For the month of June, Last Word On Sports will be covering each team in our 30 in 30 series. Once a day, we take a look at an NHL team’s past season, what their off-season looks like, and what they could hope to achieve before the start of their 2015-16 season. Everybody wants to get better and improve upon last season’s success or downfall and NHL’s 30 in 30 gives you that analysis and preview you need to get you by during another long and grueling summer season. 30 days in June, 30 teams to cover. Starting on June 1st we start from the bottom and make our way to the very top.
Today’s team: The Detroit Red Wings. Check out our previous 30 in 30 articles here.
NHL’s 30 in 30: Detroit Red Wings
Finishing 12th overall, the Detroit Red Wings posted a record of 43-25-14 to end up with 100 points, placing them in the third place finish in the Atlantic division and just one point ahead of the wild card Ottawa Senators. Their home record (22-10-9) accumulated for 53 points. Their away record (21-15-5) was reasonable enough to earn them enough points to make the dance. While they cut it close at the end, the Red Wings made the playoffs for a 24th consecutive season, but were ousted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.
The 2014-15 Regular Season
It came down to game seven and the Detroit Red Wings were once again eliminated in the Conference quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive years. They put up a good fight but were unable to contain the TKO line, a line that helped propel the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final. A place that hasn’t been familiar to the Red Wings since 2009. With aging stars and a new head coach in town, the Red Wings management is banking on some of their promising future start to become a bigger part of the present and help bring Detroit to the dance, continuing their legacy as a preferential playoff team.
The problem is, two of the biggest contributors in Detroit are starting to hit their mid-30s and what they have to offer to the team may not be enough going forward. Pavel Datsyuk has been a magician with the puck for his entire career. That trend continued last season and the issue isn’t diminishing work ethic or effort, although his ice-time was down to an average of around 19 minutes last season. It has more to do with injuries, as Datsyuk has missed a few dozen games over the last two seasons. Henrik Zetterberg has also been a continuing contributor as a two-way forward, but his ice-time was down as well and he struggled to score, notching just two goals in the final portion of the season and behind held goalless in the playoffs. 35-year-old Johan Franzen saw his ice-time shortened as well, but he suffered a concussion on January 6 and did not return for the remainder of the season. He can still be effective in a complimentary role, but for how long?
Luckily for Detroit, they have a surge of youth leaving their stamp on the team. Tomas Tatar was a goal shy of the 30 mark, but put up a career-high in goals and points (56). He’s been one of the best young forward in Detroit in a long while, and continues to learn the trade alongside veterans Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Riley Sheahan has also come in and played an effective role, dominating play as a two-way center. His ability to control the game defensively while pitching in sometimes offensively, he’s added a dynamic to the team that allows the team’s more offensively gifted players a chance at better match-ups. After scoring 48 points in 57 games last season, Gustav Nyquist‘s production took a dip. Still 54 points (27 goals, 27 assists) in 82 games is nothing to scoff at. Justin Abdelkader also provided another element to the Red Wings with his physical edge, but also put up career-highs in goals (23), assists (21) and points (44).
The top-pairing of Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson struggled with tough assignments last season. Ericsson’s advanced statistics took somewhat of a beating, as he was expected to be more controlling on the team’s first pairing, however they were poor when compared to the rest of the team. Danny DeKeyser is likely one of the better free agent signings for Detroit in recent memory, as he’s provided a stable presence in the Red Wings top-4. His ability to move the puck up the ice has been a welcomed attribute among the Red Wings faithful. Unfortunately, not much can be said for Kyle Quincey, who could be bumped down to the third pairing next season. He is a veteran on the last year of his contract, but gets exposed when logging more minutes.
Jimmy Howard has been one of the better goaltenders over the years, but the last two seasons have been a struggle for him. Howard has averaged a .910 save percentage and a 2.55 goals against in the two years, but he’s been reduced to a combined 104 games during that stretch. Having played only one game in the post-season, it appears he could be conceding the goal next year to 22-year-old Petr Mrazek. The young netminder from Ostrava played 29 games last season and 6 games in the post-season. Even through a losing effort, Mrazek played well and captured the attention of hockey fans, leaving doubt about Howard’s future as a starting goaltender.
