Welcome to the third installment of the Red Wings blogger roundtable. Rob over at Detroit4lyfe got us started in week 1 with some talk about Ian White, the final roster, and what kind of impact we could expect from the new assistant coaches this season. Last week, the fellas at The Production Line picked up the mantle and ran with it to get our feelings on Chris Osgood, the team defense, and whether we could expect to see any additional movement regarding the Wings' cap space.
This week, it's our turn. We've got a whole new set of questions for everybody; let's get started.
Question 1: While the Wings remained relatively quiet in late June and early July, the rest of the teams in the Central were busy making moves to bolster their lineups. Looking at the other four teams in the division, what team do you feel has improved the most, and which team do you see as the biggest obstacle to the Wings repeating as Central Division Champions?
(Finally joining the party) Kris, Snipe Snipe Dangle Dangle, @SnipeDangle
It's pretty obvious that the Predators took the biggest leap forward when they traded for Brett Lebda. There's no stopping them now. All kidding aside, the Blue Jackets are clearly the most improved team, although I still don't see them as a threat to challenge the Wings for the division title. Signing Wisniewski and Prospal helps, but their landmark move was acquiring Jeff Carter. Rick Nash finally has an incentive to pass the puck to someone else after all these years. Despite the improvements in Columbus, I still think Nashville is the biggest threat to the Wings in the Central. Even with the Lebster in the mix, they're going to be a tough team to play, and despite the fact that they haven't had much (well, any really) playoff success in the past, they're built like the kind of team that can do some damage.
Chris Moore, Nightmare on Helm Street, @HelmStNightmare
Easy answer and probably the same as the others have said...my local team, the Columbus BJ's. They say a BJ is always good, but for the past year, they've been terrible. They've added some stars and some solid role players, probably overpaying on the way, but they'll be better. Not great, but better.
Chicago, however, stands as the only other team who has a real chance of knocking the Wings off their pedestal. Nashville seems to be at a stalemate (for the last 10 or so years) and the Blues, well, they don't scare anyone.
Josh Janusch, Winging It In Motown, @Apocalyptic0n3
Looking around, I think the Blue Jackets improved the most. Not only did they sign the defenseman most of us wanted in James Wisniewski, they traded for power forward Jeff Carter. Rick Nash now has the first real second option of his career and when those two are on the ice together, they are going to do some serious damage. They are still not contenders, but I do think they are much more dangerous a foe than they previously were. Not to mention they just (I seriously just saw a tweet pop up about it) signed Vaclav Prospal. He may not be the player he was with Tampa Bay, but I still think he can put up 50 points next year.
George Malik, The Malik Report, @georgemalik
Columbus, Columbus, Columbus. Between Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal, James Wisniewski, adding an under-the-radar signing in Radek Martinek...I mean, Chicago added some muscle via Dan Carcillo, depth up front in Andrew Brunette and Jamal Mayers, Rostislav Olesz, a smart signing on the blueline in Sami Lepisto and some veteran savvy via Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, and Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott help the Blues anchor their youngsters with some leadership and grit, but the Blue Jackets are shooting for the moon. I suppose you could argue that the Hawks essentially did their best to rebuild the depth they lost last summer, but the Blue Jackets edge them by a nose.
Jeff Hancock, Winging It In Motown, @JeffHancock41
Michael Petrella, The Production Line, @mpetrella
The obvious answer to the first question is the Blue Jackets, rolling the dice with their acquisitions of Carter and Wisniewski (who still sucks, by the way). They're always a better team than their record suggests and Nash is a Wing Killer. I don't think they're close to contending for the division title, as the second question suggests, however. I think that distinction still belongs to the Nashville Predators, who -- despite the loss of Petrella-favorite Joel Ward -- are still a damn good hockey club, pending the outcome of the Shea Weber arbitration thing. If he bolts (he won't), they'll lose a bit of their swagger (they won't), but after he's locked up (he will be), they'll be swingin' their nuts heading into next season. Their signing of Niclas Bergfors is underrated, and while I still think the Wings are the team to beat... the Predators are no joke (aside from Lebda).
Brian James, The Scrappy Octopus, @BJAsshat
I'll preface this one by saying that i'm not really a believer in the moves that Columbus made (mainly because one of their biggest areas of need, goaltending, they addressed with the immortal Mark Dekanich. Woo-hoo), but they get the most improved crown by default. Until the first Jeff Carter injury, which will happen. The biggest threat I feel is Chicago. Their young players will continue to grow, Crawford will continue to get better, and they fixed their cap issues by dumping Brian Campbell. Replacing him with Montador is a wash in my book. They could be a deadline move from making noise.
Matt Saler, On the Wings, @onthewings
The easy and obvious answer is Columbus. They've collected a good assortment of additions that on paper make them a much improved team. I don't see them being a threat for the division yet, though, as putting everything together on the ice is different than assembling a roster. But they should in theory be on the road to higher placements in the standings. While on the topic of Columbus' on-paper, theoretical improvements, I should say that I hope the Wings take every opportunity to rub Wisniewski's decision and post-signing comments in his face.
