Welcome back to Puck Drop: NHL Preview 2013-14, where our hockey department gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of his hockey season. Check back often as new teams are added to our Puck Drop page. Today we take a look at the 2013-14 Detroit Red Wings.
Last year we saw proof that Jimmy Howard can play without a safety blanket that was Nicklas Lidstrom. We saw that Red Wings defense can hang with the big boys. Last year we also saw a team that some said might not make the playoffs (and really it all came down to the last few games) take the current Stanley Cup champs to game seven. All in all, Red Wings had their fair share of struggles but the winning culture prevailed and the playoff streak stands at now 22 seasons in a row.
Some other highlights for me were the play of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, especially in the playoffs. Datsyuk and Zetterberg both had ridiculously clutch goals and in my eyes solidified their status among the Red Wings greats, not only as regular season point producers but as playoff performers. Gustav Nyquist has introduced himself to the Red Wings nation that may not have had a chance to see him play in AHL. With five points in 14 playoff games, the young kid showed great compete level and was able to produce in the limited ice time he saw. Another youngster we got a chance to see play was Tomas Tatar play on the big stage. He made an impact with four goals and seven points in 18 games.
Last year all focus was on the young defense and how it would handle the departure of the great number five. Brad Stuart also left to go play for the San Jose Sharks. The young group had its share of mistakes and I have read people come down harshly on Brendan Smith and Kyle Quincy but hey, the young guys did not even get a full season to play together and have gained invaluable playoff experience on the fly sort of speak.
Overall last season went a bit better than expected, yet still feels greatly disappointing as any season would when it ends with a game seven overtime loss. Oh, and the Magic Man got a 3 year extension to put the KHL rumors to bed.
Kenny Holland is the man. While I was getting ready to write on another disappointing Red Wings off-season and how Detroit is no longer the go to place to win, he goes out on day one and signs Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss.
While obviously these two players are not Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, they still fill exceptional needs for Detroit Red Wings. Valtteri Filppula bolted out of Detroit to go play for his ex-captain Steve Yzerman in Tampa Bay and Damien Brunner may have priced himself out of the NHL period. Weiss is an exceptional two way player that has been sort of invisible to most Detroit fans playing down south for the Florida Panthers, but this signing gives us a true number two center and a chance to see Datsyuk and Zetterberg play together again.
I am not going into much detail about what it means to have signed Alfredsson, but just know that he shoots right and this is something Red Wings needed desperately. Oh, and obviously he wants to win the cup and Detroit tends to make things like that happen for aging superstars. For Detroit they get another leader in the locker room who can play their possession style very easily. Alfredsson will also have a chance to win a gold medal and the Stanley Cup all in one year.
Detroit Red Wings have 17 forwards signed currently and there will be some serious competition for the bottom six spots. This can only be a good thing as Detroit does have some young talent that needs to stay hungry . They might have to be careful though and provide adequate opportunities and not force the young talent out of town due to lack of opportunity.
Very important RFA signings:
- Jakub Kindl – 4 year 2.4 million cap hit.
- Gustav Nyquist – 2 year 950k cap hit.
- Brendan Smith – 2 year 1.2 million cap hit.
- Joakim Andersson – 2 year 732k cap hit
Damien Brunner has not signed anywhere yet.
Dan Cleary has signed a 1 year 1.7 million deal.
Storylines to Watch
Well, I can’t wait to watch the Detroit’s top six perform because it has been injected with some seriously great talent. What we will have to watch is the new division rivals and overall impact of having to play in the Eastern Conference compared to the past few years of being in the extremely competitive Central division. Oh and the fact that Daniel Alfredsson will face his old club four times during the regular season and there is a strong possibility that Red Wings might face the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs. Oh boy, what a story that would be. It will have shades of Hossa saga truly, but will Alfie get booed or cheered upon his return?
It is not like the new Atlantic division that Detroit will be playing in will be chop liver. The tough competition and higher scoring teams will be a nice test for both the young defensive core and Jimmy Howard. I think both will be just fine and Detroit will be among the better teams this year, but it will be very interesting to see what adjustments if any the squad and Mike Babcock might make to their team defense.
The battle of the bottom six players will be very interesting to watch, specifically the young guys. Nyquist and Tatar one would think will have to be playing NHL full time, right? I mentioned before the 16 forwards with one way contracts and this creates some important decisions for the coaches to make. If Darren Helm is healthy he surely gets a bottom six spot, but what about Cory Emmerton and Joakim Andersson who both proved to be able to keep up with the NHL pace? The training camp alone will be very interesting to watch as we will start to get a sense of who is in and who is out.
It will be very interesting to watch what Babcock will do with Mikael Samuelsson, Jordan Tootoo, Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, and Drew Miller. While Samuelsson may see top six minutes and so might Todd Bertuzzi, it will be very interesting to see the bottom six unfold. Obviously someone is going to be scratched or traded at one point.
Kenny Holland likes to have a deep forward roster in case of injuries, which almost certain to happen, but with the Wings being over the salary cap as we speak, he will have to make some moves or bury someone in AHL to lessen the players CAP hit.
Dan Cleary signing throws all kind of sticks into the Red Wing wheel. There was already an issue with the roster and now Wings add another player. Tatar and Nyquist deserve a starting role, but with Cleary this will be even tougher to find a spot for them. This will be the story during the training camp, but I have a feeling Tatar starts October 2nd on the Red Wings roster.
Personal Note: It would be nice to see an all Swedish line that can maybe pay a little homage to the Russian five of the nineties.
Players To watch
Jakub Kindl may have the second most points for the Detroit Red Wings as a defenseman in 13-14 year. While Kindl has been around for a while, he has just started to come into his own last season. He has found a new passion and that is shooting the puck. Kindl is no longer shy about ripping the puck from the point and had the most shots on goal of any D-men for the Wings. The young Czech has good size and good speed to carry the puck out of trouble and has grown to be a very solid in his own zone as well. While he clearly does not face the toughest competition he also makes great work of getting the puck out of his zone and generating offense. Look for a break out year for this young man and specially if he can beat out Brendan Smith from the power play minutes on the second unit.
Tomas Tatar was the AHL playoffs MVP as he hoisted the Calder cup this spring and I have a feeling this year he will be a regular on the big clubs lineup as well. Tatar had a very high shooting percentage at 12.5 percent in the 18 games he got to play for the Wings. This might be the norm for him going forward as he is very accurate shooter. The best thing about Tatar is that he will be playing sheltered minutes and will have a great chance to succeed. He clearly has nothing left to do in AHL and I think he will be able to score 25 goals this year.
Expectations are high this year and reality is that Wings are a Stanley Cup contender. Anything else will be a disappointment, specially to Daniel Alfredsson, but this is the NHL and nothing comes easy or with a guarantee. The new division, new rivalries , and new earlier game starts should make it very exciting for the Wings fans. While the top six is getting older every year, this year we will see the young guys come up and replenish the talent a bit. Whoever cracks the bottom six for the Detroit, there is one thing that I can guarantee…it will be the 23rd straight playoff appearance for this historic franchise.
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Main photo credit: bridgetds via photopin cc