Key Offseason Losses: Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja,
Key Offseason Additions: Mike Modano, Ruslan Salei, Jiri Hudler
Last Season Ranking: 5th in West
Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are the bread and butter of the Red Wings in terms of offensive talent. But after down seasons last year, coach Mike Babcock has decided to reunite the Euro-twins on the top line and hope for bounce back seasons from both players in terms of production. Datsyuk could easily shoot right back up to the 90-point plateau and Zetterberg could see himself back into the 80s. These two players work so well together that it’s difficult to keep them separated for too long.
But the Wings have more star power on the second line in left wing Johan Franzen. If healthy, Franzen is an excellent power forward and a 30+ goal scorer. However, Franzen has never played an entire NHL season and was limited to only 27 regular season games last year after suffering a knee injury. Health will be a huge concern again this season, but if Franzen is in the lineup he is a vital part of the team’s offense.
Joining Franzen on the second line will most likely be center Valtteri Filppula and Todd Bertuzzi. The Wings are hoping that more playing time on one of the team’s top scoring lines will give Filppula the breakout season that they have been waiting for. Like many Wings last year, Filppula was limited to 55 games because of injury, but he could easily post 50 or more points in a healthy season playing with some of the Wings’ top talent.
The offseason addition of Mike Modano and reacquisition of Jiri Hudler make the Red Wings one of the deepest teams in the NHL in terms of offense. Modano will likely start the season centering Hudler and Dan Cleary on the third line. Hudler posted 23 goals during his last stint with the Wings before bolting to Russia and both Modano and Cleary are two years removed from hitting the 20-goal plateau themselves. This line could become a very versatile line for Babcock and could also be very pivotal for long-term success as they will mostly be lining up against the oppositions third-pairing defenseman.
The Wings boast a deep blue line as well with players like Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom contributing at both ends of the ice. At age 40, Lidstrom is still one of the premier defenseman in the game. Lidstrom notched 49 points last season and posted a plus-23 to show that he is still the main man on the Red Wings’ blue line. However, Rafalski was right there with Lidstrom last season with 42 points and a plus-23 rating.
Both Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart bring a physical dimension to the Wings’ lineup, and the addition of Ruslan Salai should help as well. Kronwall is also capable of contributing offensively but remains an injury risk. If healthy, Kronwall could post 40 or more points this season.
The Red Wing are really hoping for a bounce back season from Jonathan Ericsson. After a poor rookie campaign, Ericsson needs to show that he belongs with the big club – especially with rookie Jakub Kindl right on his heels for a roster spot. Kindl’s presence will create some healthy competition for playing time between himself, Ericsson and Salei.
In his rookie year, Jimmy Howard not only outplayed former Stanley Cup winner Chris Osgood to win the starting goaltender job, but he ranked near the top in many of the goaltending stat categories and was a huge reason why the Wings stayed in contention last season. The starting job will most likely be Howard’s to lose when the season opens next week, but Osgood is ready and more than able to step in and be the number one guy if that should happen. Many said that Osgood looked to be in mid-season form at training camp two weeks ago and could challenge Howard all year long. It will be interesting to see how the goaltending battle plays out, but both Howard and Osgood seem ready for the challenge and willing to step up should the other falter.
Injuries certainly hurt the team for much of the season last year and remain a concern for key players like Franzen and Kronwall. After two long playoff runs, the Wings should certainly benefit from a long summer that not only provides time to heal physically, but it also allows the players to regroup mentally. The Wings have the talent to compete for the top spot in the West and, barring some sort of epic collapse, should easily skate into a playoff spot.