2016-17 Puck Drop Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2016-17, where LastWordOnHockey.com gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Makes sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2016-17 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today we continue with the Detroit Red Wings.

2016-17 Puck Drop Preview: Detroit Red Wings

Last Season

Though a bright and shiny silver “25” glittered brightly at center ice commemorating a campaign in which the Red Wings made it a quarter-century straight in terms of playoff appearances, 2015-16 was a struggle for Detroit on many levels. They needed the Boston Bruins to lose on the final day so they could back into the Playoffs tied in points (93) but carrying the edge in regulation plus overtime wins by one victory (39-38).

Shifting to a new system under a rookie head coach can be difficult, but its made even more challenging when the incumbent bench boss held the position for a decade playing a distinct, low-risk brand of hockey aiming to get most out of the players he had. That was Mike Babcock, always pressing his team to play to the structure and not get caught out of position. Jeff Blashill, on the other hand, wants his defense to be way more active and aggressive in keeping the offensive play alive. One could see how there could be growing pains, especially with an aging core consisting of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Niklas Kronwall, who played out the primes of their careers in Babcock’s system.

Indecisiveness on both sides of the puck hurt Detroit all season long to the tune of the 23rd ranked offense (2.55 goals-for per game) and 17th ranked defense (2.67 goals-against per game). Assistant coach Pat Ferschweiler could not rekindle the fire of Jim Hiller‘s philosophy last season, and the man advantage went from having four players score eight or more power play goals on the league’s second-best unit in 2014-15 (23.5%) to one in Datsyuk (eight) with both units struggling to produce much of anything as they hovered in the bottom ten of the league for much of the year before riding a hot streak that saw them finish at 13th (18.8%). Gustav Nyquist went from 14 man advantage markers to seven, a big part of his regression. It is surprising to see how worse the unit was when they added a dynamic, right-handed shooting defenseman in Mike Green that offseason, who contributed five power play goals and 20 man advantage points, the fourth time he’s done that in his career and first time since 2009-10.

With virtually no goal scoring of substance to support the tandem of Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek, the Wings were involved in 47 (!!!) one-goal games last season, rarely having an easy win. The team did not post more than one four-game winning streak all season long and just never seemed to hit their stride.

Through it all, however, they did, as mentioned before, make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Wings did not last long, however, as they were ousted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in a series that was closer than the amount of games indicated. However, Detroit’s drought continued, as they scored just two goals each of the first four games and were shutout in the clinching game for the second year in a row. It was the third consecutive season Detroit had been ousted in the opening round.

Off-season

Detroit had one of their more eventful offseasons in a while. General Manager Ken Holland decided to completely rearrange the coaching staff, letting penalty killing coach Tony Granato leave to become the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, not renewing goaltending coach Jim Bedard‘s contract for the first time in 18 seasons, and reassigning Ferschweiler to the press box all made way for experienced external and internal replacements.

Doug Houda, who had spent the past ten seasons with the Bruins working with the defensemen the past two, was hired to work the penalty kill. Through his tenure, the majority of his work was done on the shorthanded unit, one that placed in the top ten three times. John Torchetti, who spent the final 27 games as the Minnesota Wild‘s interim head coach, was tabbed to replace Ferschweiler working with the power play unit. He went 15-11-1 helping the Wild right the ship after losing 13 of their past 14 games prior to the promotion. In the NHL, the teams he served as an assistant for ranked in the top-15 in the League on the power play four times. Finally, to replace Bedard, the Wings went internal and promoted Grand Rapids Griffins goaltending coach Jeff Salajko, who spent the past three seasons there working with Mrazek the first two seasons. A “special bond” formed between them and he’s looking to introduce a special video program for him and Howard to follow in preparation for the upcoming season.

The biggest bombshell for the team in the offseason was undoubtedly Datsyuk choosing to leave for the KHL and retire from the Red Wings with one campaign left in the three-year contract he signed back in 2013. Since he was over 35 when at the time of the inking, the $7.5 million cap hit would have stayed on Detroit’s books for the upcoming season. Holland worked his magic on draft day however, unloading the full deal to Arizona while moving just four spots downward from 16th overall, creating a buzz that the Wings would be huge players for pending unrestricted free agent Steven Stamkos. In the deal, the Wings did pass on defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who was selected by the Coyotes with the pick. He was expected at one time to crack the top five. The Wings ultimately selected defenseman Dennis Cholowski, who stylistically compares to the one time offensive dynamo from the back end, Brian Rafalski.

