Before the NHL season started, the mothership put together a huge magazine-style NHL preview where they went through all 30 teams with the help of the individual blogs and had their own experts pick the teams and players they liked. We were happy to help with their page previewing the Red Wings' season.
Now that the run is over, I want to revisit it and see how well I did. The preview covered three strengths, three weaknesses, three questions, and a best/worst case scenario. Let's go section by section.
1. Two Way Forwards: The Red Wings’ system is built around the concept of having a team dangerous in creating transition, which starts from an aggressive backcheck. From the top-skill guys in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg down the lineup, there aren’t offense-only passengers on the ice under Mike Babcock. This takes the pressure off a relatively young defensive corps which enters its second season since the retirement of the great Nicklas Lidstrom.
Led at the top by Selke-caliber forwards Datsyuk and Zetterberg, the Wings’ forward corps is bolstered by defensively-responsible wingers who can also score goals, players like Johan Franzen, Daniel Cleary and Justin Abdelkader will get minutes in those roles while even the young offensively talented prospects like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar were groomed to skate hard both ways down the ice.
I can confidently say that for the most part, the Wings played a responsible two-way game with their forwards. They controlled play better than their opposition at even-strength and didn't get into many run-and-gun games.
Overall Preview Grade: Four five-on-fives out of five five-on-fives.
2. Top-Level Goaltending: Detroit doesn’t have a power tandem in goal, but its starter is top-notch. Jimmy Howard’s performance in the 2012-13 season earned him a new big-money six-year contract. Howard will be expected to continue to compete for the title of the Wings’ most valuable player; not an easy feat considering his competition. Jonas Gustavsson will be coming off an injury-plagued season and continue trying to prove himself at the NHL level. If not, the Wings have a promising prospect in Petr Mrazek waiting in Grand Rapids for his chance to shine.
Not particularly close here. At even-strength, the Wings had the 21st-best save percentage in the league. With the score close and tied, the goaltending was in the top half of the league, but between Howard's inconsistencies all season and Gustavsson's late fade, their goaltendeing certainly wasn't "top-level."
Overall Preview Grade: Two slapshots stopped out of ten
3. Coaching and Leadership: Mike Babcock is one of the smartest coaches in the game, both in the head-to-head mind games he plays with opposing coaches and in how he gets his players to perform. The entire Red Wings’ organization from GM Ken Holland at the top down to the coaching at the AHL level and the scouting department is focused on finding and developing players who fit into the Red Wings way, a way which has driven the Red Wings to more than two-decades’ worth of consecutive playoff appearances. On-ice and in the locker room, the core leadership group of players like Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall do much of the talking to their teammates to make sure everybody is on the same page.
Yeah I'm going to go ahead and pat myself on the back for this one. The Wings certainly had enough excuses built in to cover an end to the playoff streak, but Babcock really shined this season. HBO's 24/7 this season might have really let the cat out of the bag on how good Babs is at getting the most out of his players.
Overall Preview Grade: 414 Career wins as the Red Wings' coach out of 413 wins as the Red Wings' coach.
1. Established Defensive Depth: Detroit had one of the better defenses in the league last season and learned a lot of positives from a rash of injuries, but they still lack two true top-pairing defensemen and now find themselves with one of the less-experienced blueline corps. Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson are capable defenders who can hold their own against top-line NHL competition, but they’re not the true minute-munchers Detroit used to have. The middle pair of Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith are still working to improve while the third pair of Jakub Kindl and Danny DeKeyser looks very promising for the future, but one injury brings in still relatively-inexperienced Brian Lashoff (who has more NHL games played than DeKeyser) into the lineup. More than one injury means call-ups from a promising-but-not-yet-ready group of AHL defenders.
11 players ended up playing at least one game on the Wings' blueline this season and only two of them got into more games than the number 7 guy Brian Lashoff, who played 75. The inexperience of the Wings' defense really hurt the Wings at times throughout the season.
Overall Preview Grade: Six straight failures to connect on an outlet pass out of nine.
