Well, we've dusted off the cobwebs, put the furniture back in place and wiped up all the vomit.
Hockey is back and that means we will soon see our Winged Wheel heroes on the ice. In case you didn't spend any time paying attention to the lockout (and really, who could blame you?), the Red Wings are going to look pretty different from the team that took the ice against the Predators last April.
The start of the season is very soon, so we're going to be doing our previews rapid-fire style. Think of this as the shootout of season previews. Today I'll be taking a look at the group of forwards that could be considered "top 6". Please save all crying for the end of the post.
Datsyuk spent his lockout time destroying the KHL with brilliance like this. A slow start last year gave way to a blistering PPG pace that was cut short by injury. He's still the Red Wings' unquestioned offensive leader, but injuries the last 2 years have limited the number of games he has played. At 34, he has 2 years left on his contract that will pay him $6.7M per season. He'll be a Red Wing until he retires.
Strengths: He's one of the top-3 players in the league in terms of puck-handling ability. An entire section of Youtube could be dedicated to his brilliance with the puck. He's also a perennial Selke candidate with his defensive skills. In short, he's one of the best players in the world.
Weaknesses: Injuries are becoming a concern. He has missed 38 games the last 2 seasons due to injury, and at 34 his body may be starting to fail him.
Expectations: He didn't seem to lose a stride playing in Russia during the lockout, so he should enter the season in relatively-good game shape. He'll once again be counted on to lead the Wings' offense.
The Next Captain also spent the lockout overseas, playing in the Swiss National League. He started slow last year, but ended the season as the Wings' leader in points. Together with Valtteri Filppula and the-now-departed Jiri Hudler he formed the Wings' most consistent offensive trio. Z has 9 years left on his now-illegal contract, averaging a cap hit of around $6M per season.
Strengths: I've always considered Z to be a less-flashy Datsyuk. He won't make you jump out of your seat as often as Dats will, but he can handle the puck and he's a beast in the Wings' end.
Weaknesses: Besides turning to his backhand every single time he enters the offensive zone, there's not a lot to worry about with Z. He needs to avoid another slow start like he had last season for the Wings to be successful.
Expectations: There's no reason to believe he can't maintain a point-per-game pace over the course of the regular season. He will get Flip back on his wing and if he can maintain the chemistry he developed with Brunner in Switzerland, they could be the Wings' number 1 line.
Flip finally had that breakout season we had been waiting for last year, posting career highs in every offensive category, including cracking the 20-goal plateau for the first time in his career. Flip is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, so he's playing for a new contract. He'll be 29 in a couple of months so he's smack dab in the middle of his prime.
Strengths: Flip has always been defensively responsible, but last year he added a scoring touch we hadn't seen before. Some might say he's a poor man's Zetterberg, but those people would be over-simplifying things.
Weaknesses: Until last year, Flip was too much of a pass-first, shoot-later type of player. He will still pass up shots at times.
Expectations: A full season of playing with Z could see an improvement on his numbers from last season. The fact that he's playing for a contract could mean a huge year, but that could translate into the last season of Flip in a Wing uniform.
The Wings' leading goal scorer each of the last 2 seasons will be trying to make it a three-peat this year. We're still waiting for playoff Mule to become regular season Mule, but his scoring abilities are some of the best on the team. Franzen is 33 and has 8 years left on a contract that will average approximately $4M a year, but many are pointing to him as the leading buyout candidate should the Wings take advantage.
Strengths: For all our griping, there aren't many players on the Wings who have the natural goal-scoring ability that Mule possesses. He's a strong net-front presence and has soft hands for a power forward.
Weaknesses: The consistency. Oy vey the consistency. Franzen, who has admitted the regular season bores him, could score 20 goals in 20 games or none in 14.
Expectations: It's going to be a shortened season, so Franzen's inability to hit the 30-goal mark won't be as disappointing as it usually is.
This is going to make a lot of people mad, but Samuelsson is likely going to see top-6 minutes. The former Red Wing is back for his second stint after signing a 2-year deal worth $3M a season. The 36 year old was designed to be a replacement for Jiri Hudler, but I think being Wing fans' whipping boy isn't what he had in mind.
Strengths: He's a bigger forward who will make a mediocre power play a little better. He can man the point on the PP. Much like Hudler, he can score 20 goals when put with the right people.
Weaknesses: The running joke is his inability to hit the net, but reputations are usually earned. His skating has never been the greatest and at 36 age and injuries may catch up with him.
Expectations: I'm not the Sammy-hater that some people are (cough*Jeff*cough), but I'd much rather have a younger player like Nyquist or Brunner get the minutes that Samuelsson will likely get. Still, I think he'll fit in with the Wings and contribute on the power play.
The Wings' reclamation project had a rough season last year. Cleary battled a chronic knee injury all season last year, resulting in his worst numbers since his initial season with Detroit. The 34 year old grinder is on the final year of a $2.8M deal and will be an unrestricted free agent once this season is over.
Strengths: No one can question Buckets' work ethic, and since coming to Detroit, he has shown some of the offensive promise that made him a first round draft pick by the Blackhawks.
Weaknesses: The knee injuries have resulted in a loss of skating ability, and his offensive skill isn't developed enough for him to put up points unless playing with the best players.
Expectations: I think Cleary's days as a Wing are numbered, and we'll see him make way for the younger guys. However, his mucking will be needed during a compressed schedule.
One of the other additions to the Wings is Brunner, a 26 year old undrafted free agent from Switzerland. At 5'10" and 176 lbs (according to the Wings' website) he's an undersized forward but his stats from the Swiss National League are impressive. He led the league in scoring last year and was on pace to duplicate that feat. He's on a one-year deal at $1.35M to see if he can prove he belongs in the NHL.
Strengths: I haven't seen Brunner play, so it's hard for me to say exactly what he does and does not do well, but the fact that he led a league in scoring speaks to his offensive ability.
Weaknesses: Not a clue. His size concerns me when thinking about how big the typical NHLer is, and there's always the prospect of the unknown when dealing with an undrafted free agent from Europe (see: Leino, Ville).
Expectations: He and Zetterberg could keep their good thing going, or he could be another bust a la Leino or Brunnstrom. Mike Babcock has said that Brunner will get a shot, so at the least he's going to have an opportunity to play significant minutes.
The 23 year old Nyquist burst onto the scene late last season as a call-up, and time spent on the top line with Datsyuk showed a glimpse of the potential this kid has. Goose (we're still finalizing a nickname) has been outstanding in Grand Rapids this season, leading the team with 32 points in 33 games, good for 13th in AHL scoring. He is on the last year of his entry level deal and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Strengths: His skating is excellent, and he has shown good puck-handling skills while playing with Datsyuk. I'll defer to others who have seen more of him, but scouts rave about his playmaking and note that he's defensively aware in his own zone.
Weaknesses: At 5'11", he could be pushed around a little due to his lack of size. He's also going to be playing his first full season in the NHL and could hit the "rookie wall" (although a shortened season will help).
Expectations: This is all going to depend on whether Nyquist gets the minutes he deserves or whether he has to "pay his dues" as a Wing prospect. If the Wings struggle at all and Nyquist is languishing on the 4th line, I'm going to be pretty upset.