On July 1st with Stamkos signed back in Tampa Bay as part of possibly the craziest hour of activity in NHL history, the Red Wings were looking to fill some holes up front and add some scoring punch.

The top target for Detroit ever since the Lightning captain stayed was New York Islanders center Frans Nielsen, and just after 12:00 pm they signed him to a six-year, $31.5 million deal with and AAV of $5.35 million per season. Before the crucial addition, the Wings re-signed bottom-six wingers Darren Helm and Drew Miller, with the former getting a five-year contract at $3.85 million per season and the latter signing a one-year pact to stay as depth after missing most of the season with a torn ACL. However, the Wings weren’t done after that, as they increased the depth of their forward pool with Thomas Vanek joining the group on a one-year, $2.6 million deal following a buyout from the Wild. Former St. Louis Blues winger Steve Ott came after him on another one-year deal, adding some agitation that the Wings have rarely possessed the past decade. Forward Matt Lorito was brought in as depth for Grand Rapids as they looked to replace Andy Miele.

Later in July, the Wings re-signed another depth forward, Luke Glendening, to a four-year contract and re-upped two key restricted free agents in Danny Dekeyser and Mrazek. Dekeyser received quite a payraise at $5 million per season for the next six years and Mrazek settled before arbitration at $4 million per season for the next two campaigns.

Forwards

Justin AbdelkaderDylan Larkin-Gustav Nyquist
Henrik Zetterberg-Frans Nielsen-Tomas Tatar
Thomas Vanek-Darren Helm-Riley Sheahan
Andreas Athanasiou-Luke Glendening-Steve Ott
Martin Frk, Drew Miller, (pick your poison at this point)

First Line

Holland hinted at Dylan Larkin moving to the middle this season to take some responsibilities away from Zetterberg, who will miss the World Cup of Hockey due to injury. He’ll be turning 36 in October and is already dealing with back surgery just two years ago. It makes perfect sense, given the fact that Larkin’s natural position is center and he put on a show a few months ago with Team USA at the World Championships from that position in the top six, netting two goals and nine points in ten games. His experience gained from playing a majority of the year on Zetterberg’s wing will make the transition easier despite added responsibility, and captain of the Swedish National Team may be inclined to produce more individual offense from the wing as he winds down his career.

Nyquist will need to prove that 2015-16 was just an aberration. Going from 28 and 27 goals respectively in 2013-14 and 2014-15, he had just 17 last season. His ice time also took a big cut, going down a full 1:29 from last season. As mentioned before, Torchetti will have a big responsibility in reigniting Nyquist’s fire as a power play dynamo, going from 24 man advantage points to just 12 last season. The speed of Larkin and Nyquist will complement each other with Abdelkader serving as a power forward and protector for both that could also add some scoring, posting back-to-back 40+ point seasons. The personal preference in the player previews series was that Abdelkader not play in the front six for the team. However, expect him there with how he is valued.

Second Line

Tomas Tatar has played with Nielsen at the World Cup exhibition games, and he, like Nyquist, will need to put last season in the rearview mirror. He did post his third straight 19+ goal season with 21, but coming off of a 29-goal campaign where he nearly touched 60 points, it was an utterly disappointing regression. The message for this season: shoot. He fired 165 shots that made it on net in 2015-16, 46 less than his near-30 goal campaign. Zetterberg will be in the top six regardless of his move to wing, and it will be interesting to see how him and Nielsen partner up with his Eurotwin gone for good.

Bottom Six

There are a few knowns for Detroit in the bottom six as confirmed recently by Holland. Helm will be moving back to his original position of center on the third line, a sensible move for his role. In 2014-15 from the middle, he set a career high in face-off percentage at 53.7% out of 415 draws. Taking less than 100 last year after being an experiment in the top six as a puck retriever for Datsyuk, Helm should be more comfortable in his natural habitat and has spoken such already. His health will be a big factor however, as after his mishap in training camp he didn’t seem the same going the first 24 games with just one goal.

On his wings, Helm should have Vanek on the left at least to to start the season. He could be moving up and down the lineup given his past scoring prowess. The wild card is the right side, with Sheahan moving there and the electrifying Athanasiou not guaranteed a spot on the team just yet. Moving out of the middle will be beneficial for the Notre Dame product to produce more offense. Employed at center usually between Nyquist and Tatar 8.64% of the season on Blashill’s 2nd most consistent threesome, he, like both of his line mates, struggled to take the next step.

