We've already looked at the top six, the defense, and the goalies. Now it's time start looking the bottom six. We thought that perhaps we would have 6 bottom six players by this time, but thanks to some early injuries, the Wings might not actually have to shed any players until after the start of the season. This is kind of a sad preview to write. With Helm still inured, Eaves out either 2-4 weeks or indefinitely (depending on which reports you read), and Miller looking like he's almost old enough to retire, this is quite the group.
Last season Eaves made his return to hockey after being sidelined for over a year with a concussion after taking a puck to the head November 26, 2011. It took Eaves a while to get his game legs, hands, and brain completely back, and he was briefly a healthy scratch at the beginning of the season. Eaves played in 34 regular season games and 13 playoff games tallying a total of 11 points (3G, 8A).
Strengths: Eaves is a very versatile player who may not be the best at anyone one thing, but he does a lot of things very well. He's money on the penalty kill and he's also pretty darn good on the powerplay. Eaves' powerplay skills weren't utilized much last year, but he did set Zetterberg up for this PP goal against the Stars.He's a tenacious forward who works hard every shift, plays with a lot of energy, has an excellent defensive game, can play a grinder role effectively, but also has decent offensive ability as well. Basically, whatever role he's called upon to fill, he can do it, including filling in rather impressively on the top line last year when we were decimated by injuries. He's not really a big player, but he plays smart and uses angles to be play a bigger, more effective physical game than his vitals would indicate. Eaves has a great shot that we don't get to see too often because of the role Babcock had him playing, but when paired with Helm, is the key to capitalizing on shorthanded scoring opportunities. And while Todd Bertuzzi may be the protector of the ping pong table, Eaves is the master. Babcock has high praise for Eaves and his dedication and character, stating that even when Eaves knew he would be a healthy scratch, he still showed up for the PK meetings.
Weaknesses: Eaves my have a nice shot, but he'll never live down his shootout fail, but at least he was a good sport about it. Patty's biggest weakness in the last couple seasons has been his health. Eaves suffered a broken jaw after taking a puck to the head from a Roman Josi shot, but he ended up missing the rest of the season with a pretty nasty concussion. He was healthy for the 2013* season, but only played in one 2013-2014 preseason game before being injured in practice; he's projected to miss 2-4 weeks. It seems like he having some pretty shitty luck, because his injuries aren't chronic issues, but due to the physical game he plays, his body takes a bit of abuse. When he is healthy, Eaves frequently finds himself in the healthy scratch rotation. Sometimes it's puzzling, and even Mike Babcock said last post season that he didn't know why he was scratching Eaves, and that it didn't make any sense to him.
Expectations: It's a little difficult to know what realistic expectations are, because as much as I hate the thought of losing Eaves, when/if the team is fully healthy, we're still over the roster limit and Eaves could be a casualty. If he remains with the team, and plays in 65-70 games, I think 15-20 point would be a good achievement. Eaves hasn't been called upon for his scoring abilities recently, but in training camp Babcock had Eaves on the powerplay as the net front guy, so IF he's utilized in that capacity, 20 points would be achievable if he's healthy. It's a little difficult to guage realistic expectations since we're not sure yet how long he'll be out with the current injury, or what's going to happen with the roster.
Darren Helm has only played 6 shifts in 1 game, with a grand total of 3:08 of hockey since March 17, 2012. After hurting his back working out before the 2013* season, Helm has spent a lot of time not even being able to skate, much less practice or handle contact. It's been a roller coaster of "Helm is skating and might be able to practice and maybe even play soon", to "Helm isn't skating... again". Even now, Helm hasn't been cleared for contact, and has been limited to skating mostly by himself before team drills start.
Strengths: Mike Babcock and Ken Holland are high on Darren Helm for a reason. He's fast, he's got more energy then the Energizer Bunny, he can kill penalties like nobody's business, and he can outwork, outlast, out-hustle, and frustrate the snot out of the competition. A third line center who can do all that and also score 10 goals and 20-25 points a season is a pretty valuable asset.
Weaknesses: Helm creates more shorthanded opportunities than any other player I've seen, but his ability to actually score goals on those breakaways has earned him the nickname "stonehands". More importantly, all of Helm's strengths don't do us any good if he can't actually play hockey. Whatever is wrong with Helm's back just doesn't seem to be healing, it's not know if he'll even be able to play at all this season, and the possibility of a chronic issue exists as well.
Expectations: None. I have no expectations for Helm this year. If he plays 10 consecutive games, I'll consider it good progress. Even if Helm's back is healed, and he's able to play in any games this season, he's going to take a significant amount of time to get back into "game shape". He hasn't been able to work out much, has gone months at a time without being able to skate at all, and if he is able to play, I expect him to have lots of "little" things like his sore groin, as a result of his lack of physical conditioning. His timing, processing, and mental game would be pretty rusty as well. It will be a huge step for him to play again, but he'll still have a long journey to being the Helm we all know and love.
Last season, Drew Miller earned himself a 3 year extension at 1.35M per year. In 44 regular season games, Miller notched 8 points, spent the bulk of his time on the fourth line with Cory Emmerton and Patrick Eaves/Jordin Tootoo at even strength, and he led the team in shorthanded time on ice, beating Cory Emmerton by almost 20 minutes. I was also surprised to discover that Miller only had 2 penalty minutes in the regular season, and 2 penalty minutes in the post season.
Strengths: He's a penalty killing machine. He's led the team in PK time for the last two seasons, and the two seasons before that, he was behind only Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves for shorthanded time on ice. He solid defensively and is an excellent shut down player, even when going up against tougher competition. He also a smart player who's effective without being flashy, and he just doesn't quit.
Weaknesses: For the role that Miller plays, he doesn't have a lot of weaknesses, but he isn't going to blow you away with his offense. He's only surpassed 20 points once in his career (25 in 2011-2012) and last season he was on pace for 15 points if last year had been a full season.
Expectations: Even though we're in a roster crunch, by signing Miller to this new contract, the team has indicated that Miller is an important part of the team going forward. I expect Miller to again be a significant part of the penalty kill, and hopefully gets 15-20 points. Maybe he'll also get that "Just For Men" advertisement contract as well.