I think Nashville poses the biggest threat to the Wings in the division. They remain a well-coached and effective team that happens to be backstopped by a very good goalie who can give the Wings fits on his own. They'll have to fight with the Hawks to unseat the Wings, but I see them finishing first or second in the division.
J.J. from Kansas, Yours Truly, @JJfromKansas
The BJs added a lot of that "on paper" stuff that people love to talk about, but there's something that still makes them seem less dangerous to me than the Anaheim Ducks. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Columbus' improvement works well enough as a spoiler that they actually help make the Central Division easier for the Wings to win this season.
Question 2: There has been a lot of talk from Kenny Holland and Wings management about Brendan Smith making a push to join the main roster out of training camp. With the additions of White & Commodore, plus Kindl hopefully taking the next step, it's unlikely Smith will make the team. What are you expectations for the Wings' top prospect in Grand Rapids and how many games do you expect him to play in the NHL this season?
I don't think it's the end of the world that Brendan Smith will end up playing in the AHL again this season. I know everyone's excited to see this new defensive wonder on the big stage, but I don't think any Wings fan is in a position to question Kenny Holland's tried and true method of allowing prospects to “over ripen” before calling them up to the NHL. Would I love for him to spend the season learning first hand from Nick Lidstrom? Absolutely. However, learning by doing is much better, and he'll be getting the kind of ice time in Grand Rapids that will allow him to develop and be ready to make a splash with the Wings when the time is right. We'll probably see him in Detroit for a handful of games once the injury bug inevitably hits, and I think that'll be just about right for him.
I expect him to lead Grand Rapids, both on and off the ice. I hope that he really establishes consistency, enough to get him named to the All-Star game. Anything less will honestly be a disappointment.
Finally, I hope he can see about 10 games in a Wings jersey, but no more.
Kenny has me worried with Brendan Smith. Everything he says about him gives me the impression he wishes for nothing more than him to be the 6th defenseman next season, which leaves me wondering about Jakub Kindl. Kindl, in my eyes, solidified himself as a future defensive star late last season when he took over Salei's sixth spot. If Kenny is pushing for Smith to make the roster, that means he has little faith in Kindl. I do think Smith is going to be a franchise defenseman, I think everyone does. But for the sake of Kindl, I hope Smith does spend the year in Grand Rapids instead.
I think that it's very smart that Brendan Smith will probably spend most of the year in Grand Rapids, playing as the team's #1 defenseman. Sure, KH and Babcock have to give him some lip service to bolster his confidence, but he needs to play regularly and he needs to play lots of minutes after an up-and-down and injury-shortened first pro season before he heads up to the big club on a full-time basis. I'm curious as to how the Commodore-Kindl rotation will work out, but given that somebody's bound to get hurt, I think that Kindl will be playing more regularly than we might assume. The guy who got bumped back down to Grand Rapids wasn't necessarily Smith--it was Doug Janik, who's been a good soldier and could have filled in the #6/7 spot had the Wings not signed Commodore. The Griffins have some pleasant problems as Janik, Garnet Exelby, Greg Amadio and Smith leave Brian Lashoff, Travis Ehrhardt, Gleason Fournier, Sebastien Piche and Logan Pyett all battling for two spots on defense, with the three "losers" heading to Toledo to play for the Walleye (with Jordan Pearce or Thomas McCollum), so the Wings' blueline is a little deeper than we'd think, though it's not blessed with puck-movers who are ready right now aside from Smith.
I think that the talk about Smith making the team was just that -- talk. No offense to Brendan Smith, who I'm certain is a fantastic young hockey player and very motivated to make his presence felt quickly, but it's incredibly rare that a player makes the jump to the Wings after so few games in the AHL. I do expect him to be called up (there are always injuries) and play a handful of games in Detroit, but that's more of a "let's see what we really have here" kinda thing than a "he shoulda been here the whole time" kinda thing. If I had to put a number on it, I'd bet he plays 8 games in the NHL this upcoming season, since he'll be contending with a very capable Jakub Kindl, not to mention the newest Wings Ian White and Mike Commodore. Frankly, I'm more surprised that Doug Janik won't be on the team than Brendan Smith -- and that's because he's on a one-way deal and has played admirably when called up. However, the Smith talk is excellent for the young man, because he has to feel he's close and he'll probably play his nuggets off on the farm. Make it happen, son.
My expectations for Smith in Grand Rapids are big. I think he will put up big numbers there, and he will see time with the big club. Honestly, I think he will probably outplay someone on our current blue line (looking at you, White and Commodore) and will raise holy hell next year with the big club. I'd predict maybe 10 games with the club this year, and maybe even plays come playoff time in the mold of Rig's debut.
I'm of the opinion that the Smith talk was aimed at giving him confidence more than anything. Holland was always going to find someone to fill out the blueline and make rushing Smith unnecessary. Smith's poised to pull down big minutes as the #1 defenseman in Grand Rapids and that will help him fine-tune his defensive zone game better than playing meager minutes in Detroit would. Ideally, he gets very little, if any, time in Detroit this year. If he's with the big club too much, it's due to injury, so realistically, he'll likely be making a few trips down I-96. But that's not my preferred outcome. I'd like to see him play out the season in Grand Rapids, and come up to Detroit for the playoffs, should the Griffins not make it to the post-season. The season after this one is the best fit for him to make the Wings on his development arc.
