Key Offseason Losses: Brian Rafalski (retirement), Kris Draper (retired), Chris Osgood (retired), Ruslan Salei
Key Offseason Additions: Ian White, Mike Commodore
Last Season Ranking: 3rd in the West
Offense: Top line scoring isn’t a problem in Detroit with guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the lineup. If both players stay healthy, they are both capable of producing at a point-per-game pace. Don’t worry about them. Instead, this is the year for guys like Filppula and Hudler to prove their worth.
Detroit fans have been waiting for a breakout season from Valtteri Filppula. He has the skill, he has the hockey sense, now he just needs to put it together into one cohesive season. At the very least, Filppula should be a 20-goal, 50 point player with the Wings. He has yet to top 40 points in a single season. This could be his year if he centers the second line with Henrik Zetterberg on the wing. Filppula so far has impressed in the preseason and needs to carry that confidence into the regular season.
Hudler had a disappointing season last year after returning from the KHL. Fans called for Hudler to be traded, and Hudler responded with intense offseason workouts with UFC trainers. The result? Well, Hudler is in a contract year and the Wings expect him to be back into the 20 goal, 50 point range again. Coach Mike Babcock has alternated Hudler on Datsyuk’s wing at times this preseason, which could spark his offensive production if it carries over into the regular season. If Hudler doesn’t produce, however, he will likely be on the trading block come March.
The Wings would love to see more consistency from Johan Franzen, who scored five goals in one game against the Ottawa Senators last season and then went scoreless for more than 20 games. But Franzen, along with Dan Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi, provide the Wings with solid depth scoring. Expect the Wings to be among the league leaders in goals scored per game again this season.
Defense: Hockeytown breathed a collective sigh of relief when Nick Lidstrom announced his return, especially after Brian Rafalski blindsided Wings fans by announcing his retirement. But this season may be the year of a different Nik as Niklas Kronwall looks to shoulder more responsibility.
Kronwall will get heavy minutes this season and will fill roles usually occupied by Lidstrom on the penalty kill. Coach Mike Babcock wants to use Lidstrom sparingly, leaving room for Kronwall to blossom into a top defender.
Newcomer Ian White has bounced around the league the past few years, but he may finally find a home with the Wings where he will be counted on to help replace some of the offense the team lost when Rafalski retired. White, a good puck-moving defenseman, will see power play time and will likely be paired with Lidstrom this year, putting the chances of having a career season offensively firmly within reach.
Mike Commodore will help add some toughness and grit to the blue line, something the Wings lacked previosuly, while Jakub Kindl will likely challenge Commodore for the 6th spot on the blue line. Kindl has shown promise in limited playing time in the past and needs to prove his merits as an NHL defenseman.
Goaltending: Playing with the Wings, a goalie doesn’t have to steal many games. But Jimmy Howard was a big reason why the Wings were able to force a Game 7 against the San Jose Sharks in the spring. Coming into his third full NHL season, Howard needs to show more of that poise consistently throughout the season. This isn’t a make-or-break year for Howard, but he’s shown how good he can be and now he needs to realize that potential all season long. Expect Howard to win 30+ games this season.
Behind Howard will be a familiar face in Ty Conklin, a former Wing returning to the squad after a stint with St. Louis. If nothing else, Conklin is solid and capable when he’s called upon and should be a great addition to the roster.
Playoff Prediction: Playoff bound. The Wings are contenders, and with $5 million in cap space they could be big trade-deadline buyers as well. The team looks solid now and they could look even better when the playoffs start in April.