With the downtime in the schedule, we decided we would take a look at and discuss a few things with the Red Wings. JJ, Graham and I all submitted three questions each and then the answers were submitted. Simple enough. But don't let it just be us, we want you to chime in and offer up your opinions too.
Part I is up today with Part II following tomorrow. Let's get to it.
Question 1: Looking back on the season so far, who kept things together for the team?
JJ: The great thing about being a Wings fan is that there is no one single cog that's more important than all the rest (unless you want to talk about Ilitch, whose dedication to fielding and financing a winning roster is the foundation of the entire organizational culture). Holland and Babcock are of course going to be the guys you're going to look for to keep the team focused and together, but ultimately, you have to give credit to the glue guys on the roster: Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Holmstrom, Draper, and most importantly Lidstrom. They all bring something slightly different, but they're what makes the team go and what makes every player want to be better.
Casey: Henrik Zetterberg, hands down. Like a lot of other folks have observed, how well Hank has played while guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Mike Modano, and Tomas Holmstrom were out injured is an indication of how good of a future captain he would be when Lidstrom steps down. The level of play he was at night in and night out doesn't equate to the stats he has to show for it but he has been unbelievable. I think if Hank doesn't play like that, there's no way we're looking at the record that is sitting there now.
Check after the jump for the rest of the roundtable as we discuss Nicklas Lidstrom's successor, surprising players and the top teams of each conference.
Question 2: We all know that Nicklas Lidstrom will not be playing for too much longer. When he does hang up the Perfect Skates and call it a career, which current Red Wing do you see stepping into the role of anchor on the Wings' blueline, or will the Wings need to look outside the organization?
JJ: Let me preface with the fact that I think Lidstrom's mind will tell him to quit before his body forces it to. He'll quit when it's no longer worth it to him. I honestly think that he wants one more cup before hanging them up and will call it quits after either reaching that goal or after he feels that the Wings don't have the right squad to do it. By extension, I think that means the Wings look for his replacement in the coming offseason. When that does happen, they will have to pull another elite-level defenseman from somewhere else to anchor them. I do see a lot of good in Kindl's game already, but he will never live up to Lidstrom. I don't think Kronwall is going to be physically capable of doing so either. Ultimately, I'd love to get Shea Weber to replace him, but I just don't see that realistically happening, so instead I'll dream very hard about it. No, I meant the dreaming will be hard while I'm doing it, not me. You know what? Nevermind...
Graham: Before the year, my answer to this question would have been Niklas Kronwall, but unfortunately he has been far too inconsistent in his own end this year despite showing a lot of improvement offensively. I think Brad Stuart has a shot at the position, but his offense is not good enough to warrant "anchor" status. I guess I should clarify the question by saying that the "anchor" is the guy who can play in any and all situations. I'm not sure that guy is on the roster currently, and I don't know enough about the prospects to say that "he" is within the organization. However, I have not given up on Kronwall yet; I think he's got the most potential, and if this year is a sign of how good he truly is offensively and his defense gets back up to where it has been the last few seasons, I think he could easily slide into the role of defensive leader.
Casey: I've contended over the past few seasons that Brad Stuart is the most consistent defenseman outside of Lidstrom himself. You can throw that Game 7 against the Penguins out there as much as you want but after a while, that argument just turns to bitterness about a mistake. I think Stuart has proven since then that he has improved his game. He can play solid defensively with both the positioning and hitting aspects of the game. So if I'm choosing from guys that are on the team right now, I'm choosing Brad Stuart.
Question 3: Who has been your biggest surprise, positive or negative, on the Wings roster this season?
J.J.: The obvious answer is Jiri Hudler struggling for as long as he did after being one of the KHL's top scorers. His re-learning process took much longer than expected and that was frustrating as hell to watch him go through. On the positive side, what Darren Helm brings to the lineup night in and night out may not be such a huge surprise, but it's as refreshing as hell knowing that role is well-tended for years to come.
Casey: The biggest surprise for me has been Jonathan Ericsson. A lot of talk before the season started was about how he had already played himself out of a spot to rookie Jakub Kindl. Ericsson started the season pretty poorly but after sitting some games out with an injury, he returned and looked like a brand new man. I think every Wings fan has been pleased with the steps he has taken this year. Yeah, he still makes the dumb play every now and then but they have become fewer and fewer and I've stopped pinching myself when he does something good.
Question 4: Who's your most-feared team for the playoffs from each conference? Why?
J.J.: The only team that really frightens me right now is the Flyers. I know they're in the L'Eastern Conference, but they have a very solid defensive corps, a great set of young and hungry forwards, a good coach in Laviolette, and an overall good system. Out West, there's really not one team that horribly frightens me, but I'm worried about meeting a combination of the bigger teams. Coyotes/Stars/Ducks/Flyers would be brutal to watch and I'm not sure Detroit can survive that kind of physical onslaught, even with their depth.
Casey: Philadelphia in the East and Vancouver in the West. Philadelphia has been incredible all year and although people keep questioning their goaltending, I don't know if it's going to matter all that much if their defense continues to play this well and their offense continues to score. Adding Kris Versteeg makes them even more dangerous and they're in a very good position for the rest of the regular season and playoff. Vancouver has the highest goals scored and fewest goals against and their doing it all without about half of their defense. Add in the Sedin twins and I don't know if there's much more that I need to explain.
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Now it's your turn. Tell us what you think on the topics!
We'll bring Part II tomorrow so stay tuned as we talk about 5 more topics