Health will be the name of the game for the Red Wings, whose 2013-14 campaign was marred by serious injuries up and down the lineup. But an injury-plagued season gave the Wings’ brass a chance to see the future, and the future looks bright in Detroit. But will that be enough to get the team into a stunning 23rd consecutive playoffs?
For all intents and purposes, the Wings will ice the same squad as last season—except for a handful of notable exceptions. Second-line center Stephen Weiss essentially lost all of last season due to a groin injury. However, claiming to be completely healthy now, Weiss knows there is much to be done and the team is hoping he can regain his scoring touch and become an offensive contributor for the team
Budding star Gustav Nyquist earned a regular spot in the lineup as injuries began to take hold, and it’s unquestionable that expectations are lofty for “Gus” this season as a starter on the squad from the get-go. While nothing is given to Red Wings players, it’s safe to assume that Nyquist will get every opportunity to succeed this season.
The team is hoping that Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk will return to form after injury-shortened seasons, and head coach Mike Babcock will certainly experiment with line combinations to determine what gives his tea the best chance to win. In an ideal world, that means putting Datsyuk and Zetterberg on the same line, but that largely depends on how Weiss performs. Babcock has already said that speedster Darren Helm will start the season on the top line on Datsyuk’s wing, so it will be interesting to see what other types of combinations Babcock is able to create.
On defense, the Wings are starting the season with the same blue line they ended last season with. Retaining Kyle Quincey was a questionable move on Holland’s part, but after the team failed to lure notable free agents like Christian Ehrhoff and Matt Niskanen to Detroit, Quincey become the only solution. The team will look for growth from Danny DeKeyser, who will hopefully sign in the coming days prior to training camp, and Brendan Smith, who has a strong upside as a puck-moving defenseman.
The team will again rely on the tandem of Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson in net. Gustavsson, aptly nicknamed “The Monster,” has had injury troubles, but is effective when needed. Meanwhile, Howard will look to shake off a rocky outing that produced a 2.66 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. While some of that can be contributed to injuries in front of him, the team needs a goalie capable of stealing games regardless of the team he’s playing with. The Red Wings will expect more from Howard this season.
The status of Daniel Alfredsson, who tied defenseman Niklas Kronwall for the team lead in points last season, is still in question after he tweaked his back during training. While losing Alfredsson would be significant in terms of production and leadership, Detroit has several players in the AHL ready to step up and take his place. One of those players could be highly touted forward Anthony Mantha, who is expected to turn into a big-league sniper in his career. Mantha will have to earn a roster spot out of camp if he expects to start the season in Detroit, but fans are likely to see him at some point as an injury call-up.
For a time icing basically the same squad as last year, there are still many questions for the perennial contender. Specifically, how far can this team go if they remain healthy?