and in their spare time, obliterating opponents for fun. Having sailed through their opening round contest with the Minnesota Wild, they proved the end of the road for Detroit; but that far from tells the story.

After Chicago took Game One 4-1 at United Centre, everything looked to be going just as expected, but Detroit out-worked the Hawks in Game Two for a 4-1 victory of their own. With goaltender Jimmy Howard playing out of his skin, the Red Wings then clinched both Game Three (3-1) and a comfortable Game Four (2-0) at home against a fatigued Blackhawks.

With the Hawks competing to stave off elimination, they issued a signal of intent with a dominating 4-1 win before Detroit really missed their best opportunity to make the Western Conference Final, crashing to a tense 4-3 defeat back at home. A sell-out crowd of 22,103 played witness to Game Seven, where every shift seemed equally titanic and every hit was magnified beyond belief. Brent Seabrook’s OT winner after 3:35, a bullet wrist-shot over Howard’s glove, finally ended the series and Detroit’s postseason.

Whilst the Hawks moved on to defeat both the L.A Kings and Boston Bruins on their journey to ultimate glory, the Red Wings consoled themselves with the fact they had, with the occasional slice of luck, and with plenty of courage, pushed the best NHL team in 2012/13 to the very brink.

Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

Top 5 Scorers

  1. PAVEL DATSYUK (47gp, 15g 34a 49p)
  2. HENRIK ZETTERBERG (46gp, 11g 37a 48p)
  3. JOHAN FRANZEN (41gp, 14g 17a 31p)
  4. NIKLAS KRONWALL (48gp, 5g 24a 29p)
  5. DAMIEN BRUNNER (44gp, 12g 14a 26p)

Trades in 2012/13

  • Brad Stuart to San Jose Sharks for Andrew Murray and a conditional 7th-round pick (2014)
  • Kent Huskins to Philadelphia Flyers for a conditional 7th-round pick (2014)

Signings for 2012/13 Season

  • Jonas Gustavsson (Free Agent) (2 years)
  • Damien Brunner (Free Agent) (1 year)
  • Mikael Samuelsson (Free Agent) (2 years)
  • Jordin Tootoo (Free Agent) (3 years)
  • Carlo Colaiacovo (Free Agent) (2 years)
  • Dan DeKeyser (Free Agent) (2 years)
  • Jared Coreau (Free Agent) (3 years)
  • Darren Helm (4 years)
  • Max Nicastro (2 years)
  • Marek Tvrdon (3 years)
  • Kyle Quincey (2 years)
  • Martin Frk (3 years)
  • Tomas Jurco (3 years)
  • Justin Abdelkader (4 years)

2013 Off-season Activity

Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.

Image courtesy of sports.yahoo.com.

The Draft

  • 20th Overall – Anthony Mantha
  • 48th Overall – Zach Nastasiuk
  • 58th Overall – Tyler Bertuzzi
  • 79th Overall – Mattias Janmark-Nylen
  • 109th Overall – David Pope
  • 139th Overall – Mitchell Wheaton
  • 169th Overall – Marc McNulty
  • 199th Overall – Hampus Melen
  • Image courtesy of usatoday.com.

    Image courtesy of usatoday.com.

Free Agency Signings

  • Stephen Weiss (5 years)
  • Daniel Alfredsson (1 year)
  • Brendan Smith (2 years)
  • Luke Glendening (1 year)
  • Joakim Andersson (2 years)
  • Gustav Nyquist (2 years)
  • Daniel Cleary (1 year)

Lost to Free Agency

  • Valtteri Filppula

Trades

  • 1st-round pick (2013) to San Jose Sharks for 1st-round pick (2013) and Pittsburgh’s 2nd-round pick (2013).

Projected 2013/14 Roster

FORWARDS:

HENRIK ZETTERBERG – PAVEL DATSYUK – JOHAN FRANZEN

GUSTAV NYQUIST – STEPHEN WEISS – DANIEL ALFREDSSON

JUSTIN ABDELKADER – DARREN HELM – TOMAS TATAR

DREW MILLER – JOAKIM ANDERSSON – PATRICK EAVES

T he top two lines may be a surprise for some, with many experts believing Justin Abdelkader will be the skater to join Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Although Abdelkader possesses great speed and brings wonderful energy to every shift, I believe opting for the experience of Johan Franzen would be a better option. His awareness, shooting and responsibility tracking back through the neutral zone are consistently excellent whilst I feel Abdelkader too often fails to make a positive impact. This would also be a hugely popular decision with both the superstar centre and the Red Wings captain, who have admitted in the past to relishing playing on the same line as Franzen. As always, expect plenty of offensive fireworks from this line.

Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

Image courtesy of bleacherreport.com.