Though the 24-year old center scored a career-high 14 goals, his point total took a sharp decline to 26 points and could have been worse if not for his ten points and six goals in the final 19 games. He struggled to build upon his solid face-off showing, dropping to 45.8% winning percentage on 200 less draws from the year before when he surpassed 50%. With less responsibility, the incentive is there for Sheahan to produce more individually. He’s currently got 128 shots as a career high so far in his career, so expect that to go up in an effort to utilize his wicked wrist shot, one that has beaten the likes of Carey Price rather easily in the past.

The fourth line is pretty much set in the middle with Glendening at center, as his work on the penalty kill is valued as evidenced by his 254:54 logged shorthanded, the most of any forward in the NHL. As the Wings’ best face-off man (54.6%), he’s a keeper to the organization fresh off of a four-year extension in the summer, but should be limited more on the PK in favor of the skilled system that Houda brings. In terms of who will play on Backhand Luke’s wings? Pull a name out of a hat, because the options are abundant.

Teemu Pulkkinen and Tomas Jurco are already out due to injuries that will cause them to miss the start of the year, so that lightens the load for a brief while. Ott was brought in to provide agitation, which is welcomed on a team that has lacked such for the better part of the past decade. Realizing his life-long dream to play for Detroit and given his appearances at community events such as that of the Hockeytown 5K, it looks like he’s going to be given a role, but nothing is set in stone, of course. Miller has little to offer in terms of offense and possession, scoring 17 goals in the past 236 games posting an individual Corsi-for rating of -14.4 the past 110 games he’s suited up for and should not take up a roster spot.

While depth in the bottom six is great to have over the course of an NHL season where injuries are bound to happen, retaining Helm and Miller AND signing Ott will take away a job from a youngster on a team that needs to go that route. For example, the agitator spot could have been won by say, winger Tyler Bertuzzi, who has enjoyed a 40-goal season in junior and back-to-back strong playoff performances at the professional level the past two seasons with Grand Rapids scoring seven goals in each. Anthony Mantha hit a few goal posts en route to making his mark with two NHL goals in ten games played last season. Athanasiou scored just four fewer goals than Zetterberg in 45 less contests than he played. Frk, who enjoyed a resurgent year in Grand Rapids scoring 27 goals, is out of options, so he has to make the team out of camp if he wants to remain with the organization.

It’s anyone’s guess what the fourth line will look like to the left and right of Glendening, especially with the Wings still $4 million over the salary cap. Training camp is fast approaching with the first preseason game in less than two weeks, and Holland has until the end of camp to get the team in the green. Stay tuned on this one, but history suggests Ott will be at least one of the wingers. Athanasiou made way too much of an impact not to be on the roster, but to see his skill be mitigated on the fourth line with two grinders would not be ideal for his development. Hence the other signings.

Defensemen

Danny Dekeyser-Mike Green
Brendan SmithAlexey Marchenko
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Xavier Ouellet

It is hard to classify the top pairing on the Red Wings, considering they do not have an elite bonafide puck mover (adjectives) that doesn’t grow on trees. After July 1st, there was much speculation that one of either Nyquist or Tatar may be shipped for a puck-mover a la Kevin Shattenkirk, Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen, or even Cam Fowler. A trade has yet to be made, and with the aforementioned salary concerns looks bleak. Nonetheless, Let’s try to build Detroit’s pairs that they’ll be rolling out on opening night.

First Pairing

Turning 31 years old right before the season starts, Green, though he had his struggles at the start of the year, came in and did his job. He led the already offensively weak Red Wing defense in points with 35, power play goals and points with five and 20 respectively, and shots with 124. His impact flew under the radar due to the team’s inconsistency overall on the blueline, but he was one of few, if not the best puck mover on the brigade checking in at 56.3% in terms of Corsi-for percentage overall to go along with a solid +6.1 individual rating. Every other Red Wing defenseman besides Smith finished with a negative rating. He, like Smith, could be a little bit more selfish, firing his lowest amount of shots on net in a season where he played over 70 games since ’09-10 (124). Expect him to continue his offensive output this season and surpass it as the team enters its second year in Blashill’s system.

