Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, 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 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Detroit Red Wings.
Puck Drop Preview: 2018-19 Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings went into the second year of their rebuild after a 25-year stretch of making the Stanley Cup playoffs. Detroit hung in there for the first couple of months before the winged wheels fell off and finished fifth in the Atlantic Division. However, the Red Wings finished well off the pace for the second wild-card spot. The New Jersey Devils finished 24 points ahead of Detroit for that berth.
Detroit’s special teams were from being special as they finished 24th in power-play efficiency (17.5 percent) and 23rd on the penalty kill (77.5). Those difficulties were exacerbated by a defensive core that struggled and was hit by injuries.
General manager Ken Holland finally seemed to fully embrace the rebuild as he dealt Riley Sheahan, Scott Wilson, Petr Mrazek and Tomas Tatar for future draft picks. The Wings got younger in a hurry and gave plenty of players an opportunity.
Tyler Bertuzzi, Dominic Turgeon, Joe Hicketts and Evgeny Svechnikov all made their debuts with the big club during the season, Martin Frk and Luke Witkowski also recorded their first career goals in the NHL in 2017-18.
Anthony Mantha started putting his offensive game together as he led the team with 24 goals. Dylan Larkin was the top point-getter with 63 points and Henrik Zetterberg chipped in with 56. Jimmy Howard may not have possessed the best stats with a 2.85 goals-against-average and .910 save percentage, but managed to stay healthy most of the season.
Holland did sign many of the team’s younger players in Bertuzzi, Frk, Mantha, Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou. Detroit also made a deal to send Robbie Russo to the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional seventh-round selection.
The Wings are trying to get younger but did ink veterans Mike Green, Thomas Vanek, and Jonathan Bernier. Green was brought back after being injured at the trade deadline and wasn’t able to be dealt. Vanek returns to the club after being traded to the Florida Panthers at the 2017 deadline.
The biggest success of the off-season has been the draft as the Wings managed to have Zadina and Veleno fall to them. Pre-draft projections had both going in higher, but Detroit was able to snag both forwards.
Holland managed to spin deadline deals into a total of 10 draft choices. The Red Wings also addressed their defensive needs with three underrated selections.
Detroit is right up against the cap with $0 available after all of their off-season moves. The big deals were re-signing Larkin to a five-year deal worth $30.5 million and Green’s contract at two years and $10.75 million. Mantha and Athanasiou also signed similar two-year deals with Mantha getting $3.3 million and Athanasiou receiving $3 million.
2018-19 Line Combinations
Zetterberg was excluded because of the doubt surrounding his return. He would likely be slotted in as the second centre and would help with the depth issues at the position. The captain has been dealing with back issues in the off-season and would be placed on long-term injured reserve if he can’t play. The move would save $6 million on the cap.
Athanasiou would also become the second-line centre and open up a spot for another forward.
Zadina is free to move between Grand Rapids and Detroit after the league ruled that he was on loan to Halifax from his old Czech league team Pardubice. He is not bound by the NHL or CHL-only restriction.
Rasumussen will likely get the full nine-game audition before the team has to decide to sign him or return him to the Tri-City Americans of the WHL.
Frk and Witkowski will likely be the extra forwards that the team will carry and Turgeon would be called up if any of the centres get injured. Svechnikov will also get consideration if injuries strike.
The Nyquist-Helm-Vanek line does have previous experience together as they stood out in the 2016-17 season before Vanek was injured.
Trevor Daley-Filip Hronek
The Red Wings defence was old according to their general manager and will look that way at the start of the season. Green, Daley, and Kronwall are all over 30 years old, but will still play an important role at the beginning of the season.
However, the group could undergo some changes if the younger players like Hronek, Dennis Cholowski, Hicketts and Libor Sulak have strong training camps. Daley, Jonathan Ericsson, and Jensen could be trade bait for playoff teams if Detroit falls out of contention.
Howard reclaimed the top spot in net after staying healthy and after Mrazek struggled. The Syracuse native had a high workload last season as he played in 60 games. He may also be on the trade-block considering that his contract wraps up at the end of the season. Howard could make an interesting rental.
Bernier comes in after playing well for the Colorado Avalanche last season. He could be used more at the end of the season, especially if Howard is dealt. Detroit’s young goalies aren’t ready for primetime yet. Bernier could serve as the bridge while management figures out the heir apparent in net.
Players to Watch
The Michigan man is likely the team’s next captain and that could happen quicker than anticipated if Zetterberg is out long-term. He’s become a more well-rounded player, but he’ll next to take the next step if he wants to be the face of the Red Wings.
He’s on the last year of his current deal and could fetch a handsome return if traded. Nyquist netted 21 goals and 19 assists last season and is durable. The club will have to pay him if they want to keep him, but he could land picks and/or a prospect.
Detroit will need to get its power play in order if Nyquist wants to get more goals.
Players on the Rise
The Wings were fortunate to see the Czech scorer fall into their lap the sixth selection. He’s already made a good impression with his speed and scoring ability. Zadina wowed fans at the development camp earlier in the summer.
He’ll be able to come-and-go between NHL Detroit and AHL Grand Rapids, so he can pitch in if the Griffins want to get a Calder Cup.
The “Filip Fest” continues as the young defender has a strong chance to make the team. Hronek had a breakout season with 11 goals and 28 assists in 67 games in Grand Rapids. The 20-year-old is a solid two-way player with a great hockey IQ.
There’s hope the Wings will flip the switch and give kids like Hronek a chance.
Players on the Decline
It’s been speculated that this is the last season for the physical Swede. There’s plenty of younger talent waiting for an opportunity to get in the mix. Kronwall knows that he’s been slowing down over the years and injuries have limited him.
Kronwall will likely get a farewell tour before he likely hangs up his skates. It’s something Red Wings fans can look forward to in a likely long season.
2018-19 Season Prediction
The Atlantic Division has three solid teams in the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. However, the other teams in the division are in a state of flux. The Ottawa Senators seem to be in quite a mess and there’s a lot of uncertainty regarding the Montreal Canadiens, Buffalo Sabres, and Florida Panthers.
Detroit is very young in its forward spots but very old on defence. Red Wings’ management has done a great job piling up draft picks, but it’s now time to see if they’re the future of this organization.
Some want a quick return to the postseason, but others know that the team needs to go through growing pains. There’s a growing contingent inside the organization that wants to see how the young guys will rate. If the season gets away from them early, this will be the likely case.
The 2018-19 Detroit Red Wings will most likely not make the playoffs this season, but there’s a chance to stay out of the cellar. However, this won’t be a lost season if their younger players show development and offer some type of hope for the future.