Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Detroit Red Wings

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Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2017-18, 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. Make 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 2017-18 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2017-18 Detroit Red Wings.

Puck Drop Preview: 2017-18 Detroit Red Wings

Last Season

Last year marked the end of an era in Hockeytown. The Red Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 26 years, and their 79 points marked their lowest output in a non-lockout season since 1986-87. The departure of star forward Pavel Datsyuk back to Russia and the roster as a whole under performing was the perfect storm to create a sub-optimal season.

The team did have a few bright spots, as Henrik Zetterberg defied father time for another season to lead the team with 68 points, which was his best season since 2011-12. They also received important contributions from young players like Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou.

This teams biggest issue has been their management of the salary cap which has kept them from signing players that can help them, and has made it tough to re-sign their young talented players. Until their cap situation is resolved, this team will continue to struggle near the bottom of the NHL standings.

Off-season

The off-season for the Detroit Red Wings was much more quiet than it has been in past years. Their lack of cap flexibility kept them from being big players in free agency. Their only two new acquisitions were defenseman Trevor Daley and defenseman Luke Witkowski. Daley brings the Stanley Cup experience and solid defense play that a team without much of that experience can use. Witkowski is a gritty player, who seems to fit the mold of players that coach Jeff Blashill has gravitated to during his tenure behind the Red Wings bench.

Daley will likely slot into a second defense pairing, and should see success there. Without the pressure of playing against the opposing teams he should see some success and bring stability to the back end. Witkowski doesn’t seem to have as good of a fit on the team. The Red Wings struggled immensely last season in terms of scoring, something that isn’t a strong suit for him.

The biggest move of the off-season was re-signing Tomas Tatar to a four year/$5.3 million AAV contract. Tatar was one of the few consistent sources of scoring for Detroit last season, and will be expected to maintain and improve on that level of play this season.

2017-18 Projected Line Combinations

Forwards

Gustav NyquistHenrik ZetterbergAnthony Mantha

Tomas TatarFrans NielsenDylan Larkin

Andreas Athanasiou* – Darren HelmJustin Abdelkader

Evgeny SvechnikovRiley SheahanTyler Bertuzzi

Other options: Martin Frk, Luke Glendening**, Luke Witkowski

  • * – This is assuming that Athanasiou stays with Detroit and doesn’t leave for the KHL, which looks more likely as the days pass.
  • ** – He will likely be a starter if he has recovered from his ankle surgery.

On paper their top six looks formidable and capable of them all scoring 20+ goals during the season. That talent shows why last season was so very disappointing as only one of those six players was able to cross the 20 goal plateau. Even their third line has two guys who are capable of scoring between 15-20 goals.

The biggest lineup question will be how much, if any, the two rookies will get to play this season. Many think both have the potential to make an impact this year, but Blashill has been hesitant to play young players in tight situations.

This team needs Zetterberg to be a complimentary piece this year, rather than the focal point that he was last year. When your best player was 36 years old, that is usually not a sustainable strategy for success, as was seen by the struggles that plagued the team all year last season.

Defense

Danny DeKeyserMike Green

Trevor DaleyXavier Ouellet

Nick JensenNiklas Kronwall

Other options: Jonathan Ericsson, Ryan Sproul

Since he joined Detroit as a college free agent out of Western Michigan University, Danny Dekeyser has been pegged as a top pair defenseman for the Red Wings. As he has filled that role season after season, it’s clear that he simply isn’t cut out for that role, but there are no better options on the roster so he continues to fill that role. It has caused him to play below his talent level and makes the whole defensive corps weaker.

Ouellet was a bright spot on the defensive side of the puck last season and has shown that he can handle playing on the second pair with Daley. The third defensive pairing will be determined by who is healthy at seasons start. Kronwall is essentially playing on one leg now, which is the same amount of healthy legs that Sproul has as well. Ericsson is also recovering from an injury, so the only lock at this point seems to be Jensen, but that could change as the season gets closer.

Goalies

Jimmy Howard

Petr Mrazek

Jared Coreau

Howard was the best goaltender on the Red Wings last season and it wasn’t particularly close. He was often injured, which pressed Mrazek into service and he struggled immensely. That allowed Coreau to get his first taste of NHL action, which was feast or famine. He had two shutouts, but was also pulled in multiple starts.

Howard start the year as the starter and if he is able to stay healthy, he should provide the Red Wings with their best chance to compete for a playoff spot this season.

Players to Watch

Andreas Athanasiou

This is assuming that Athanasiou does not bolt the Wings for a chance to play in the KHL. He is one of the most exciting players on the Wings roster and has the chance to score any time that he touches the puck. However, Ken Holland has botched negotiations and the salary cap and it appears that he may be the odd man out. If he does leave, this team could compete to be the worst team in the NHL

Tomas Tatar

Tatar cashed in the off-season to the tune of four years and $5.3 million AAV. He will once again be tasked to lead the offense. The team will need him to score at least the 25 goals that he scored last year to live up to his contract value.

Players on the Rise

Evgeny Svechnikov

Svechnikov may be the most improved player in the Red Wings organization. Early last season he struggled with maturity issues and the transition to professional play, but as the season went on he became one of the best players for the Griffins as the went on to win the Calder Cup.

Tyler Bertuzzi

Following a solid season with the Grand Rapids Griffins, Bertuzzi elevated his game to an even higher level during the Calder Cup Playoffs. He lead the team with 19 points on the way to winning the Griffins second Calder Cup in five seasons. He should be able to compete for playing time in the top nine forwards.

Player on the Decline

Niklas Kronwall

Once known for his big hits and stellar defensive play, Kronwall is now a shell of his former self. His recurring knee injuries seem to plague him every season and he is now more of a liability than an asset. Placing him on the long term injured reserve to help free some cap space may be the best course of action for the team.

2017-18 Season Prediction

The success of this team will weigh heavily on whether they are able to re-sign Andreas Athanasiou. He was an important part of their already weak scoring units. If he does leave for the KHL this team may finish in the very bottom of the league in scoring. They would need everyone else in their top six to score at least 20 goals to even be competitive.

Howard being healthy for a whole season may be able steal a few wins that they gave away last season. The best case scenario for this team would be to get around 90 points and hope that its a weak year in the Eastern Conference so they could slip into the playoffs as the eight seed.

More realistically is that the Red Wings simply don’t score well enough and finishes with a bottom five record, and they are at play for winning the draft lottery and getting a high draft pick. If you’re a fan of this team and hoping to see them make the playoffs once again, it might be best to avoid watching them this season. Victories are going to be few and far between.

Main Photo:

Embed from Getty Images

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