Rewarded (and overpaid) for his solid work on Detroit’s blueline over his first 234 NHL games, Dekeyser has assumed an anchored position on Detroit’s blueline in the top four. Equipped with natural hockey sense and the ability to get on the scoresheet as seen with him setting career highs in points and goals over the past two seasons, the 26-year old has been battled tested in his development. Last season, he logged 209 minutes on the penalty kill and a career-high 21:48 per game. With the injury histories of Kronwall and Ericsson, especially the latter’s hip arthritis, Dekeyser will have to take an even bigger leap this season in assuming a two-way spot up top with a bonafide puck mover in Green. Having a defensive presence like Dekeyser next to him, Green could be more inclined to take more risks with pinches to keep plays alive.

Second Pairing

Moreso on the defensive side of the puck similar to how Green and Dekeyser would line up, Marchenko would be the rather offensive Smith’s back-up piece. In his first full NHL season, the 24-year old didn’t score like an all-star, but logging 16:49 TOI, he eased his way into the big leagues and didn’t look out of place. The Red Wings wanted to see what they had in the former restricted free agent last year, and they apparently were pleased with what they saw rewarding him with a 2-year contract. He may have played more due in part to Kyle Quincey‘s ankle injury, but nonetheless, contributed mightily on the penalty kill finishing fourth on the defense with 139:59 TOI logged. Look out for him to play an elevated role this season as the young legs supplant the old.

Third Pairing

In his heyday, Kronwall had the luxury of playing with Nicklas Lidstrom in the twilight of his career and even assumed Detroit’s top spot on the back-end turning in back-to-back 40-point seasons after Lidstrom retired. In the present, especially with the new knee injury he sustained, Blashill should limit Kronwall’s role this season and let the younger legs take over. The same goes for Jonathan Ericsson. Already battling an aforementioned hip ailment, he turned the puck over 61 times last year to lead the Red Wings, including 13 times shorthanded. He hasn’t eclipsed 20 points in a season and is not a strong possession player by any means, but was valued for his experience and size last season along with Kronwall. If the team knows what’s good for them, they must reduce this pairing’s role so they can be fresh and possibly get the most out of their ice time.

Xavier Ouellet will be taking over the spot left by Quincey and should become a regular in the bottom pairing by season’s end. He’s been on the cusp of making the Red Wings full time in the past two campaigns, getting an extended look in 2014-15 when he suited up in 21 games posting two goals and three points. He won’t wow with offensive ability, but as a puck-mover and two-way player, the Wings will get a good look at him this year to determine his future in also supplanting Kronwall and Ericsson. With one year remaining on his deal and 183 AHL games under his belt, he’s more than seasoned to move to the next level.

Ryan Sproul will get a good look in camp as well. Expected to sign a one-year contract before camp opens, he’d have to clear waivers for the Wings to retain him if he gets cut in the preseason. A former second round pick in 2011, the 6’4″ righty set career highs in goals and points last year with 12 and 35 respectively, including an impressive nine points in nine playoff games. One name to watch for as the next man up to these two: Robbie Russo. A right-handed power play man, he notched 39 points in his first pro season with the Grand Rapids Griffins. He will make his NHL debut this year in case of injury and/or  if Sproul is claimed off of waivers.

Goalies

Petr Mrazek

In the 1A-1B system the Wings employed, Mrazek took the job and ran with it starting in November. Going 18-9-5 in a span of 29 starts from November 6th to February 12th with a .935 save percentage, the rising Czech carried the team on his back for much of the winter. What’s more, he got two goals or fewer in 18 games during that stretch, signifying how sharp the young net minder had to be each and every night. Sooner or later, a fall back to earth had to happen, and for the former Ottawa 67, it was a hard one. Since February 14th, Mrazek lost his mojo and posted a 6-7-1 record allowing three or more goals six times with a save percentage of .866.

He would come back in the playoffs after Howard was relieved of his starting duties after Game 2 and naturally shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third time in his last ten playoff starts while posting a .945 save percentage in three games.

Overall, it was a solid first campaign for Detroit’s projected goalie of the future posting a 2.33 goals against average and .921 save percentage, but Detroit doesn’t seem 100% sold as of yet with the inconsistency lurking. He was awarded a new deal for the development he has taken up so far, and will have these two years to prove his worth. Salajko and him go back to his times in Grand Rapids, so he should help Mrazek grow his game and retail overall consistency. He’s only 24 and still has plenty of room to grow into a bonafide star.

Jimmy Howard

Many thought Howard was as good as gone this offseason. However, with the goalie market dried up right now, that doesn’t seem likely. To say last season was a struggle for the 32-year old was an understatement. After posting a .928 save percentage in October and winning four of six starts in November, it seemed like Detroit’s goalie tandem would be solid with the Syracuse native fully recovered from an groin injury sustained in 2014-15. However, this would be fool’s gold, as the season went straight into a tailspin for Detroit’s second round choice in 2003.

