It might be safe to say that the Red Wings were one of the biggest surprises last season. With the injury bug hitting the team hard throughout the lockout-shortened season, young up-and-comers in the organization stepped up and helped the team advance to the conference semi-finals where they lost in seven games to Chicago. This year, the Wings have addresses several pressing needs and look poised for a strong season after “rebuilding” last year.
The two major additions to the team this season are Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson. Both players give the Wings some much needed scoring depth, with Weiss essentially replacing the departed Valterri Filppula. Alfredsson should play most of the season on Weiss’ wing, and if Johan Franzen takes the other side, the Wings could have a very strong second line.
The best part of signing Weiss and Alfredsson is that it allows coach Mike Babcock to pair Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg together. The chemistry between these two is uncanny, but for much of the past few seasons they have played apart to enhance the Wings’ depth. Make no mistake, these two will see a lot of ice time together this year, and that can be daunting for the opposition.
Veteran players like Dan Cleary, Todd Bertuzzi, and Mikael Samuelsson will also get plenty of ice time, but the real story this season should be the development of players like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar. Nyquist can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, so it’s likely he will start the season there. But he’s too good to keep out of the NHL for too long. And Tatar is out of minor league options, so he will start the season with the team. With the loss of Damien Brunner, both of these players will get plenty of opportunities to compete for ice time on a daily basis.
The real surprise last season was the Wings’ defense. The team finished 5th last season in goals against per game, and that’s after the departure of Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart – two of their top four defenseman. Jakub Kindl experienced solid growth for the team, and Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson were strong as the new blue line veterans. The addition of Danny DeKeyser was short-lived thanks to an injury, but he showed lots of promise and will be a key player for the team this year. Each defensive pairing has a strong ability to move the puck, which is what has historically made the Wings so dangerous, so expect more of the same this season.
There’s a lot for Red Wings fans to be excited about this season, and the play of goaltender Jimmy Howard is definitely one of those reasons. Howard showed a great deal of fortitude last year, and strongly emerged as a force to be reckoned with. With a full NHL season looming, the Wings will likely rely more on backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson to give Howard the occasional break, but make no mistake about it—Howard continues to improve season after season and he has the full confidence of the coaching staff and his teammates.
After rebuilding on the fly last season, the Detroit Red Wings made several strategic moves this year to put themselves in a strong position to be contenders for the Stanley Cup. Health will be a concern for many players, including the older guys like Bertuzzi, Alfredsson and Cleary, but the organization knows they have a strong core of reliable young players to call up in dire circumstances. This is a committed team used to winning, and there’s no reason to believe this year will be any different.