J.J. from Kansas
My opinion makes it unanimous. Smith starts as the #1 guy in Grand Rapids. Touching on the Kindl piece though, I feel it's only a matter of time before Smith makes Kindl expendable. I know the future of the Wings' D-corps means Kenny will want to keep as much depth around as possible, but the young Jakub is going to have to step up in a big way to show that he can hack it in his own zone and move the puck like his scouting report promised.
Question 3: Break out the Ouija Board: Which Wings player has the most pleasantly surprising season? Which one the most bitterly disappointing?
I know this isn't original, but I'm looking for Helm to have a great season. I think he's going to add a little offensive upside to his game this year. I'm also predicting that Mike Commodore will exceed expectations. I didn't feel strongly one way or another about his signing, but I like his attitude and the seriousness with which he's approached coming to Detroit. He may very well end up being one of what I like to call the Wings' “reclamation projects.” As far as disappointment goes, I'm looking at Jiri Hudler to have another terrible season. I realize that at this point, expectations for him are so low that it's hard for him to fall below them, but I think we all secretly have our fingers crossed that he's shaken off whatever funk his stay in Russia put on him and can be a valuable player. I suspect that we're all going to be disappointed to discover that he really is still the same player he was last season.
Most surprising? Eaves or Commodore, if they are both given the chance. Both I think have a lot more potential than the leash they've been given in the past. And hopefully Hudler.
Disappointing? Franzen. I'm scared that the 40 goal scorer we thought we had may simply be an aberration from a solid 20-25 goal guy.
The most surprising player will be Jonathan Ericsson. I am still upset with how much he got paid, but I think that might help him. When Jimmy signed his extension a few months ago, he immediately improved on the ice. It was as if he felt a need to prove himself worthy. I am expecting Ericsson to do the same this year.
Most disappointing? I am going to go with Valtteri Filppula. I know a lot of people, at least on WIIM, are really high on the guy, but I think he has already hit his peak. I didn't see any sort of improvement in his game last year and honestly felt he regressed a bit. I will even go all out and predict that he is no longer our second line center come playoffs and Darren Helm is.
I wouldn't be surprised if both Ericsson and Hudler bounce back and Filppula finally registers as 50-point season.
I think that Jiri Hudler will have the most pleasantly surprising season just because of how low expectations are for him at the moment. Everyone will still hate him, however, since he's 5-foot-9 and not a "gritty, power forward willing to drop the gloves." As for the disappointing Red Wing, I think it depends on how you define that -- if we're talking about "coherence-to-paycheck," there's absolutely NO WAY that Jonathan Ericsson isn't the most disappointing. If we're talking "all things equal," I bet Ian White disappoints a lot of Wings fans because he's not Brian Rafalski and despite being one of the "better" fits among free agent defensemen, he is - by no stretch of the imagination - an elite blueliner.
Pleasant surprise - I think Fil will bust out this year. Normally I would say that wouldn't be surprising, but everyone is so down on him this year. A good, solid year of him healthy and playing well would be a surprise, and if he does that he could put up big numbers (though I still wouldn't care if he got dealt). Bitter disappointment - This is the two headed monster of Hudler and Rig. No love for either of them. I also loved the Commodore signing (great value), but I don't know what he really has left in the tank. He could be a disappointment simply by failing to seize a starting role.
Commodore will be the most pleasantly surprising, for me anyway. I initially didn't think much of his signing, but his attitude and comments after joining the team made me rethink my stance. I'm taking a wait-and-see angle, but expect him to fit the mold of so many other project players that come to Detroit. My wife has suggested Cory Emmerton will be a pleasant surprise for people, so I'll go with him as well.
Most disappointing, from the Wings' perspective relative to expectations placed on him, is an easy choice: Ericsson. How could he not fail to live up to his contract? From a fan perspective, though, his failure to be a hockey player wouldn't be a disappointment because expectations are so low. So, my pick would be Jan Mursak. In theory, expectations should be low for a rookie, but because we've seen him step in before in a limited sampling, I expect perspectives on him were somewhat skewed. If we see him over the course of a regular season, he may feel like a letdown as he adjusts to the actual NHL grind.
J.J. from Kansas
I'll go with Ericsson as the most surprising. Hudler and Filppula are both going to be mixing it up in the category as people that fans have dropped their expectations of, but we've seen much more of the potential out of those two that we expect regularly. At some point, if they perform, I feel public opinion will turn from pleasant surprise to "well it's about damn time." Ericsson on the other hand has a lot farther to go to get there.
For disappointing, I'll throw Kindl into the mix as well, but I'm going to go with Abdelkader. He had long stretches last season where he disappeared and he was flat awful at too many times during the playoffs. He's going to remain a favorite of mine and plenty of other people, and he's just about right on the cusp of an non-tradeable asset, but I'm not sure he can keep it all together.