Allowing three or more goals twelve times in a 14-game stretch from November 13th to February 15th, there was some talk that the Wings might deal him at the deadline and just give him a fresh new start. Holland held on, and to his credit, Howard rewarded him by regaining some of his confidence getting more and more starts with Mrazek struggling. He was a big reason the Wings got into the dance, winning four of five crucial games down the stretch posting a .930 save percentage in those five games. However, he lost his net again to Mrazek after getting lit up by Tampa Bay.

Players to Watch

Frans Nielsen

The Red Wings have finally found a bonafide second-line center in Nielsen. Posting at least 20 goals and 50 points two of the last three seasons, the fit just feels right given his all-around play. He logged 200+ minutes on the power play posting seven goals and 20 points while grinding out 160+ on the NHL’s fourth best penalty kill last season. He also set a career high in face-off winning percentage and has posted five seasons of 50+ takeaways in his career. Though he is 32 and his contract probably will overstay its welcome in the latter years, it was a move that needed to be made given the circumstances and for the time being will give the Wings stability there as Larkin matures. Fun fact here, he’s the all-time leader in shootout goals and game-deciding markers in the skills competition with 42 and 17 respectively. The Red Wings have gone 13-29 in their past 42 skills competitions. Brace for your savior, Hockeytown.

Thomas Vanek

The 32-year old left winger has a $2.6 million price tag on him for one season, so the team hopes he is motivated to re-establish himself again on the big stage. This has a chance to be a big get for Detroit, especially on the power play, where he’s scored 124 of his 316 career goals. Before 2014-15, Vanek had posted 25+ goals and 60+ points in six of the prior seven full seasons. Given his track record and motivation to get more shots coming off of a third straight year that saw those numbers decline, 20 goals is not unreasonable and if he can attain that mark it would be a big win the team. For a more detailed look at how Vanek stacks up this season, check out his complete player preview.

Brendan Smith

Yes, Mr. Smith has some work to do offensively, scoring a total of 13 goals through his first 258 NHL games, but all the potential is there for him to have more of an impact on the scoresheet this year. With the addition of Green, individually, his Corsi-for relative ratio went up nearly five ticks from ’14-15 to +7.2 more shot attempts generated by the team while he was on the ice last season boasting a cool 56.8% overall Corsi-for percentage. He was not a lock in the lineup last season, getting 17:36 TOI, good for sixth on the blueline behind even Ericsson. On the power play where he could be a shining star equipped with a damn cannon, it was even more disproportionate, as he was given the limited opportunity of 38:37. Smith still had more power play goals than Kronwall in that cup of coffee with one marker on the man advantage playing almost 150 minutes less. In a season where he grew more than ever defensively cutting his turnovers down 12 from ’14-15, the Wings need to let the kid have some fun with more of an opportunity to be an impact player from the back end, especially (!!!) on the power play.

Players on the Rise

Dylan Larkin

Of course D-Boss has to lead the way here. From leading the team in goals (23), game-winning tallies (5), and shots (221), it was a culture-shifter for Detroit to have a teenager in their starting lineup on opening night and even more of a boost to see him do well in a top role. Shifting to the middle is the right decision for the former Michigan Wolverine‘s development, as now with a season on the wing under his belt, he can now go back to his original position and learn how to succeed at that position at the top level in the world. Look for him to get way more reps on the penalty kill (8:25 TOI in ’15-16) in addition to the power play as the Red Wings continue to gradually lead Larkin into the league pool. For a more detailed look at his season coming up, here is his complete player preview.

Andreas Athanasiou

These two should get into a contest to see who’s faster. Athanasiou appeared in 37 games for Detroit last season and was igniting the crowd with every stride, notching nine goals and 14 points in 9:01 average ice time. Though his defensive game needs work, there is no reason he should be in Grand Rapids to start the year other than roster troubles out of his control. He will be subject to getting used to a full, 82-game schedule and will carry some growing pains along with many of the young Wings assimilating into the lineup, but when you have a guy that can create so much adrenaline in the building with his skill set, he has to be used to his role. This is now difficult considering the aforementioned log jam up front. The ideal spot for him would be on the third line with Helm and Vanek to combined speeds with a pure sniper, but he’ll have to battle Sheahan for that honor.