General Manager Ken Holland saw his team was in a fight for positioning in the playoffs and pulled the trigger on two moves. First, he sent prospects Mattias Backman and Mattias Janmark, as well as a 2015 2nd-round pick to Dallas for big forward Erik Cole and a conditional 2015 3rd-round pick. Holland then added some depth to his blue-line a day later, acquiring Marek Zidlicky from New Jersey for a conditional 2016 3rd-round pick.
The Off-Season and Free Agents
Heading into the off-season, the Detroit Red Wings have a total of ten free agents to decide on. Of the ten free agents, five of them are restricted to the team, including forwards Gustav Nyquist, Joakim Andersson, Tomas Jurco, Teemu Pulkkinen and Landon Ferraro, and defenseman Brendan Smith. Forwards Erik Cole and Daniel Cleary, defenseman Marek Zidlicky, and goaltender Jonas Gustavsson are the upcoming unrestricted free agent. In terms of non-roster players, General Manager Ken Holland will have to decide on four restricted free agents and three unrestricted free agents.
The Red Wings have 10 forwards, five defensemen and two goaltenders signed or next season, with about $15 million in cap space to fill the gaps. What will be interesting to watch out for is if the forward prospect group can make an impact as an NHL regular. Up front, they have a great future with kids like Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha. Getting Pulkkinen re-signed, along with the rest of their youth is key and they’ll have ample space to do so. While they still have a need in their top-six, perhaps a youngster can pick up the slack and impress at training camp.
The more pressing need is in their top-4, as Quincey is more suited for a bottom-pairing role. With the money they currently have available, Holland could make an honest pitch at defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Paul Martin, Mike Green, Johnny Oduya or Cody Franson. If he can work out the numbers right, he may even land two and that would be an astounding change to his blue-line, enough so to propel them to fighting for the top spot in the Atlantic division.
Another option, and likely the most inexpensive one, is to entrust prospects like Xavier Ouellet and Alexey Marchenko. Both have played for new Head Coach Jeff Blashill and could add an injection of youth and intensity. If one can crack the line-up, a solution to keeping their upbringing to a full swing would be to fetch a veteran like Francois Beauchemin to hold the prospect’s hand.
The Draft Table
Holland and his scouting staff should be pretty busy at the upcoming draft, as the Detroit Red Wings hold six picks in seven rounds. Despite having no 2nd-round selection, Detroit has two picks in the top-75. In all the Red Wings select 19th, 73rd, 110th, 140th, 170th and 200th. Their 2nd-round pick belongs to Dallas as part of the Erik Cole trade, and their 3rd-round pick, initially traded to the Blue Jackets, now belongs to the Ducks, however they own Dallas’ 3rd-round pick due to not reaching the Eastern conference final.
If it’s a skilled centerman, the Red Wings could be tempted to select either Colin White or Joel Eriksson-Ek. For Eriksson-Ek, he excelled in a league of men, playing a great two-way game, getting physical down-low and proving to be an intelligent player. There really isn’t much wrong to be said about him. White suffered through some bad luck last season, which included a battle with mono sickness, but upon his return he showed his brilliance and high hockey IQ. Jakub Zboril would be a prime candidate if the Wings are looking at a defenseman. Excelling at all facets of the game, Zboril is as effective shutting down lanes on the penalty kill as he is creating chances on the powerplay. He brings in interesting combination of both size and skill, and brings a dependability to his play.
At the 73rd selection, forwards like Keegan Kolesar, Anthony Cirelli and Dennis Yan are all viable prospects to target at that point, as well as defensemen Kyle Capobianco and Erik Cernak.
Heading into next season, it will be interesting to watch how new Head Coach Jeff Blashill takes charge of a team that brings both skilled veterans and a booming youth. Their push for a 25th consecutive playoff appearance could hang in the balance of who guards the pipes and what their offense can do with so much talent and energy.
CHICAGO, IL – FEBRUARY 18: Members of the Detroit Red Wings mob Jimmy Howard #35 (L) after a shootout win over the Chcago Blackhawks at the United Center on February 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. The Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)