The second line will be interesting to say the least. I hope exciting youngster Gustav Nyquist will be given his chance to play in the top six, though I fear Mike Babcock may choose another veteran presence, a process he seems to rely upon too heavily. Although Nyquist only scored six points during the regular season, a burst of speed is definitely needed to spark the Red Wings during tight games and he has the natural skill to make a difference. He would also be a great fit with free-agent signings Stephen Weiss and perhaps the surprise of the summer, Daniel Alfredsson.

Weiss is seen as a nice replacement for departing free-agent Valtteri Filppula, in being both defensively responsible and more than capable of putting up offence. Despite this, the man from Florida comes with more than the single question hanging ominously over his head, with injuries devastating his final year with the Panthers. Whether he can recapture his best form will be a deciding factor in how Detroit’s season pans out. Alfredsson is a different story however, the former Senators captain comes with a certified level of absolute NHL class. Slowing down perhaps, but still a clinical points scorer and a wonderful addition to guide the younger members on the Red Wings roster.

Image courtesy of latimes.com.

Image courtesy of latimes.com.

The bottom six for the Red Wings will now also feature Daniel Cleary, who recently re-signed after testing free agency and ending back with Detroit. He provides excellent net presence when on the ice, which posed problems for the Ducks last year in particular.

A third line of Abdelkader, Helm and Tatar would be a match-up nightmare for opposition coaches. How do you counter the speed of light in NHL terms? It will also be interesting to see whether talented youngster Tomas Tatar is given the opportunity to develop further this year, though with the likes of Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi and Mikael Samuelsson hanging around, he may face limited time and it may just be wishful thinking on my part.

The fourth line pretty much delivers exactly what you need from your depth players, effort, physicality and the ability to get the puck in deep. Don’t expect too much different from these players than we got last year, though it’s quite possible to see Darren Helm slot into the centre position and Corey Emmerton may also see some minutes.

DEFENCE:

NIKLAS KRONWALL – JONATHAN ERICSSON

DAN DEKEYSER – BRENDAN SMITH

JAKUB KINDL – KYLE QUINCEY

N iklas Kronwall truly took up the mantel of number one defencemen last season, following the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom. Adding 5 goals and 24 assists during the regular season, which in combination with his sledge-hammer-like approach to hitting, creates a formidable package. Whilst Jonathan Ericsson took giant moon steps towards becoming a dependable defencemen, I expect to see him progress further this year in a top pairing that most fans didn’t ever see working.

Image courtesy of nhlpa.com.

Image courtesy of nhlpa.com.

Whilst the Red Wings defence was a Greek tragedy in a treatment room setting last season, I think they may prove impressive this year. Babcock relied heavily on Dan Dekeyser before his broken thumb, showing untypical faith in the youngster, which proves he is certainly held in high esteem. Basically, if both Smith (who seemed to struggle in the spotlight at times) and Kindl push on in their development, I can see this group being a major surprise.

GOAL:

JIMMY HOWARD

JONAS GUSTAVSSON

J immy Howard became the goaltender everyone in Detroit was hoping he could be last season. A goaltender that, when his defence collapsed around him, offensive stars struggled to find the net, always kept his team in the game. Following the agreement of a six year deal, Howard raised his level even further, a record of 21-13-7, a .923 S% and 2.13 GAA even nudged him onto the fringes of Vezina contention. The postseason series with the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks were also personal highlights for a goaltender who hopes to represent USA at the Olympics in Sochi. Let’s just say that Corey Perry has probably had plenty of sleepless nights this summer, recalling the many, many times Howard robbed him during their series. A certain number one.

Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

Image courtesy of cbc.ca.

The Red Wings barely glimpsed The Monster last season. Jonas Gustavsson struggled terribly with injuries following his move from Toronto, only playing in six games during the shortened campaign. When he was in net, he looked incredibly uncomfortable and fans in Detroit will hope to see a vast improvement when he is called upon this year. A 0.879 S% simply isn’t good enough for a back-up. Were he to suffer again however, they do have highly rated prospect Petr Mrazek waiting for his chance at the NHL level, which many feel isn’t too far away now.

Expectations for the Season

T he Detroit Red Wings are not the all-conquering team of years gone past, with too many doubts surrounding offensive production and a naïve defence. If they can integrate some of the youngsters, bringing their all important speed, to the smart, responsible and strong core, they could be dangerous.

The team will also move into the Atlantic Division this year, meaning they’ve exchanged an original-six contest with the Blackhawks for one with the Bruins. I think the sheer ‘hockey savvy’ nature and adaptability of their roster means they will certainly progress to the postseason, why break such a beautiful streak? I see them finishing second behind Boston in the division but once the Red Wings are in the playoffs, anything can happen.

Prediction: Conference Finals.

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