This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Detroit Red Wings.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
23 years. That’s how long it’s been since the Red Wings missed the playoffs. They showed remarkable resiliency dealing with several injuries: just 4 of their top 16 scorers played 70+ games, and they still were better than half the league.
Until he went down with an injury, Gustav Nyquist was having an all-star calibre season. He led the Wings with 28 goals in just 59 games, a 39 goal pace over a full season. What’s more, he accomplished that in less than 17 minutes of ice-time per game. He put up the highest goals-per-60-minutes in the NHL.
Tomas Tatar also put up impressive points-per-60-minutes numbers, finishing ahead of names like Eric Staal, Anze Kopitar and Martin St. Louis. His 39 points in 73 games with just over 14 minutes of ice-time showed that he’s ready for a bigger role. In the 15 games he got 16 minutes or more, he scored 6 goals and 4 assists.
Riley Sheahan was another revelation for Detroit this past season. Thrown into the fire because of all the injuries, Sheahan is the latest in a long line of patiently developed young prospects in Detroit’s system. The 22 year-old responded with 24 points and a +8 in just 42 games played.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
With so many new faces in the lineup on a nightly basis, chemistry and consistency were hard to come by for the Red Wings last season. That resulted in them being a bottom 5 team in terms of holding a lead after the first and second periods.
Coming off what was arguably the best season of his career, goaltender Jimmy Howard found it difficult to find any consistency last season. Granted some of it was due to Nicklas Lidstrom’s retirement and the relatively young defense in front of him, but he simply has to give the Red Wings better than the .910 save percentage he supplied in the regular season.
Coming off an injury-plagued 2012-13, Stephen Weiss was signed as an unrestricted free agent to come in and take some pressure off top line centre Pavel Datsyuk. He managed to play just 26 games because of a groin injury and wasn’t very productive in the games he did play, scoring just 2 goals and 2 assists.
Todd Bertuzzi played in 59 games this past season, totaling just 16 points and a -17. Some of that was due to injury, but a lot of it was because of ineffectiveness. He only got into one playoff game for the Red Wings, and looked like he had very little left in the tank on most nights.
So what did they do to get better?
Despite having just over 5 million dollars in cap room with Danny DeKeyeser yet to sign, the Wings were not active at all this summer.
It’s hard to blame them however. If they can get all their top players back healthy for the start of the season, it would almost be like adding 5-6 top-flight free agents.
Player to watch
Defenseman Brendan Smith has loads of potential, and this may be the year we begin to see some of it be realized.
In 3 seasons at the University of Wisconsin, he scored 26 goals and 87 points in 95 games, before adding 86 points in 152 AHL games for Grand Rapids.
While he hasn’t yet been able to produce as much offense in the NHL, it’s only a matter of time given his excellent puck-moving ability.
While the Red Wings’ stars are getting a little long in the tooth, they are still among the best in the league at what they do.
They will make the playoffs if…
Don’t they always? Injuries and sub-par goaltending don’t even seem to stop them. While they are no longer an elite team, they are still a very dangerous opponent, capable of beating anyone.
They will miss the playoffs if…
At this point, it’s hard to imagine what it would take to finally knock them off. Having said that, I cannot believe that this team would be able to withstand the same level of bad luck they had last season. They need to stay healthy.
What should we expect this season?
Many people look at the 39 wins last season. They look at the 5 game defeat in the first round at the hands of the Boston Bruins. They look at the age of core players like Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall. They look at Jimmy Howard’s poor performance last year.
Stop looking at those things. Last season was an aberration. While the Red Wings’ stars are getting a little long in the tooth, they are still among the best in the league at what they do.
With a head coach like Mike Babcock behind the bench for at least one more season, and a full off-season to recover from the injury hell they suffered through last year, the Red Wings should return to form and be the last team anyone in the East wants to draw in round one.
45-28-9 99 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference