State of the Red Wings: September 10th

Lots to do, lots to do.

With all indications pointing to a lockout at the end of this week, it's kind of hard to focus on whatever length of season is coming up, but I woke up this morning wanting to talk about the Red Wings and not the labor strife, so here we are.

Obviously, Ken Holland isn't doing much right now because of the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations. In the last few weeks, the Wings haven't changed at all, but the picture of Wings' GM has altered in a few ways. Still, we've beaten that horse to death. Although we've all wanted this summer to have gone better, Ken Holland is not a failure. The two days he was a Jedi master for foreseeing a cap dropping to $58M (before the players killed that pig in lipstick proposal) were also fun, but also a bit far from the truth.

Whatever. Most of us know what the Wings look like and what still has to be done. If you're like me, you kind of haven't even considered it for the last couple of weeks because of other stuff. I just want to pull that puzzlebox back out today and give it a go-over to make sure the pieces are all still there.

So let's take a look at the Wings, by position

Goaltending

This one is by far the easiest.

Jimmy Howard is your Red Wings' starter. There's no question. The question here is whether newcomer Jonas Gustavsson can push Howard and be a reliable backup after putting up less-than-stellar numbers in the Toronto Maple Leafs' goaltending carousel. Joey MacDonald has shown he's a reliable backup, but with the signing of Gustavsson and his deal becoming a one-way deal, his days in Detroit are likely numbered. Back on July 2nd, MacDonald himself reportedly requested a trade. Emergency 3rd-string duties would probably belong to Thomas McCollum at this point, but he could find himself surpassed by exciting prospect Petr Mrazek shortly.

Defense

Yes, that's all six of them. Six.

The Wings' D-Corps has a few questions, but even as it's currently built, I think the Wings have a middle-third defensive corps compared around the league. Kronwall, White, Smith, and Quincey can all play the point on the power play. Unfortunately, right now only Kronwall, Ericsson, and Quincey are established as somewhat decent penalty killers. Ian White hasn't shown he's reliable in that role. Brendan Smith may grow into it, but in limited time on the shorthanded unit last season, teams keyed in on his inexperience.

No matter what, the Wings will be adding another defenseman to this unit. Detroit will not enter the season with only six defenseman. Ken Holland reportedly offered former Blues D-Man Carlo Colaiacovo a two-year deal, but the latest news on that front is that he's holding out for a three-year deal. We'll have to wait and see what the last addition will be before we can get a great read on the makeup of the blueline corps.

Forwards - Centers

It's a bit of a tricky definition here, but based on last season, here are the centers for each of the four lines. Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Helm as the 1a, 1b, and 3rd line centers leaves for a very versatile setup with dangerous, creative, and aggressively backchecking leaders for each of the three lines. Cory Emmerton is left in the dust by virtue of how much better the centers above him are, but even despite a decent points output last season, he's not ready for duty above his line and may be expendable.

One of the strengths of Detroit is that they do have a much more malleable crew when it comes to the guy in the middle of the ice. Zetterberg and Datsyuk can play together in situations because the Wings also have Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen, and Gustav Nyquist. Each of these players can transition well between winger and center if need be. The fourth line center option can be taken by Drew Miller if needed or by current RFA Justin Abdelkader (more on him later).

Forwards - The Setup Guys

The Wings are a bit thin on playmaking wingers, but more than make up for it by the previously mentioned versatility of the centers (and it probably doesn't matter with the usefulness of muckers nowadays). Valtteri Filppula had a great year playing as the setup on Henrik Zetterberg's wing last year. he's got good vision, good speed, makes space for people to sneak into scoring areas, and backchecks well. Gustav Nyquist showed flashes of being either a playmaker or a scorer (like Zetterberg). Given opportunity with Pavel Datsyuk, he'll likely grow into a balanced role like that. Jan Mursak struggled to find his place last season on the fourth line, but might be able to find a niche with a bit more time playing alongside better linemates.

Forwards - The Scorers

While it's nice to be able to put four guys into this category, the results aren't exactly awe-inspiring. Johan Franzen is good for around 30. Mikael Samuelsson would be considered a success if he could match Jiri Hudler's 25-goal output last season. Patrick Eaves was well on his way to finding the touch that might have led him to 20-goal territory, but concussion issues have his status as questionable. Hopefully he'll be able to return to action and to his former self quickly. Damien Brunner is an unknown NHL quantity right now. In terms of organizational depth, this is the shallowest of forward positions.

Forwards - The Muckers

First, I'll try to more-clearly define the title. There's nothing saying that a mucker can't score or isn't expected to score. These guys are there to make room for their linemates, grind down the opposition, and finish the dirty goals in front. Some of these muckers are.... ummm... muckier than others, but the job title's the same.

You'll also notice that Tomas Holmstrom is absent from this list while Justin Abdelkader is on it. Holmstrom hasn't officially announced a retirement, saying he's still mulling it over (and that it'll either be the Wings or retirement). Abdelkader is an unsigned RFA at the moment. I'm just basing this on my personal assumption that Holmstrom won't be back and Abdelkader will.

As far as guys who make room, agitate, and then score the goals which make opposing fans hate them that much more, Dan Cleary is the best at it when he's healthy, but Justin Abdelkader could very well take over that title this season. Todd Bertuzzi has plenty of leftover scoring touch from when he was a true power forward (and could afford to be one). Jordin Tootoo is much more of an agitator and a fighter. Finally, my personal favorite, Drew Miller, is really on here as a jack of too-many trades. He shows rare flashes of brilliance in a variety of roles and he's generally good at the role you give him, but he's not consistently great at anything.

The Wrap-Up

The keen observer will notice that there were four forward categories and they averaged out to four people per category. That's simply too many forwards. Couple that with the problem of not enough defensemen earlier and this is definitely not the team you'll see heading into whenever the season starts.

There's room to cut from each category and to move people around to fit certain needs of the club. Detroit is sitting on a cap payroll just over $57M against what is currently a $70.2M salary cap.

Gut feeling is that with whatever moves will happen, even if they're minor enough not to shake up the whole team but just enough to rearrange the roster as it needs to be, this is a playoff team. I think they've got a decent chance at competing for the Central Division title and coming together as a late-round threat. There's also a decent chance that injuries hit and the team struggles badly. Obviously, I'm hoping for the former over the latter.

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