He has a good shot with skill like this:

via GIPHY

Players on the Decline

Henrik Zetterberg

The captain still logged a great deal of time up front even at 35 years of age (19:25 TOI), leading all Red Wing forwards in power play ice time at 255:54. However, it’s time to cut those figures down a peg. Though his ’15-16 campaign got off to a sizzling start with 14 points in his first 11 contests, Z battled a second half swoon that saw him score three goals in the final 27 games before January 1st. This stretch included a 14-game goalless drought. Things didn’t get much better as the season progressed, ending the year with one tally in the final 24 contests. The past three seasons, his face-off winning percentage has declined and he nearly tied his career low for takeaways in a season. Usually a playoff performer with 120 points in 137 career tournament contests logged, Z has posted just two goals and six points in his last 14 Stanley Cup Playoff contests, all first round exits. Things won’t be much better this season, as Z will have to deal with the aforementioned nagging knee injury that will knock him out of the World Cup.

Niklas Kronwall

Public service announcement like it’s the Slim Shady LP: Niklas Kronwall is not a number one defenseman anymore. Last year he was hampered by a knee injury and looked very much like a 35-year old defenseman that’s seeing his legs and energy erode, scoring three goals and 26 points, the worst offensive showing for him in a season where he played in more than 60 games since 2006-07, his rookie season. Yet, he still logged a tremendous amount of minutes leading the blueline with an average of 22:00 logging 182 and 143 minutes on the power play and penalty kill respectively. Like Zetterberg, he will be missing the World Cup and for as much of a decline that we saw out of him last season, in a year where he will turn 36, the downward trend could continue if the knee persists.

Jimmy Howard

It’s difficult to project how Howard will perform this season given it is the same exact situation as last year. Overall, it was the worst season of his career numbers wise: 14-14-5, .906 save percentage, 2.80 goals against average. Though Mrazek showed for a time why he’ll be the number one, he still endured inconsistencies. Howie was ok with the notion of a trade and knew that his name would float around, and one would have to think after the season he had last year he’s pretty shocked to be coming back to Hockeytown. The transition to a new goalie coach will reinvigorate his game and the experience is a great safety net to have, but in reality he should be a starter on a new team and gone by the trade deadline. One number has gotten in the way of that: $5.3. A lot of that will hinge on where the team is in the standings.

2016-17 Predictions

With so much change in terms of management, players, and philosophy over the past year, the Red Wings are an intriguing team. This past season showed how vulnerable the state of the squad was in terms of inconsistency and really the state of the game catching up with the organization. The Wings went through their latest significant retirement process with Datsyuk heading home to Russia to play in the KHL, a changing of the guard that will be odd to live with. The team has two forwards remaining from the 2008 Stanley Cup Championship squad, and that’s Helm and Zetterberg, the latter of which is on the cusp of his career twilight.

The salary cap is now entering its 11th season, and the Red Wings, if not already, are finally starting to feel the brunt of its parity-inducing power. The 25-year playoff streak is a badge of honor for the organization, but since 2009’s Cup Final loss to Pittsburgh, the Red Wings have entered an era of average and the streak is becoming a tire. The past three seasons have seen first round losses to teams with bonafide superstars in Boston and Tampa Bay (Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, etc.). The Red Wings, once littered with superstars throughout the lineup, no longer have even one that can carry them far and realize their Cup dreams as a spoil of their endured success. Larkin, Nyquist, Mrazek and Tatar still have room to grow into those, but as of this moment, the team lacks a player that they can lean on to contribute each and every night besides their goaltender.

Overall, the big key for Detroit this season is having everyone on the same page in Blashill’s system. The new coaching staff in place will do wonders for the second-year coach in learning from experienced men who have been in his position and others at the NHL level for decades. Torchetti and Houda will add different elements to their respective positions and use their experience to put the players in the best possible places for success. The theme, aided by the retirements of Datsyuk and Richards, will be the prevalence of youth.

Nyquist and Tatar will end up bouncing back with credit to the new coaches finding out ways to get them back on track. Mrazek will prove his worth and will be rewarded with more goal support. Larkin will assume the top center spot and struggle at times, but will grow as the season progresses showing flashes of his bright future. The offseason additions, especially Vanek and Nielsen, will do their part as well. The blueline will be a question mark all season long and show off some inconsistency, but will hold together enough for Detroit to make it back to the postseason for the 26th consecutive season. Beyond that, they have the ability to steal a playoff series if they get in, but are not a Stanley Cup contender by any means.

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