2. Overall Team Age: While the defense corps is relatively young and inexperienced, the forwards have a lot of players over age 30 with various injury histories. Mikael Samuelsson missed a large portion of the 2012-13 season with a range of ailments while the 38-year old Todd Bertuzzi struggles with chronic back issues. The team just brought back the 34-year-old Dan Cleary, who has struggled with knee issues for the last few seasons, and even their top two offensive threats are subject to the threat of missing time with injury. Throw in the 40-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, and you’ve got a team that’s expected to be a bit more prone to injuries than average.
I hated writing something that boiled down to "The Red Wings are old" as much as I've hated reading it for ten consecutive years, but this year it actually was true. Just look at how the Wings' stacked up on the CHIP ratings this year (Cap Hit of Injured Players). The Wings missed a load of time this year and it wasn't exactly for freak young-man injuries.
Overall Preview Grade: One full dose of Centrum Silver
3. Team Size: Detroit’s puck-possession style doesn’t call for a lot of the banging and crashing that bigger teams engage in, but when it comes time to playing that type of game, the Wings don’t have many pieces that can effectively neutralize a size disadvantage. They have some bigger forwards like Franzen, Bertuzzi and Samuelsson, as well as some more-physical yet merely average-sized players like Abdelkader and Cleary. They also have a handful of defensemen 6’3 or above, but of those, some haven’t finished growing into their frames (DeKeyser) and others (Kindl) aren’t well known for effectively leveraging that kind of size in the "dirty areas" of the ice. The Wings are built to minimize this disadvantage through strong neutral zone play, but it doesn’t always work out like that.
It's easy to look at the Bruins' series and blow smoke up my own ass here, but this was really more of an occasional problem than recency makes it seem. I remember a handful of games where the Wings were physically beaten down during the regular season, but there were also a number where a smallish guy like Tatar absolutely took over physically. The end of the season was partially about a lack of an answer to size, but that wasn't the whole thing.
Overall Preview Grade: Five soft European chickens out of ten.
(I'm going to paraphrase heavily here. To see the full answers, the post can be found here)
1. Does a solid two-way game and strong goaltending make up for an inexperienced group of defensemen?
My answer: Sure, no problem buddy! It's all good.
The right answer: Hypothetically maybe, but that's not really what happened.
2. What do offseason additions Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss bring to the table?
My answer: Rainbow farts and unicorn titties
The right answer: Carrion stench and unicorn titties (Daniel Alfredsson is unicorn titties is what I'm saying)
3. How do the Wings adjust to the size disadvantage against new divisional foes, namely Boston, Toronto and Buffalo?
My answer: They don't really have to adjust because they're used to teams like that.
The right answer: They don't really have to adjust because they're used to teams like that.
Best/Worst Case Scenario
Best: The team stays healthy while goaltending lives up to expectations and the defensive corps’ younger defensemen continue to improve. The two young scoring forwards, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar, are able to take advantage of the weaker competition against other teams’ lower lines while the Wings’ top two lines consistently either outscore or neutralize their top-level opponents. In the rest of the division, Boston finds trouble with its forward depth while Ottawa regresses in several key areas. Tampa Bay continues to struggle to prevent goals and the Canadiens can’t consistently keep it together. This turns an already competitive Red Wings team into a top-tier contender by the time the playoffs arrive.
Worst: Age, injuries, and inconsistency pile up. The young defense struggles with its assignments, which puts extra pressure on goaltending and the offense to keep the Wings in games. The injury bug turns a balanced scoring attack into a one-dimensional counterattacking shell. The Wings struggle with the physical style of the East and find themselves falling behind early against teams who are all too happy to play a wide-open style. Pure skill drags them through the toughest times of the season, but by the trade deadline, the Wings find themselves a bubble team and have to make some hard decisions about how to approach the final stretch run of the season. Detroit’s run of consecutive playoff appearances ends in ignominious fashion.
I think I did pretty well nailing down the things that could go right for the Wings and a really good job explaining what things would look like at their worst. I think this turned out to be a roughly 40/60 best-to-worst mix.