On paper at full health, the Red Wings are a pretty good team. Maybe they're not among the NHL's elite, but they should be a playoff team. However, the defense is still the area where critics believe the Wings have a distinct disadvantage against the rest of the league. Heading into last year, several questions existed about whether the Wings' defenders, including whether they had a legitimate top pairing that could eat up minutes and play against the opposition's top forwards. While the season didn't end with a Cup, the #1 pairing proved they could perform well against the best forwards in the league.
#55 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 12, 1981
It's been 2 seasons since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, and the questions surrounding whether Niklas Kronwall could take over as the team's #1 defenseman have been put to rest. Last season saw him tie for the team lead in points with Daniel Alfredsson, and his 5v5 Fenwick% was 51.9% despite playing the toughest minutes of any defenseman on the team. He played over 24 minutes a night last season, a number that resulted in some declining play as the season wore on.
Strengths: Without question he's the one defenseman on the Wings who can do everything. He plays on the PP, kills penalties, matches up against the top lines of the other team, and does all of these things reasonably well. He's started playing a smarter game, no longer looking for a big hit that takes him out of position. He isn't "the best" in any single area, but overall he's a very dependable guy the Wings can count on.
Weaknesses: He can be prone to mental lapses as the season progresses, especially if he's playing too many minutes a night. Like literally every member of the Wings' defense corps not named Kyle Quincey, injuries are a concern, although he has played over 90% of the team's games over the last 4 seasons. There's also a worry that as he gets older, his skating will regress, leaving him susceptible to the speedy forwards in the league.
Expectations: His 49 points last year were 2 off a career high, and he did it as the leader of the defense. The return of his playing partner should help him maintain the level he had last year, and there's no reason to think we are going to see a decline in his play. Like I said last year, I would anticipate between 40-50 points offensively and solid play defensively.
#52 / Defenseman / Detroit Red Wings
Mar 02, 1984
To say that Jonathan Ericsson had a crazy year last year doesn't do him justice. He had a daughter, suffered a shoulder injury, signed an extension, won a silver medal at the Olympics, then sustained a broken finger that still isn't 100%. When he did play, he was steady, and the "Shitbox" portion of his nickname should be officially retired for anyone who still uses it.
Strengths: It's become pretty clear that Ericsson is going to be the stay-at-home guy on the top pairing with Kronwall, and that's just fine. When Ericsson is healthy, he's become a dependable top-pairing guy, able to play well defensively against better competition while being a good enough puck handler to make that first pass to the forwards and shift from defense to offense. He's very likely the Wings' best penalty-killing defenseman.
Weaknesses: While he did have 11 points in only 48 games last year, he's never going to be counted on to provide offense from the blue line. That's fine, but if he could chip in with some goals that would make this pairing a lot better. He's also never going to be the physical defenseman that one would expect him to be given his size. One would hope that he will learn from Aaron Rome in camp how to clear guys out from the front of the net.
Expectations: Given that Ericsson has said that finger isn't quite 100% just yet, the biggest thing is for him to remain healthy. His presence against Boston could have possibly prevented them from exiting as early as they did. If he's able to play over 70 games, then it's not a stretch to see him rack up at least 20 points while having positive possession numbers.